How do you move files from a shared drive to something like SharePoint?

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“Data migration” is something I first encountered when working with websites for a Scottish local authority. This 4,000 seat organisation had not touched its website in years, so the content was stale and unloved and the tech was home-made. I did an identical project around three years later with a second Scottish council, this time with 4,500 staff, and then I moved onto another project with a government department, this time with around 11,000 employees.

Working with experts on the third meant we took a very different approach to the latter than to the former, and that gave me an insight into what’s possible when you work with very clever people.

The approach with both councils in 2015 and 2018 was manual. The approach with the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy was programmatic. Both worked. But there were very obvious differences in timescales and resourcing.

The first involved me and a colleague working on a content refresh over a period of months, while the second involved me and two colleagues. Both took months. We went live with much better, customer-focused content and much less content, but it still took months.

On the programmatic migration, it took a matter of weeks to suck all the content out of one source, and then blow it back into the new database structure. I was sold.

Since then, I’ve led a number of file migrations from places where people were still using shared drives, to organisations who had signed up for cloud storage like Dropbox or Box.

The future states were all a mixture of OneDrive and SharePoint, with Teams as the collaboration front-end and SharePoint as file storage behind the scenes.

Here’s my top five learning points.

  1. People don’t really understand or care where their files live.
  2. It’s very hard for people to break the habit of creating multiple versions of the same file. You can explain how version history works but people tend to have a mental model where they think they have to save a file after making changes to it with a new name, like “file2”
  3. People have normally spent a long time working with File Explorer. If the new preferred location can’t be accessed from File Explorer, it really throws them. Use the “synch” option in SharePoint or Teams to link to your company OneDrive, then the folder location will show up in File Explorer.
  4. People don’t understand that deleting a synched file means deleting every copy of that file, in every location or device. You can’t rollback or undo a deletion on your own, most of the time it means you’ll need to have a word with your IT admin to try and find and restored the deleted file. It’s fairly easy to locate if you contact IT within a month, but the clock is ticking and if it goes beyond 30 days for anything in OneDrive, it is removed from the Recycle Bin and getting it back is not for non-experts at that point! It’s 93 days for SharePoint, which is an argument for always working in SharePoint (or Teams) with others, rather than sharing from your OneDrive.
  5. None of this is easy!
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