How long does it take to migrate to Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365 is one of the most popular subscription-based cloud service. It combines the familiarity of traditional Microsoft Office applications like Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint with the flexibility and power of the cloud.

Completing the migration to Office 365 is not exactly a matter of signing up and flipping a switch. But with the right preparation, it can be a relatively straight-forward process. But most of the work comes down to planning that you must before you can even begin to actually make use of the new cloud environment.

Regardless of your starting point and specific goals in an Office 365 migration, there are a few considerations that apply to everyone:
  • Where are you coming from?
    Such as a local network share, another cloud system, etc.
  • Where do your users work now?
    Local storage vs. another cloud service. Desktop storage vs. network.
  • How much data do you have?
    Including email, legacy databases and existing local versions of collaboration tools such as SharePoint.
  • How savvy is your userbase?
    Are they ready to adopt the cloud and move to become a more flexible and mobile workforce or are they comfortable and happy where they are?

A good migrate to Office 365 plan takes all that into account and carefully schedules time and resources to successfully address the following:

  • Initial Configuration
  • Data Migration Schedule
  • User Migration and Training

The time it takes to plan all that and fully complete your migration will vary based on the size of your organization, the type of system you are migrating from, and the amount of data you have to migrate.

Many organizations find the enhanced productivity, flexibility, collaboration, security and power of Office 365 more than makes up for any difficulties experienced in the transition from an older on-premises system.

Organizations that are already using another cloud-based application also often find that the migrate to Office 365 environment brings a familiarity for users who have spent years using the traditional Office suite. The added ability to securely manage data storage and collaborate offers an enhancement that is well worth the time it takes to migrate.

Migrate to Office 365 First-timers: Welcome to the Cloud

For those organizations want to migrate to Office 365 as their first software-as-a-service system, there are a few major considerations.

Most organizations have become comfortable with the idea of converting to off-site subscriptions

When Office 365 was introduced in 2011, cloud computing was a relatively new technology – at least when it came to typical business enterprises. Now that the cloud in general and Office 365 specifically are part of the normal day-to-day environment around the business world, people and organizations have become more comfortable with accessing and storing their data in the cloud. The concern about not “owning” a permanent local license for productivity applications has diminished for most organizations as well.

With plenty of evidence ( that the cloud improves productivity and security and software-as-a-service (SaaS) can save money, most organizations have become comfortable with the idea of converting to off-site subscriptions for productivity tools like the Microsoft Office Suite.

Once you are ready to take the plunge into a product like Office 365, there are a few challenges. A first-time migration to the cloud presents a few of these challenges that can increase the time it takes to complete a full migration and get everyone comfortable with the new paradigm.

The total time from one platform to another varies considerably based on a few important factors.

Email Migration

Larger enterprises are likely to have a large bulk of data hanging around in various iterations of email systems. While previous upgrades to an email service and local storage device might have been difficult, it could be handled locally. Many current email servers can also interact with legacy archiving systems to retrieve older stored data. But the more “legacy” you have in your legacy systems, the longer and more complex the email migration can become.

A direct migration from a current edition of Exchange Server is pretty straight-forward. The integrity and health of your databases might need to be verified, but if you’ve kept up-to-date on Microsoft Exchange, you should have a good starting point.
The complexity of the Office 365 edition of Exchange offers powerful tools, but the migration relies on the ability for the new system to understand or convert the format of your old system. Uploading a massive archive to the cloud can also be a bandwidth and resource hog, so careful planning is essential.

Some advisors might suggest ditching the legacy archives, but that’s simply not possible in certain industries where record-access is important. Rest assured that with the proper planning and a full examination of your existing systems, a complete email migration to Office 365 is possible. Access speed for retrieval of older records is also likely to be improved.

User accounts

Permissions, roles and user profile information from existing Windows, Active Directory or other local Microsoft accounts can be retained and used to create new Office 365 accounts. Accessing information remotely on the cloud servers might present special security concerns and access requirements (especially in regulated security-conscious jurisdictions such as the European Union), so the Office 365 migration also presents an opportunity to reassess access policies and other user-role considerations.

Migration from other existing account types will not be quite as direct, but once again planning things properly can smooth the process over for the end users, even if the backend requires extra work to make the transition. The transition also offers the opportunity to refresh everyone on data security issues and make sure everyone moves away from the password they chose back in 1995 when they first got email.

Organizations that are small enough that they don’t already have centralized formal access controls will be changing their total user account paradigm. But that’s not that big a deal when you consider how often your users already access websites and other services with an email address and password in their personal lives. Even two-factor authentication is becoming socialized for web users, so the idea of entering a code along with the password shouldn’t be completely foreign to most of your users.

New applications and features

One of the major benefits of moving to Office 365 is that the familiar iconic applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint are virtually the same in their 365 editions. If you’ve kept up with relatively recent editions of the local Office Suite (even going back to the 2010 or 2013 editions), your users are going to be comfortable using these versions.

When you are moving a large userbase from a recent Microsoft Office suite, most users will be able to immediately pick up the workflows and applications they are used to. Post-migration, they can be gradually introduced to the new cloud-specific services offered by Office 365.

Environments that have not previously used MS Office products may choose to spend a little more time and money on application-specific training to get everyone up to speed.

