Get Ready, Get Set, Cloud!

Remember when organizations were concerned about the shadow IT efforts within their ranks where people were adding their intellectual property to unsupported cloud-based services? For some, it might seem like ages ago — with so much of our production system now relying on cloud tools, services, and infrastructure.

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 has become integral to how we connect with partners, how we archive our messaging and content, and how we approach complex business activities.

The Hybrid Path

Of course, it is also true that most customers cannot make a complete switch to the cloud in a single step. When I started CollabTalk in January 2017, one of the first research projects I launched was around the continued growth of hybrid SharePoint environments. The internal Microsoft messaging was a full-court-press on the cloud, but what my team’s research showed was that the majority of organizations were still nervous about moving some or all of their production environments into the cloud. When I proposed the project to Microsoft CVP Jeff Teper in late 2016, he loved the idea of putting data around the hybrid customer base. And I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised by the data that our research uncovered: we quantitatively proved what we all assumed was true. [You can download a copy of the report here]

In the years since, Microsoft ramped up their support for hybrid solutions, and with SharePoint Server 2019, has provided 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.

So Many Options

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:

  • Are there systems that need to remain partially or completely on-prem?
    Microsoft has backed off of their aggressive push to the cloud, recognizing that there are some customer scenarios where on-prem or hybrid solutions are required. And as I mentioned above, microsoft has spent time and resources on building out capability specifically for these customers — and constantly reassures the market that there are NO plans to discontinue the on-prem version of SharePoint while customers are still buying, and there continue to be net-new installs of on-prem.
  • What are you plans for the cloud today?
    Having said that, 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 change management and overall 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 Online usage as more and more organizations make the transition to Microsoft 365 for other workloads (primarily email and/or Teams).

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.

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  1. April 1, 2020

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