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Guide to Migrating from SharePoint On-Prem to SharePoint Online

The opportunities that a migration to SharePoint Online provides is access to all of Microsoft’s latest improvements and features, greater scalability and, as long as you manage the platform well, should cost a lot less in bills compared to maintaining on-site servers.

Ready to get started? Great! But wait a second—SharePoint migrations don't always work out so well. This study from AIIM shows that 26% of SharePoint projects have stalled, and 37% have failed to live up to expectations—whether it’s a lack of planning, technical issues or limited c-suite support, a successful migration isn’t simply a case of clicking ‘upload’. Success is not guaranteed, so, here’s our guide for migrating from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online.

- Spoiler alert: it's not all about the technology -

Your guide to migrating to SharePoint Online

A SharePoint migration is, fundamentally, about moving three things. The first two are easy, the third is the tricky part:

  1. Content: all your files, data and documents
  2. Structure: all your customizations and workflows, plus existing permissions
  3. People: getting employees to adapt to the new platform


This is where third-party consultancies like ETTU can help. They can guide their customers’ migrations of SharePoint content, architecture and users. The value of using a partner to help on your migration journey is that you reduce the risks of migration and make the success of your project much more likely.

migrating sharepoint to sharepoint online

Moving content:

Migrating content to SharePoint online should begin with a review of your existing libraries:

  • Start with an audit of your content and ask “do we want to actually spend time and money migrating this content? Does anyone even use it anymore?” If the answer to that question is a big ‘no’, don’t migrate it! Store old content you don’t use in a cheaper archive
  • You should also take this opportunity to ask whether you want to keep the structure of your content the same—perhaps you want libraries to be ordered differently, rename Sites and give access to different departments. Again, now’s the time to make changes.


The second part of content migration is, well, the migration itself. There are multiple ways you can do this:

  • Manual migration: upload content directly to SharePoint Online by connecting your existing SharePoint libraries with SharePoint Workspace. From SharePoint Workspace, content will automatically sync with SharePoint Online.
  • Microsoft FastTrack: this is Microsoft’s service to help get you into Office 365.
  • Windows PowerShell: Use PowerShell cmdlets to move content from SharePoint Server sites to Office 365
  • Third-party tools like Sharegate: simplify the migration experience by simply copying SharePoint Lists, Libraries, Sites, Workflows, and Documents with the click of a button.

Moving structures and other technical issues:

The key issue to consider with regards to migrating SharePoint structure to the cloud is to ask whether certain features of your on-premises environment will integrate well with the cloud.

  • Be aware of SharePoint Online’s limits: There’s a full breakdown from Microsoft here. Essentially, different plans will offer you different amounts of storage and library size limits. Usually this will be more than in SharePoint on-premises, but know what you’re letting yourself in for.
  • Customizations: be aware that, in most instances, migrating your custom code to SharePoint Online isn’t really a possibility. You should therefore prepare for life without that custom code and explore the alternatives. These might be add-ins from the Microsoft store or looking at which of the (limited possibilities) for customization in SharePoint Online are interesting for you.
  • Bandwidth: It can be easy to overlook, but your bandwidth will significantly affect how fast you can migrate to SharePoint Online. Discuss with your provider before you make the move.

Moving people:

This is the trickiest part of any migration. If employees are used to SharePoint looking and feeling a certain way, they might struggle to adapt to SharePoint Online. And this is where some change management techniques will be very useful. Key practices include:

  • Make people aware of the changes you’re planning on making well in advance so they can prepare to adapt.
  • Get c-level support: if business leaders demonstrate their support for the migration, it will be harder for people to ignore.
  • Adoption campaigns: whether it’s new training, placing posters around the office or a big launch day, developing an adoption campaign so people can learn about the new platform is best practice.
  • Provide a strict cut-off date for the old SharePoint on-premises site. If it’s going to be closed by the first day of next month, make sure it actually is—no ifs or buts.

Planning and preparation are paramount

Migrating from SharePoint on-prem to SharePoint Online successfully depends, more than anything, on preparation. While in theory, migration is pretty straightforward, the reality is that existing environments can be messy and managing the move takes skill and expertise. And this is where trusted third party consultancies, like ETTU, can help. 

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