When migrating content from an old version of SharePoint to a new one; or from SharePoint on-prem to Office 365; or from a file share to SharePoint / OneDrive / Office 365 – one of the most critical questions is always the findability of content, regardless of its migration status.

Often, migration takes a long time (even months), and users get confused very soon if they don’t know where to find what.

Search can be of help.


The problem

To explain the concept of “search first migration”, let’s suppose you’re migrating from a shared drive (file share) to SharePoint.

Before the content migration starts, everyone knows (more or less) that they have to go to the Z: drive and locate the files in question there. Supposing the folder structure is clear, every user knows how to navigate to their files.

However, during migration, content gets usually re-organized, too. SharePoint (on-prem or online) gives us the feature of metadata, taxonomies, workflows, etc. – much more than we can get on a classic shared drive. But this also means that organizing the content by folder only is not the right approach.

However, this means, users might get confused. It cannot be guaranteed that a file stored at Z:\Projects\CustomerXY\2018\presentation.pptx will be moved to https://mycompany.sharepoint.com/sites/projects/customerXY/2018 folder. Rather, the customer’s name, year, etc. probably will be transformed into metadata fields, and the site/document library structure will be flatter (see some very useful recommendations by Joanne Klein, MVP here). While it makes sense, in the long run, we have to help the users with this transition, too.


Search First!

If you include Search in your migration plans, the process and transition might be much easier for everyone.

The steps you have to follow:

  1. Deploy search, and include the file share (where you migrate the content FROM).
  2. Crawl & index everything and educate, encourage and enforce your users to use search. This will the primary tool to use from now.
  3. Crawl and index SharePoint (where you migrate the content TO). At the beginning it might be empty, don’t worry about it, index anyway.
  4. Schedule regular incremental or continuous crawl on both content sources (old share drive, new SharePoint).
  5. As you move the content from the old location to the new and re-organize it, the index will be refreshed automatically. This way, your users will find the content regardless of its migration status.

Further recommendations

Besides indexing both the old and new repositories, it is critical to present the files/documents to the users in a way that really helps them, rather than further confuse.

I usually recommend making a communication plan, too, which describes not only the migration itself but also the “new role” of search. Sometimes I also recommend not to mention the word “search” at all, use a creative naming instead, for example “document locator” or “content hub”, etc.

When implementing the search UI, always focus on the users’ needs. Create search verticals (custom pages) which target different groups of users. Define custom and meaningful refiners (search facets) on each search page. Identify what content has to be boosted, and create custom SharePoint Search Query Rules. Deploy custom display templates. Etc. – Do everything to help the users, motivate and encourage them during this journey.

It will pay off.

If you want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to let me know, I am always happy to help.