The most common use for SharePoint Online is to replace a shared company server. In fact, it's how we use it and we've helped dozens of businesses move their shared storage to SharePoint. Moving your shared company storage to SharePoint can greatly increase your employee productivity and eliminate the cost of maintaining a physical server.
But over and over again, we see companies make the same mistake: they don’t want to take the time to properly plan their SharePoint infrastructure. Companies want to just pick up everything from their physical server and dump it directly onto SharePoint. Nine times out of ten, this is the wrong thing to do. Look at it this way: if you have a mess of a file share, and you simply move it online – now you have a mess of a file share online.
So how do you fix your mess and prepare to move to SharePoint Online?
Reconsider your file organization
Most small to mid-size businesses have never stepped back and looked at how they organize their files. In a small business, a messy file share isn’t always a problem due to the small amounts of data being stored and the intimacy of coworkers. As a business grows, however, employees lose intimacy and data that was once logically organized slowly gets messier and more disorganized.
To organize your files, start broad. Define the different departments/functions/teams that your business employs. Then define what types of documents and data those groups work with and how they interact with other groups. Finally, define how and where you want each type of data stored.
Get rid of folders within folders
I’ve never found any business taxonomy so well defined that everyone in the business knows where every piece of data should go. Folders within folders within folders within folders are most often the cause of this.
Don’t misunderstand me – one or two levels of folder hierarchy are okay – more than that, however, can be problematic.
Why are they bad?
- A new employee isn’t going to be able to find the information they need very quickly if they have to click through 4 or 5 levels of folders every time they need something (heck, NO employee is going to be able find information quickly like that).
- URL length becomes an issue after a while in SharePoint Online. If the length of the URL for a file gets too long (around 250 characters), it won't open. Having too many folders within folders will get you to that limit pretty quickly.
Make a plan before you move
Getting your files to SharePoint is a big project. Going into it without a plan is basically asking to fail. With a move like this, you're moving active data from one location to another. It needs to be tested, moved in small chunks, and communicated clearly so that employees don’t encounter a loss of productivity.
Exactly what that plan looks like will different by company and by project. If you don't have much experience with SharePoint, you're best bet is going to be to work with a Microsoft Partner who has done it before.
A good partner can also help you with your file structure so you can make the most of your SharePoint move.