The Ongoing Cloud Transition

Preparing to move to the cloudOver the past couple months, as I traveled between events in DC and Minnesota in the US, presented to audiences at 10 different events in South Africa, and most recently spoke at SharePoint Saturday Vienna and the European SharePoint Conference in Dublin, part of my focus was to understand the real-world scenarios that organizations are experiencing as they begin to take steps toward their cloud transition. What I discovered in many of these conversations with both attendees and fellow speakers is that most organizations are being very thoughtful about what is moved to the cloud, and how quickly they will move those components that make sense. While there are still many organizations who have no immediate plans to move away from their on-prem SharePoint environment at the moment, most recognize that some aspects of their broader business systems have been transitioning to the cloud, whether or not their company has a formal strategy in place.

Collaboration is a buyers market

The use of cloud assets has slowly permeated organizations for quite some time — from cloud-based file sharing tools (Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and of course OneDrive), to free cloud email (Hotmail, Gmail) and other social and business applications, such as payroll and customer relationship management (CRM) services. Cloud is becoming integral to how we connect with partners, how we archive our messaging and content, and how we approach complex business activities. Recognizing that most customers cannot make a complete switch to the cloud in a single step, Microsoft has been ramping up their support for hybrid solutions — with the upcoming SharePoint Server 2019 to provide additional updates and capabilities to help those organizations with the need to remain on-prem to still have the option to leverage new cloud-based services.

It truly is a “buyers market” for collaboration, with many different options, depending on your requirements — and restrictions. Partners and customers no longer complain that they feel “pushed” into the cloud, but now have options. For some, the move is fairly straight-forward because their investments in SharePoint on prem were light — no major workflows, third-party solutions, or line of business (LOB) integrations that could take time to re-architect for the cloud model. For others, it will take time and effort to transition these workloads.

When I talk with customers about their path toward the cloud with SharePoint, I don’t really expect them to have all of the answers. Instead, my hope is that the questions get them thinking about what it will take to make the transition. For example, ask yourself the following about your own plans for the cloud:

  • What are you plans for the cloud today?
    Hopefully your team is experiencing some degree of introspection, possibly initiated by corporate goals to move some or all of your collaboration activities and other workloads to the cloud. Developing a strategy should begin with an understanding of the drivers behind the move, and expectations from end users, admins, and business stakeholders.
  • Which workloads do you have in the cloud today?
    If you think your organization is 100% on prem, you’re not looking hard enough. Part of your initial assessment should be to catalog the various solutions in use today — approved or unapproved — and to include those cloud assets as part of your broader strategy, which may include plans to incorporate (or shut down) rogue cloud tools, and re-train employees on the new technology. You will likely also need to reinforce training on policies for unapproved tools and data usage.
  • What is your transition plan?
    Once you understand the drivers behind your move, and have an accurate picture of what is in place today, start thinking about the workloads which can easily be moved — versus those that will take time and budget to re-design, re-architect and re-build for the cloud. Depending on the complexity of your workloads, you might consider a phased approach, rolling out email and possibly a cloud-based partner extranet as your first steps, and then work with your team to prioritize each subsequent workload rollout.
  • What is your governance strategy?
    Remember that a hybrid environment means that you are managing (at least) two disparate systems. Ensure that your policies and procedures around security, auditing, and other compliance measures are being met during and after the transition. Remember that tasks you may have automated in SharePoint on prem around things like permissions management, reporting, and provisioning all operate very differently in the cloud. Be sure to review your transition strategy through the governance lens so that you are not caught with your guard down.

A hybrid SharePoint solution is not the desired end-goal for most organizations, but the fact remains that companies have made large investments in their SharePoint environments, and it may take time for many to transition to the cloud. I’m increasingly talking with customers who are looking at how they can leverage the new Microsoft Teams with their existing SharePoint team sites, accessing these legacy systems through Tabs within Channels. I love this strategy — letting end users organically make the transition between platforms at their own speed, which can often reduce (or remove) the costs and frustrations of a migration.

While there are many variations of “hybrid,” the most common strategy is to move the easiest workloads to the cloud first, such as email and basic team site collaboration, and then to assess and rebuild more complex workloads over time. Much like the early days of SharePoint, when many companies decided to start using the “free” SharePoint licenses that came with their Enterprise Agreements from Microsoft, I anticipate a surge in SharePoint usage in the cloud as more and more organizations make the transition to Office 365 for other workloads (primarily email). As the capability of SharePoint Online becomes more integrated into the overall Office 365 platform, and the features become more compelling, we will see a surge in adoption of these cloud collaboration tools.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.