Jul 22 2013

7 Tips for Migrating to Microsoft Office 365

A strategic move to cloud-based collaboration tools will keep your end-users happy and productive.

The following best practices can make for a smoother migration to Microsoft Office 365:

1. Do your homework.

Before even getting started, IT officials should take time to research all available cloud-based providers, suggests Anthony Olivieri, director of information and technology solutions for Montgomery County, Pa. "You've got to find out exactly where your data is going to be; how your data is going to be protected; whether or not any of it is going to be shared, sold or mined; and what service level agreements you need in place and what guarantees they'll provide," he says, noting that officials need to also make sure that contracts contain monetary contingencies and penalties that apply if and when the provider fails to live up to their contract promises. "Make sure those assurances are going to honored and protected for the life of your relationship with that provider."

2. Be prepared.

Successfully moving an enterprise's productivity and collaboration tools from on-premises servers to the cloud will require a lot of heavy upfront lifting, says Joyce Wing, CIO for Santa Clara County, Calif. Among these are defining cross-departmental business and technical requirements; building a common directory; identifying and renegotiating all requisite software license agreements; crafting enterprise security and authentication protocols and processes; and creating effective IT and user training programs.

3. Take it slow.

A cloud migration isn't and shouldn't be approached as a "big bang" project, according to Bill Kehoe, CIO for King County, Wash. Kehoe suggests that IT teams should approach the implementation of each cloud-based application within Office 365 as a separate IT project, complete with an initial pilot. King County, for instance, began its Office 365 implementation with SharePoint and is now beginning to move its email to the cloud. "That way, you can set up the cloud platform but you keep your on-premises server in place, along with your integrated security, for a while, so you can phase in the user migration over time and accelerate and decelerate as you need to," he says.

4. Be picky.

For the time being, Montgomery County, for example, will continue to host Office applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint on an internal private cloud using virtual desktop infrastructure. "We're not ready yet to take that next step" to put those applications into Office 365, according to Information and Technology Solutions Director Anthony Olivieri. "We're still evaluating those possibilities, and we can always turn some of those features on later."

5. Set clear expectations.

IT teams can expect both resistance and impatience from both departmental technical personnel and customers, says Wing. "When we initially approached departments, the ones that didn't want to participate had many reasons why they couldn't. Our CEO advised the team to ask 'Why?' or 'Why not?' many times to determine if the reasons were viable or not. For each reason we were able to address their concerns through products, processes, or education. What has been wonderful to see is the transformation of IT resources; initially, some resisted, and most are now relieved they don't have to manage this environment anymore and are excited to move forward," she explains. "By the same token, now we have to manage the excitement, staff don't understand why it's taking so long, because they think, 'It's just email. Why don't you just turn it on?' So it's important to really communicate what's involved and the whys of what you're doing or not doing, what's going to be happening when, and how it will impact each employee. We are doing much more than just Office 365."

6. Plan for change.

To employees and departmental managers, migrating SharePoint or Outlook or even Word from internal servers to the cloud might seem like a simple matter of geography, but in fact, the result is often transformational, according to Kehoe. "With an enterprisewide cloud application, people are forced to look at their processes and maybe start changing them," he says. "So then you're dealing with change management, and that's not always easy. It takes time, but the beauty of the cloud, is that you can put a platform in place very quickly and then you can grow and mature your service offering over time and let your organization ease into it."

7. Don't wait.

"Start the migration sooner rather than later to enjoy the benefits," says Marty Lafferty, CEO for the Distributed Computing Industry Association. "The significance of this trend is it should not only reduce costs for government agencies, but also help make them much more productive and responsive to change — good news for constituents and taxpayers."

Learn more about why governments are embracing Office 365.