SharePoint Migration Concepts

Posted: November 17, 2010 in MOSS 2007, SharePoint 2010

           Somehow, somewhere along the way I ended up being a Migration expert for my employer. Still trying to figure out exactly how that happened, but I can say this, I have done a lot of migrations. From SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007 and now from SharePpint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. Have also had the pleasure of bringing content from many other source locations from custom ASP/SQL based solutions to lesser known third party solutions like EPrise. The fun thing is everyone thinks migration is easy to do, that all those marketing tools from vendors about how easy it is are true and that you are just one button click/file copy, etc away from migrated bliss. Such thoughts have compelled me to share my opinions/experiences on the subject.

 Migrations are a rare opportunity

         Alright we all know how corporate IT works. There is never enough money, never enough time, never enough people. The only chance you have to get something done is do it right the first time. You will not have the opportunity to go back later to fix anything. It simply does not happen in the vast majority of IT shops. Because of this migration offers a rare opportunity. You have the chance to reorganize, add metadata, add functionality. All the things you have piled up from the last 2-5 years that you wanted to do to your old site. Do not waste this chance. Do not just pull the same problems into a new farm.

PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

          WHY are you migrating? Seems like this would be an easy one and your manager will likely throw out a quick seemingly sensible reply that makes him sound like he is working for the MS marketing team. But let’s consider it. WHY exactly are you bringing this stuff over? Are you looking to leverage Managed Metadata Services to help you manage content in a sane way? Are you looking for the wonderful powers of search? Are you trying to deal with poor navigation/structure in your old site? Why? This is a very important question and should be explored. If you have bought SharePoint and really are loving the feature set then you need to plan out how and where you are going to leverage that feature set in your portal. There are many part of SharePoint that are MUCH easier to design and implement up front than to go back and redo later.

          I have many clients who at first want a straight migration. “Just copy it from the original location and we will worry about re-organizing later.” So basically take the crud from the original site, the ones you never got around to re-orging, the one that has no metadata, the one that is dysfunctional and slam it into SharePoint. Now try to act surprised when you end up with the same mess except inside SharePoint. MANY of the migrations I see fail, fail because a client copies the same mess into SharePoint and expects somehow the mess will clean itself up.

              Do not get me wrong, SharePoint is a great platform, it is absolutely awesome, I have completely swallowed the SharePoint Kool-Aid. However, without proper planning you can screw up a SharePoint implementation to a level that will make you wish for your old portal back. You MUST plan out your migration. If it was a straight copy, why would you spend the money to license SharePoint? As I said before, why would you want the exact same thing copied into a different platform? You can do some great things but you will need to plan it out and know what the target is.

 Few if any migrations are really simple

             I have done dozens of them and of those maybe one was really easy. Of all the migrations all but a handful were “straightforward”. With their systems (particularly older SharePoint systems), “vanilla”. Rarely, are things as simple as you think they are. To begin with, I go to my first 2 points, If you embrace those ideals, then you are not doing a straight migration. Second, I find few true “vanilla” sites. Particularly with SharePoint. Among the common issues I hit on “vanilla” sites: some rogue employee maybe fires up SharePoint designer on a few sites without management knowing, some random farm issue (i.e. patching) does something not too nice to the content DB schema, a set of corporate GPO’s corrupt part of the farm, that vanilla site had the Fab 40 and about 70 other freeware webparts/workflows/themes/page layouts installed on it, all are “critical” and of the 70 of them 25 of those companies have gone out of business(my personal favorite). You name it, I have seen multitudes of them. Web portals are such unique creations that the older the portal, the more likely there are going to be significant challenges in the migration effort.

Metadata NOW

              This is one of my personal pain points on any client. Mostly because the actual content here does not come from the technical folks, it comes from business users. Let’s say it together, “Metadata is a good thing.”. Metadata is what makes things work. It is what allows search to find things, allows views to filter and group and sort. It allows workflows to differentiate documents/list items it is the lifeblood of a portal. It is also one of these things that is rarely planned and often ignored. When folks talk about SharePoint messes I usually hear about how they have thousands of unused sites in a messed up hierarchy. What is usually one of the worst things though it their information architecture, the metadata they SHOULD have planned out and tied to the content in their portal. Now they have 10,000 documents in there any nobody can find them or view them in a sensible way.

               Metadata needs to be planned out, it needs to be carefully considered, and most important it needs to be there from day 1. Think of it this way, would you allow folks to start putting thousands of folders full of documents into your file cabinet without any type of label or organization? Most likely not. This is exactly what you do to SharePoint when you do not utilize at least a minimal amount of Metadata. Now, each department likely has its own metadata. Sometimes they are overlapping other departments. Sometimes you have the SAME information in different named fields, etc. This is where the planning comes in. You want to mesh these together as much as reasonably can be done. You need to help these different units work together and come along with a cohesive set of metadata elements that use can use on an enterprise level.

              Lastly, to reiterate do it NOW. Do it before you migrate a single artifact. It is thousands of times easier to do this at the front of the migration than it will be to do it later on. If it gets pushed to later on, it will most likely NEVER happen or it will be so rushed and poorly planned that it will be useless and actually hinder portal adoption.

Fund it properly or not at all

             So let me say something that will be utterly unappreciated by any MS marketing folks out there. It is alright to walk away from SharePoint. It is perfectly fine to weigh the costs to move to the platform, licensing, planning, etc., and say “We do not have the budget for it now.”. It can be unnerving, because it may mean you limp along with your current system longer. I would caution against just going to another system as my comments on planning, metadata, and such apply to many other advanced platforms out there. However, I think I would be a mistake to run half funded into a new platform, hoping for the best. What you will get is a poorly planned, poorly implemented portal that never meets the needs and overall sours your organization on SharePoint entirely. It also has you wasting the money you did spend. Many company’s want to throw that money out there just to say they have done SOMETHING. Even if it ends up falling flat on its face. Sometimes you just need to accept that you cannot afford to do something right and just wait till you can. It is alright and can be a much better decision than doing it half way.

          So that’s it. Not as technical as normal but it is out there. I could easily have made this about 10 times longer but I reckon I should actually do some real work. The short gist of this, SharePoint is an awesome platform, absolutely awesome. However, if you are going to migrate you need to learn to use it and to make your portal, content, way of thinking adapt and expand to utilize the new technology now just throw the same old problems into a new platform.

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