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Your SharePoint Migration Guide

So why migrate to SharePoint online?

SharePoint Online enables a faster, reliable, compliant and USER-FRIENDLY intranet platform. You can access this anywhere due to being on the cloud and it requires minimal maintenance. This means that the money and time you save by migrating over to SharePoint Online, can be used in other areas such as bespoke development or training. Let’s get started with your SharePoint Online migration.

What are you migrating from?

There are two common scenarios for migrating to SharePoint Online from an on-premises solution. The first is where your organisation uses a file share for document storage, and the second is where you currently use an on-premises version of SharePoint. Both present their own unique set of challenges which I’ll address separately.

Migrating from a file share

A file share is a completely different beast to SharePoint, particularly SharePoint Online, so this presents a good opportunity to plan things properly (and maybe do a bit of a spring clean!) in order to get the most out of your move to SharePoint.

There are several potential pitfalls with file share to SharePoint migrations so you will need to spend some time on analysing your current environment.


File share structures are often a heavily nested hierarchy of folders that have usually been set up to allow users to find what they need by drilling down through the folder structure. The downside to this is that if you don’t know where something is it can take forever to find! SharePoint’s superior searching and document discovery abilities make this type of structure obsolete – in fact, a flatter structure is now the recommended approach for SharePoint Online. So how can you flatten out your structure for the move?


It can be difficult to keep track of who has access to what when using file shares, so you’ll need to do a brief audit to determine people’s permissions on the various files and folders. If you can identify groups of people within the permissions, then these could form the basis of your new SharePoint team sites.

Old versions of documents

In order to retain old versions of documents, you may be copying them to archive folders and renaming them before modifying the current version. SharePoint has excellent document versioning capabilities, so you won’t need to do this anymore – however, you will need to consider what you want to do with the various old versions you may have.

Personal documents

Many people use company file shares to store working copies of their own documents. It might be that those employees can start using OneDrive instead, only pushing documents to SharePoint when they are to be collaborated on within their teams.

Many documents, particularly Excel spreadsheets, contain links to other documents. Obviously, once migrated, these links will no longer work so some work will need to be done to identify and then reconfigure these documents once migrated.

Migrating from SharePoint on premises

In theory, migrating from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online should be straightforward – they’re both SharePoint, right? Well not so fast – SharePoint Online has moved on considerably, even from SharePoint 2016, so you will find there are many significant differences to take into account. Most of the work required will be around customisations and site structure, so we’ll look at some of the potential pitfalls.


The two main forms of customisations that will potentially cause issues are with InfoPath forms and SharePoint Designer workflows. Both of these, while it is still possible to use them in SharePoint Online, may present you with significant problems, as they don’t always migrate well out of the box. This is particularly true with migrations from SharePoint 2007, where they will need significant modification in order to work at all. I would advise seriously considering moving the functionality of these to PowerApps and Flow respectively, as they will both be supported further into the future. Even if that is not an option for you at the moment, it is worth being aware that Microsoft may drop support for them in the future.

Other customisations, such as custom web parts and add-ins may not be available in SharePoint Online (hopefully because there is something better!) so you will need to find out what you have and plan accordingly. Any custom code that you have created in-house will not be guaranteed to work at all of course.

Site structure

Previous versions of SharePoint use a very hierarchical site structure, and many organisations only have one site collection with many subsites on premises. While this structure is still available in SharePoint Online, the preferred approach with Modern Sites is to use a flat structure with many site collections, linked together by “Hub Sites”. This will provide you with more flexibility in the future, but will require some careful planning up front to get it right.


Migration methods

In order to migrate successfully, you will need some sort of dedicated migration software, unless you are happy to have users upload the files themselves to your new SharePoint Online environment. There are several software options out there, and in general, they will allow you to perform migration of sites, lists, document libraries and pages, while retaining metadata such as created and modified dates. They will also allow you to perform an initial migration and subsequent delta or incremental migrations in order to give you time to test the new sites while users are still able to work in your current environment.

Making the most of the move

In addition to SharePoint, there are a whole host of other features of Office 365 which link up with it to enhance productivity. From PowerApps and Flow for creating powerful applications to Planner, Teams, Delve and Office 365 Groups for collaborative work, and Power BI for reporting, there are plenty of options for working better together. Any migration to SharePoint Online should also consider these other apps in order to come up with the best plan for your successful move to Office 365.