You also get all the latest updates and new features right when they’re released. Depending on your company’s subscription level, your users will have access to a list of apps that should include some or all of the following:
  • Access:
    Microsoft’s traditional database applications, now with better integration to other data sources.
  • Calendar:
    It does what the title says it does and is similar to the calendaring functions integrated into Outlook. Leveraging the connected userbase in Office 365 adds additional features.
  • Delve:
    A document manager for SharePoint that helps you see which team members are assigned to and currently working on which documents.
  • Dynamics 365:
    A suite of business management tools that help with scheduling and expense reports.
  • Excel:
    The well-known spreadsheet tool, updated with new features.
  • Flow:
    An automation tool for workflows.
  • Forms:
    A tool for creating forms, surveys and other data-gathering tools.
  • OneDrive:
    The cloud storage system. Usually includes 1 TB per user.
  • OneNote:
    A versatile digital note-taking tool.
  • Outlook:
    Microsoft’s email client, available in desktop, web-based and mobile editions.
  • People:
    Contacts from across multiple accounts and devices.
  • Planner:
    Team tasking tool.
  • PowerPoint:
    The old standby presentation application with a large number of improved features and options.
  • SharePoint:
    Cloud-based file share and collaboration tool.
  • Skype for Business:
    Real-time chat tool. Also offers video calling.
  • Stream:
    Video upload and management tool for sharing video content internally.
  • Sway:
    A tool for creating dynamic presentations, training and documents.
  • Word:
    The newest edition of the venerable word processor.
  • Yammer:
    A social-media style internal collaboration tool, similar to Discord or Slack.

Data sharing

If you have an existing local SharePoint installation, not much will change. Migration from shared local network drives and other legacy database systems to OneDrive may require a little more planning. From an Enterprise perspective, you will likely find you can do more with your data and make it much more productive once you are transitioned to Office 365’s SharePoint and OneDrive apps. Conversion and upload of other systems are also possible, but take a bit more time and money. The added flexibility makes it worth that expense.

Some users will realize how much more productive they can be when they see that their Office 365 data can be accessed from anywhere. Others might want to stay tied to their local storage space. Getting all users to adopt best practices for Office 365 should be an early training priority.

Legacy data services and local machines

Part of the planning for migration to Office 365 includes gathering and analyzing the files currently in user shares and local drives. Additionally, the migration period allows you to transition every user away from other cloud data providers such as DropBox or Google Drive that they might previously have used to work on files from home.

When dealing with a potentially large migration, the data that’s recently or frequently in use can be prioritized and migrated to OneDrive first and set up in each user’s account space in an almost completely transparent duplicate of their previous network share or local drive. Lower priority data can be migrated as time and capacity allows.

Hybrid Cloud Systems

For various reasons – including performance and security, among others — it might not be the right time to move every bit of data and every application to the cloud. Office 365 can successfully deal with a partial migration that still employs local storage or applications. The result should be a completely seamless experience across the hosted cloud and local network.

Mobile device provisioning

Now that every user has the same ability to access files and applications on the go, many organizations are concerned about controlling access to internal services on a device that could be lost or stolen. Office 365 includes mobile device provisioning that allows group policies for areas such as security to cascade down to devices that aren’t on premises. Mobile users must agree to security policies such as strong passcodes, two-factor authentication or even biometrics before they can access any Office 365 files or apps.

This policy leaves the device in a default secure mode that prevents access without the correct credentials. In the event that a device goes missing, the device policy prevents someone who finds it from accessing your Office 365 apps.

The major benefit of Office 365 is that none of the data accessed from a device is actually stored there and the access to your network is encrypted. So a stolen device means no loss of important data at all.

User training

While many aspects of Office 365 will be very familiar to most business users, training is often required to help people understand best practices, security policies and the newest features in the Office 365 version of applications such as SharePoint.

User training for Office 365 should be provided before, during and after migration as well as on demand for users who want to learn more. For many users of the standard Office Suite, the collaboration, meeting scheduling, calendar and video chat tools could be completely new.

Without proper training, many users tend to stay in their lane and continue to try to store files locally, even when this is considered to be against company policy. Good training that can drive home the importance and value of the cloud is essential.

Making the move: Migrate to Office 365 from another cloud service

If your organization already lives in the cloud through another service such as Google’s G Suite, your migration can be much more simple. The structure and policies in place in an existing cloud service – alongside the user buy-in already being in place – provides an easier roadmap to migrate to Office 365.

If you are ready to make that move, you should consider the hard part of the work to be done. The transition process from one SaaS provider to another tends to be a well-understood process that requires less custom work.

That doesn’t always mean the time needed for the official moving of data will be greatly reduced, but much of the provisioning, policies and user information can be ported over more easily.

First steps: How to start the planning process

Microsoft offers certain resources ( available to customers looking to migrate to Office 365, including a thriving community ( of users.

When you think you’ve decided on that particular service, it’s time to consider consulting a migration partner. The customized requirements of many local environments suggest the wisdom of brining in outside help.

After a properly planned and executed migration, the results should speak for themselves. Most organizations find that they are able to control costs better on a per-user monthly subscription while also taking advantage of the collaboration and sharing tools built into the Office 365 environment.

Properly trained users will soon find themselves unable to live without the added flexibility and mobility provided by an SaaS application like Office 365.

EI is ready to discuss your migration to Microsoft Office 365.

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