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Categories: Business;Office 365;SharePoint

​With the introduction of OneDrive for Business a while back, a few new doors opened up. Users quickly learned that it was even easier now to bring documents in and out of SharePoint and possibly work with documents offline. This sparked a lot of fervor and unfortunately some misconceptions around how to effectively move documents into SharePoint and take advantage of its features. We have come across a few clients that have come to us and said we just want to move our file shares into SharePoint as-is and start using OneDrive to interact with the files. Some of them said they know their current file structure is a mess but they would tackle the clean up once the documents have been moved into SharePoint.

There are a few red flags in this scenario, the core problem is that there is no clear and defined goal for moving their documents into SharePoint. In this situation, simply moving a file share structure, as-is into SharePoint could create many issues and usability problems for end users. What we have seen happen is users end up running into all the limitations/extra steps with using SharePoint without getting exposed to the benefits, ultimately blaming the product. Working with these clients I have established the basic elements that need to be reviewed in order to avoid a digital dumping ground.

Plan an Information Architecture

Finding and discovering documents is the number one concern for organizations and their end users. File shares are usually created organically, as users see the need for a folder or sub folder they create it put their documents in it and move along. Users typically never check to see if a folder already exists in another location where they can be uploading that document or have they even named the document that makes sense to everybody else. In the end this creates a folder structure that is not standardized or optimized for usability. In the ideal world we would address the following questions:

  • Should we be splitting up content/documents along multiple document libraries/sites for usability and security?
  • How can we effectively use metadata and possibly replace folder use?
  • How can we effectively categorize documents so that users can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily?

Assign Ownership

Letting things grow organically where anyone can do anything isn’t the best way to maintain an effective Information Architecture. Now is the best time to start assigning ownership of content. Have content champions that are responsible for maintaining their own areas and ensuring corporate standards are followed and enforced. Creating an environment where the custodianship of content is shared rather than centralized is a highly effective strategy for creating a sustainable platform.

Properly Plan the Migration

Now that we have decided we want to avoid the digital dumping ground by doing a little planning, we should also identify the most effective way of migrating the content into SharePoint. Content migration can be a scary thing, especially if you are planning on transforming your content such as recategorizing. If you are planning on introducing metadata to your documents classification, you need a way of tagging your documents during migration. This is the time to explore your options on how to migrate your content, and see if you need a migration tool that will help you tag those documents quickly, minimizing your migration time.

Plan for the Limitations

Now here comes the source of many problems. Like almost anything in life, SharePoint has its limitations. And if you try to just blindly dump your file share documents and folders into SharePoint, your end users will start running into these limitations. It is important to know these limitations and plan on how to overcome them! 

Illegal Characters

Before you bring any of your files or folders into SharePoint you have to ensure that you avoid using illegal characters for file or folder names. Options for removing these illegal file or folder names can be anywhere from writing scripts or using a third party analyzer tool. As well, some migration tools will help identify and possibly strip out these illegal characters upon migration. For a list of illegal characters for sites, folders, and file names visit:

File Name Length

Another common scenario we run across is long file names and/or deeply nested folder structures that are migrated as-is into SharePoint. This can mean a document resides at a location such as: “ACME Industries\Current Files\Human Resources\2015\Benefits Files\Canadian Benefits\Forms\Insurance Form.docx”. There is a 260 character limit that applies to the entire path of any file that resides within SharePoint. The path contains the site, all folders and sub folders and then the file name itself. With a deep folder structure (as above) and long file name, a lot of our clients have quickly run into this limitation. To get around this, try to flatten out folder hierarchies or avoid folders altogether, instead use metadata.

Planning for moving documents properly into SharePoint doesn’t have to be a complicated task; however, taking these steps to ensure that users have the best possible experience and get the most benefit of moving to SharePoint is a key component for end user adoption.