Why Migrating Your Fileshares As-Is to #SharePoint is a TERRIBLE idea!

We’ve seen 4 clients this year alone who are basing their intranet design verbatim on their fileshare / shared drives structure. Some people are advocating just using a migration tool to bulk get it all in. This is not going to end well, here’s why.

First of all, you are assuming that a fileshare is well-structured and optimally organised to support the business. I have not known this to be true in my entire working career – ever. Every single one I’ve seen is a hot mess of endless folders in folders, many layers deep, with duplicate documents, badly named documents, password protected documents, crazy permissions and empty folders. The bigger the company, the worst this gets, even in businesses who have ISO certification – although those are usually better than most. It’s hectically silo’d and information is all over the show, including people’s C-drives and external drives. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just the way it is in most businesses because they’ve not leveraged technologies like Office 365 / SharePoint from the beginning to do it better, so it’s all been subfolders and emailing docs around for decades. So how can you assume that this is a good base from which to design your document stores in SharePoint?

Issues you need to address if you’re going this route :

Search Results – do you realise that SharePoint indexes everything, including the properties from documents? It has a very powerful search engine behind it and it’s junk in, junk out. Document properties are usually another hot mess, because people take documents from their previous companies and just rename them and slap on the new logo, and don’t check and clean the properties. So when you search for content in SharePoint and you’ve migrated hundreds of gigs of content into it, you can expect your search results to become a walking disaster area overnight.

Long file names – although it’s better now with the limit extended to 400 characters, but still, some industries have incredibly long document names, the medical field especially. Put those long documents in subfolders and migrate them, and you’ll get error messages.

More of the same subfolder hell – SharePoint has metadata that can VASTLY improve how you store and surface content, if you are not leveraging this functionality properly, and converting your subfolders into metadata, you are completely missing the point of SharePoint. You may as well not have SharePoint then, stay on your fileshares or Dropbox.

Hugely over-complicated architecture on potentially the wrong site template – using a migration tool you say? So now you’re creating subsites for most of the folders from the shared drives, hundreds and hundreds of them, maybe a few site collections being added, but for the most part, just subsite after subsite after subsite. On which template? If you’re using SharePoint online, you have the option of a classic, modern with group, modern no group, hub and communication site templates – which one are you going to use for which “subfolder” sites?

Permissions – you may be told that your permissions are too strict on your fileshares, or too complicated, but some industries are HIGHLY regulated and have no choice but to lock down loads of content, like government, defense, medical, banking and food industries. You cannot just delete all the default permission groups and add one or two new ones and roll them out across the board. You are going to cause huge drama and expose sensitive information. Keep in mind that people can find this content in 3 ways – by clicking through, (and plenty of people still do that to see what they can access); by searching for it, or from people’s Delve profiles. Delve professes to only show content that you are allowed to actually see, but if the permissions have been done incorrectly, like just wiping out the permissions on the fileshares, you will expose that information. Who will be held responsible when that happens? It also doesn’t make sense to create new groups with either read, edit or full control rights when there are already the default Site Members, Owners and Visitors groups, leverage those first.

Ever heard the saying, lipstick on a pig? That’s all that’s happening here.

The question really is – SHOULD you migrate your entire fileshare in the first place? We say with absolute conviction, NO! You need to figure out what’s important, decide what age of content needs to be in SharePoint, structure that content properly using pages, lists, libraries, metadata, permissions, automation and alerts. Many documents don’t even need to be documents anymore with the technology we have now. And yes, it takes longer, but if you don’t do this, you are just perpetuating bad habits that will continually hold your business back. And then people blame SharePoint. No, if you’re not taking the requisite time to plan properly, you cannot blame the technology.

  • Write a proper platform strategy.
  • Do an in-depth information audit and analysis.
  • Put a proper high-level structure in place, leveraging the most appropriate site templates based on the content to be shared.
  • Write a governance plan that dictates what content goes where, when, how and why.
  • Decide what age of content must go in and migrate from there.
  • Convert as many documents as possible to lists and pages.
  • Clean up that data as you migrate it in and use metadata in all cases.
  • Make use of the default permissions and only manage exceptions.
  • Use hub sites to connect similar content, make sure every single site collection is connected to a hub.
  • Use the default site collection to list all the hub sites so all content is easy to find and navigate.
  • Make the fileshares read-only and rename them to indicate they have been uploaded as you go along so you can keep track of what has been done.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate every step of the way.
  • Archive the balance of the fileshares when the newest content is in SharePoint.
  • Document everything.

If you turn SharePoint into a document dumping ground like you fileshare was, you will end up rebuilding that intranet in the space of year. It’s going to cost you even more money than what you think you are spending now. Please don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

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