Alex -


5 SharePoint migration challenges and how to overcome them

A move to SharePoint Online from a legacy system can help organizations modernize their ECM strategies. Yet, customizations and poor planning often hinder implementation.

Enterprise content management platforms, like SharePoint, help users store, manage and retrieve their digital assets.

In the past, most organizations used SharePoint Server, an on-premises system that stores data within users' own private or public data centers. Yet, since the introduction of SharePoint Online, a cloud-based version of the system, many organizations have abandoned the on-premises deployment model for the cloud. This move to SharePoint Online comes with its own set of challenges that organizations must overcome to reap the benefits of a cloud system.

The challenges associated with data migrations from SharePoint Server to SharePoint Online can differ from instance to instance based on various factors, such as customization complexity, data size, and SharePoint Server version and features. Yet, preparation can help users overcome these issues.

Explore the top five challenges organizations face as they move from on-premises SharePoint options to SharePoint Online, and learn how to overcome them.

1. Lack of planning

SharePoint migrations can fail, especially those that involve complex data architectures and customizations. This often happens when organizations skip key steps in the planning process, resulting in gaps or missing functionality in the new environment. If this happens, users might not be able to perform the same functions they performed in their legacy systems, like using InfoPath -- a retired app that lets users create intake forms -- or connecting to network shares from within SharePoint.

To overcome this challenge, organizations should create a detailed migration plan that considers the following:

  • Security. Maintain data security and map permissions.
  • Content. Carefully organize all content, including documents, lists and libraries.
  • Features. Map current features to their SharePoint Online counterparts.
  • Migration tools. Research migration tools to find one that suits the organization's specific needs.

2. Legacy services and features

Legacy customizations can cause problems because SharePoint Online might not support them. For instance, many SharePoint Server customers use tools like InfoPath, PerformancePoint and the workflow engine, but SharePoint Online doesn't offer those capabilities. This can hinder the success of the migration, as the functionalities are not available in the new platform.

IT teams must ensure their customizations are compatible with the new system, or they may need to prepare for a redesign. SharePoint admins can choose to inventory any features they use that are not available in the new environment. Then, they can evaluate the redesign of this functionality in SharePoint's new services, including Power Apps, Power BI and Power Automate.

3. Broken links

For some organizations, SharePoint is the go-to place to store Microsoft Office content, such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint files. That means any content inside those files that links to other SharePoint documents results in broken links once the organization migrates the content to SharePoint Online.

To prevent these broken links, the SharePoint administrator should evaluate and analyze all the stored content and then modify the files with hardcoded links after the migration to ensure they work correctly in the new platform.

4. Migration tool limitations

Some SharePoint migration tools don't support older versions of SharePoint. For instance, Microsoft offers the free SharePoint Migration Tool to help customers move from the most recent SharePoint Server version to the cloud. Yet, the tool does not support migration from older versions.

As a result, some organizations might consider paid migration tools, like ShareGate and AvePoint. Alternatively, they could start with a new SharePoint site and leave all legacy content behind.

5. Cost management

Microsoft offers SharePoint Online in most Microsoft 365 plans, such as Enterprise, Business Standard and Premium licenses. Yet, storage is based on the number of users. For instance, it offers 10 GB per eligible user license and 1 TB of base storage. Some customers may have more than 1 TB of data and a small set of users, which means they may need to purchase additional storage for their implementation. Organizations must plan for SharePoint costs, including any other possible services outside of SharePoint, such as Power Apps Premium, that they might need.

To overcome SharePoint migration challenges, organizations must take appropriate steps to evaluate the current environment. Addressing these challenges requires careful planning, skilled resource allocation and, often, the assistance of SharePoint migration specialists.

Reda Chouffani runs the consulting practice he co-founded, Biz Technology Solutions, Inc. He is a healthcare informatics consultant, cloud expert and business intelligence architect who helps enterprise clients make the best use of technology to streamline operations and improve productivity.

Dig Deeper on Content management software and services

Business Analytics
Data Management