CIO Series: The Value of Intelligent Migration to Office 365
06 Mar 2020
Legacy ECM systems have provided sophisticated functionality to organisations for some time. With capabilities that include document management, content management, records management, and archiving; ECM systems often store the history of an organisation in the form of its content.
With escalating cost and dwindling skills, as we lose the IBM educated 'grey-haired generation' from the workforce, older ECM solutions are increasingly becoming a burden on today's modern enterprise with the challenges of operating such a service beginning to outweigh the benefit they bring.
Where regulation is a factor, some organisations are having to absorb eye-wateringly high costs of operations of their ECM solutions simply to stay on the right side of legislation or industry regulations despite Office 365 being an option, if 'done right'.
Moving to a service such as Office 365 is an attractive proposition to many organisations. Low cost of ownership, end-user familiarity, and the vendor consolidation opportunity (let's face it, most organisations around the world are in some part a 'Microsoft shop' whether they accept this or not) represents an opportunity to manifest the holy grail of IT delivery; doing more for less.
For services such as email, moving to the Microsoft cloud is simple. Plumb some stuff together, wire-up this and that, then shove your directory and mailboxes into the cloud. Pretty simple stuff for most.
For ECM services, including SharePoint on-premises, the migration path to the cloud can be much more complex. The original selling points of ECM solutions such as metadata management, retention, lifecycle management, and auditing can be hard to visualise as an endgame for many CIOs when considering the move to Office 365.
The problem amplifies when a complex migration to Office 365 has to draw from dozens of source systems. Finding a SharePoint Migration Tool that delivers on this requirement and a partner that appropriately understands the landscape is challenging, problematic and time-consuming.
Microsoft has made huge strides forward with the functional baseline of Office 365, particularly with SharePoint and OneDrive, and how these services can leverage Azure capabilities to orchestrate and automate content management, but the more advanced functionality of the type provided by ECM solutions is still woefully lacking within the platform.
Frankly, this isn’t a surprise. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, right? Microsoft has to select items for its roadmap based on its determination of how to give the most benefit to the largest group of customers.
In reality, Microsoft has to pick functionality to deliver - it only has a finite pool of engineering resources after all - and this delivery roadmap will always be a hotch-potch that is driven by enterprise customer asks, product management whimsy, cool stuff, and fixes. That is just how product companies work. As customers and partners, we have to accept it.
A positive aspect of Microsoft's onward march for Office 365 is in the context of cost. I hear folks in the consulting world bleat about the cost of functionality delivered by Office 365 E5, EMS, or Azure Premium programs but, in reality, most of the nay-sayers just don't have true enterprise experience. I find that these neg-ferrets (thanks Adrian!) are used to working with smaller customers where complex systems are less common and the context of software is in it being a tactical commodity as opposed to being something strategic.
Sure, $50 per month per seat seems expensive when compared to $5 for less functional SKUs, but Enterprise class IT has never been cheap. ECM systems often run into the tens of millions of dollars per year and they don't offer all the estate-wide security, compliance, audio, and other capabilities brought to the table with premium Office 365 SKUs.
What does this mean, in reality, for a customer considering moving from a legacy ECM to Office 365? Everybody engaged in a migration is obsessed with activity at the tactical edge ('how will it actually migrate?'). What are the considerations for the move though? Long before content starts moving there are a number of wider concepts you need to make peace with.
Let's take a look.
Compromising the Future
Organisations (and their management) will have to accept that the major benefit of moving to Office 365, lowered cost, comes only if you can accept compromise on functionality. The reason that cloud (or 'cloudified') ECM products are popping up is that some organisations simply cannot compromise on functionality and so 'cloudify' their solution, reducing the cost-reduction benefit (of getting rid of a dedicated ECM solution) but still garnering some of the benefits of being in the cloud.
This 'cloudification' may take the form of running their current ECM platform in Infrastructure as a Service ('IaaS') or by having a 3rd party (such as Alatrio or RecordPoint) alongside their Office 365 content.
If you can't rationalise the functional compromise of moving to Software as a Service ('SaaS') or don't want the change associated to 'cloudifying' into IaaS, then the cloud isn't for you at this time.
It really is that simple. You will have to continue with the high cost of ownership associated to your existing platform, not forgetting that you will inevitably, have to move to the cloud at some point, given the direction of travel of many of the vendors.
