Steps to cloud

SharePoint 2013 upgrade offers a chance to get it right

For many organizations, deploying Microsoft’s SharePoint content management and collaboration software has been an unplanned, underdeveloped, unloved, but not unpopular endeavor, say industry experts.

SharePoint entered a lot of public-sector agencies through small, independent workgroups and has grown very rapidly — but in an unstructured manner. Although Microsoft positioned SharePoint as a platform, most users didn’t treat it that way, installing the software more as a stand-alone application, said John Mancini, president of AIIM, a global non-profit association that supports the information management community.

However, they found out they needed a lot of third- party extensions to make SharePoint achieve its full potential. “So, I think there is a growing realization that it is a platform, and you build upon a platform and add things to make it achieve the things you want it to achieve,” Mancini said.

SharePoint users primarily use it for internal collaboration, file replacement and to help in posting content to Web portals and intranet sites, according to a recent global survey of AIIM members,  which included representatives of government agencies, mainly in North America and Europe.

But SharePoint is capable of doing a lot more than that, and users are still trying to figure out how to get the platform to do things beyond those core capabilities, Mancini said.

There are multiple versions of SharePoint deployed throughout agencies. Steve Marsh, director of product marketing with Metalogix, estimates that about 50 percent of SharePoint users in the federal government are on version 2007, 40 percent on 2010 and the remainder on 2003. Agencies are now showing interest in SharePoint 2013, which offers simpler content sharing,  a better social enterprise tool and advanced search, Marsh said.

So how does an agency upgrade to SharePoint 2013, move SharePoint to a private cloud or move to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based messaging and collaboration platform? 

Microsoft offers a serial approach to migration. SharePoint 2007 users first have to migrate to 2010 before moving to SharePoint 2013, according to Marsh. But there are ways to leapfrog 2010 to get 2013 functionality now. Metalogix’s Content Matrix 6.0 provides a way to upgrade to SharePoint 2013 from any previous version, Marsh said.
Regardless of the upgrade path, SharePoint users first need a plan and process for a smooth migration.

Because federal agencies house critical information in SharePoint, they need a strategy that goes beyond SharePoint technology itself, Marsh said. A sound strategy will ensure that managers are not just deploying another version of SharePoint, moving mistakes of the past to the new platform.

Marsh provided a five-step plan that agencies can apply to ensure a smoother migration.

1. Evaluate your SharePoint migration strategy. Agencies must not only focus on compliance and retention issues but also scrutinize security and access to information, including access for mobile workers. 

2. Create a content inventory. Managers can focus on eliminating information siloes by understanding their content -- where it is, who is accessing it, what the content is made up of.  Managers should not do the inventory first and run the risk of that driving the strategy, Marsh advised.

3. Develop information architecture.  Any existing information architecture plan should re-examined. Agency managers need to think about applying security, permissions and retention policies and types of applications to the information architecture, which, in turn, they apply to the technology.

4. Plan to leverage new functionality.  Plan to leverage the applicable features of SharePoint 2013's  templates, which emphasize collaboration in a social context. For SharePoint 2007 users, the jump to this new functionality is too great. So managers need to think about taking existing content and applying it to new features, but only if it is applicable.

5. Assess upgrade and migration options. Agencies must consider where Microsoft Office 365 fits in or whether they might want to leverage a private cloud for SharePoint the way the Defense Department is looking at a centralized private cloud for component parts of DOD, Marsh noted. IT managers must choose a flexible migration toolset that doesn't limit flexibility in the future. If an agency on SharePoint 2007 sees a "killer" functionality in SharePoint 2013 that will provide some real business benefit, managers should consider an option that allows the agency to move straight to SharePoint 2013, Marsh said.

People generally look at migration as a one-time project. But “SharePoint is a living and breathing thing,” Marsh said. Users will continually add more content to the platform.  “So we have to make sure we have the capability to keep SharePoint nice, neat, tidy and fit for the purpose,” he explained. When  the platform branches out and moves away from the information architecture, the SharePoint user experience starts to break down, Marsh added.  As a result, agency managers need to look for toolsets that help them to maintain SharePoint as it grows.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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