Ten top tips to transition your business to Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 is an increasingly attractive option to enterprises thinking of moving to the cloud and according to Gartner estimates, 20 per cent of businesses will own no on-premises IT assets by the end of this year, 2012. At a recent TechEd 2012 presentation, Microsoft shared another interesting statistic - that 20 per cent of non-IT global 500 companies will be cloud-service providers by 2015.

However, the transition to the cloud is a decision that cannot be made overnight, as there are many factors to consider such as domain names, working with users and groups, training staff to adapt to working in the cloud, user migration, Exchange migration and management. It need not be a stressful exercise though, here are ten tactics to help your organisation on its way.

1. Content control

It sounds trite, but by careful project managing and planning every step of the migration, you will ensure that potential issues and problems are exposed and prepared for. This is also a good time to get rid of legacy systems and old content that are clogging up your business. Plan what content really needs to be shifted to the Office 365 cloud and work from there. Remove the mess and start afresh. The additional benefits of streamlining content are that information will be easier to search, there will be less content clogging the Office 365 cloud, and your system will become more cost-effective.

2. A definitive strategy

A huge part of any transition within an organisation is the implementation of solid strategies to manage future processes. As you approach the cloud, prepare a security strategy that clearly identifies what permissions need to be allocated to specific roles, who will be undertaking those roles, and how groups will be managed. It is worth examining all aspects of your future cloud security structure and putting guidelines in place.

A well defined strategy should also include future maintenance and control of the cloud and permissions, as well as plans for unexpected down time. No matter how reliable Office 365 and what service level agreements are in place, in spite of Microsoft's 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee, you still need to prepare for the unexpected. Ensure that your downtime strategy covers those areas that are not included in your Office 365 contract, so that you have complete coverage and recovery, should the worst happen.

3. Follow the guidelines

Microsoft Office 365 documentation covers almost every factor in transitioning an organisation across to the cloud service. The Microsoft Transition Center covers the steps you have to take along each stage of the migration and deployment process and directs administrators to additional sources to help plan for all eventualities. This is essential reading.

Other sites worth visiting for help and support include the Online Help pages for setting up Office 365, and the Microsoft US government migration site. While the latter is focused on the US, there is plenty of information in there to guide any European enterprise in the task of transitioning to the cloud.

4. Test and adapt

Every business is different with different platforms and legacy systems in place, and each of these will have a unique way of interacting with, and moving to, the cloud. With a large scale transition, experts advise that you first test some applications and use these results to troubleshoot a larger migration. Microsoft's Deployment Guide for Enterprises says, "It helps you to identify and assess any service issues that might affect your business prior to moving a significant number of individuals to Office 365 service offerings."

5. Plan for mobility

The essence of the cloud is its very ubiquity. The fact that it can be accessed from anywhere and on almost any device. When selecting your Office 365 plan ensure that you are choosing the option that best suits your future business development and requirements, and that there is compatibility with the mobile devices used in your organisation.

Fortunately, Microsoft Office 365 is accessible by most of the leading mobile devices prevalent on the market today, but it is worth making sure that the majority of your staff can use the service.

6. Documents and notes

Scott Cameron is a technical trainer and consultant with Valorem Consulting, where he helps midmarket and enterprise customers move to Office 365, and hosts a blog of his work at Quite Cloudy.

According to Cameron, it is essential to prepare documentation to plan for the move. "It's incredibly difficult to design an email solution when you don't know the nature of your assets at the start," he says.

Documentation should cover elements like: email and related servers and network components, applications or devices using MAPI or SMTP to relay email, LAN and WAN network diagrams, a list of SSL certificates, DNS MX and A records, encryption and archiving.

7. Staff training

While your system is in the process of working with an Office 365 pilot, it's worth getting users acclimatised to working with the different processes offered by the cloud. While not a complete change on many levels, it still requires a measure of adaptation and learning of new procedures that are best to get out of the way before it becomes an organisation-wide standard.

8. Update and prepare

Every user PC in the organisation must have Office 365 installed and set up, and applications need to be fully updated and ready for upgrade. All computers must have the latest operating system with the latest service packs installed, and all software, including Microsoft Outlook and Lync, need to be up to date. If the deployment is done without first installing these elements, then you could potentially saturate your network bandwidth. Download and install updates across the organisation first, and gradually, before you migrate.

9. Understand your Office 365 email migration

There are different types of email migration and you need to be clear on which route your organisation is taking and how to plan for it. Four of the most common types include: a complete Exchange crossover, a hybrid crossover, an IMAP crossover, and a gradual move that follows the Exchange crossover but has systems interoperating for a period of time. Each organisation is different and these methods may vary, but by knowing what to expect you can plan for it more effectively.

10. Ask the experts

A large-scale deployment can be a daunting task for in-house IT and so, for some, it may be worth investing in external help for the most intensive parts of the migration. Their expert assistance can make a big difference, but do your homework first and ensure you get a team with the requisite qualifications and recommendations.

Conclusion

Depending on the size of your organisation, the migration to Microsoft Office 365 might pose some issues and require plenty of project management, but it is a move that delivers new functionality, mobility and flexibility to the business and will have a marked effect on the bottom line.