Accepting the Cost
The great thing about migration is that it is a project not a continuum. Good planning, good understanding of the need, good understanding of the outcome, and good planning (did I mention good planning?) will enable even the most complex of migration asks to be scoped, specified, costed, and delivered.
Accepting that there is a cost associated to this project, and that the cost might be more than you think, is a vital consideration. I see many organisations approach their migration to Office 365 assuming a 'lift and shift' exercise and therefore secondarily assuming that the cost will be low.
If you're just moving some file shares or an existing SharePoint service this might be a valid position, but if you're moving an ECM solution of any importance it is in my experience, very unlikely to be that simple.
All IT professionals understand the mantra of 'complexity equals cost'. With ECM migration, for reasons that escape me, this reality is often forgotten.
Why do organisations that have spent years adding content into a complex system with appropriate information architecture and a high operational overhead assume that moving this capability into Office 365 is simple, fast, and cheap?
It is as if common sense evaporates and the view that 'the migration has to be quick and cheap because Office 365 is inexpensive' sets in. The migration of a complex legacy ECM solution to Office 365 is unlikely to be cheap. Again, we have to accept this.
Understanding the Value of an Intelligent Migration
The 'return' on the cost acceptance is in ensuring you understand the value that the migration to Office 365 brings. Read the sentence again - the value that the migration brings.
Office 365 is the platform that you will, once migrated, deliver your service from. Office 365 brings the value of the 'will be' service; this value is a given and it is rightly assumed for most organisations this value will be realised in the form of lowered operational costs.
The migration is the enabler that allows your user community to make full use of Office 365 and so needs to be 'done right' in order to maximise your value opportunity.
An Intelligent Migration - as opposed to a lift and shift - gives you an opportunity to do a multitude of things. Restructuring content, redefining information architecture, reapplying fit-for-purpose security, the migration gives you the opportunity to correct the sins of the past - in both the implementation and user experience contexts.
If your migration allows your user community to maintain a similar level of productivity (despite any aforementioned compromise you may have to make), you save money in the operational space (because Office 365 is costing you less) and you've performed a course correction on the service, you are maximising value.
I would challenge you to work to determine what, in real terms, an Intelligent Migration is worth to you, what it brings to your organisation. I'm pretty certain it is significantly more than what it will cost you.
Known in the game, I believe, as a 'no-brainer'.
Thinking 'Long Game'
Considering the long game for your migration to Office 365 will help you sleep at night. If you're accepting a functional compromise, your user community will, in time, come around. If you're concerned about the cost of migration, work out the cost of not migrating over, say, a 5-year period and then add this to the math you did for value determination above - this is the true cost of not migrating.
You will have to engage in a migration program. Unless your needs are so simple that a lift and shift migration really is the answer, you will have to invest in a complex migration exercise.
Think about this investment in the long term. Look at your rosy return on investment. Rejoice in your lowered cost of ownership. Bask in the afterglow of the praise heaped on you by your boss.
If you're worrying about how much the migration will cost you this year and not balancing this to what you return over 3 to 5 years then you're focused on the wrong thing (and perhaps should consider a career change!). You always need to look at what numbers are on both sides of the equals sign.
The payoff for Intelligent Migration is a marathon not a sprint and playing out the long game in your planning will help you realise the payoff, and therefore justify the plan, before you embark.
Look Before You Leap
The broad conclusion to draw is that actual migration to Office 365 will likely be more complex, more expensive, and at a higher cost (in non-financial terms) than you originally considered.
It is worth remembering that assumed cost at initiation is rarely the same as forecast cost once project initiation is complete and impact has been fully assessed. Napkin math, ROM, or finger-in-the-air estimates are often out by a significant margin, this is not necessarily a bad thing - unless the variance is enormous.
Almost every enterprise-scale Office 365 migration I have seen has cost more than was assumed at initiation. The successful projects (where success has been measured not just in financial terms) are the ones where the legwork was done to ensure that the project was scoped, sized, and costed correctly and where the considerations I have outlined above had been worked into the thinking from the outset.
Of course, even the best laid plans can go awry. The unknown cannot be accounted for in advance, but if sufficient consideration goes into the project, the likelihood and impact of variation should be reduced.
The bottom line of migration is actually pretty simple; plan in the best way you can and be as realistic as possible straight out of the gate - don't look for shortcuts, let them find you if they are there.