We’ve written before about the respective pros and cons of running SharePoint on-premise versus in the cloud. It’s something that divides opinion in the user community, so many were able to breathe a sigh of relief last month when Microsoft announced SharePoint 2016 – a release that belies rumours of SharePoint Server’s encroaching demise at the hands of its off-premise counterpart.

Of course, not everyone wants to stick with on-premise hardware and software, and some SharePoint users are beginning to embrace a future of subscription-based cloud apps and ecosystems. For this portion of the platform’s install base, migrating to SharePoint Online or Office 365 represents a serious opportunity to save money and improve business agility.

However, said migration is no simple task. Without the right planning and project management, it can go drastically wrong – even if, at the outset, it looked as if all you had to do was copy a few files from one place to another.

Want to make sure your SharePoint online migration is successful? Consider the following five steps:

Define your business objectives

It’s not enough to build your case for cloud adoption on the sole premise that everyone else is doing it, or based on some vague hunch that it’ll save you money. You need to think holistically about what your business is trying to accomplish, and how SharePoint Online specifically can support you and your employees in fulfilling those objectives.

This might come down to giving your workforce more mobility options, or achieving reductions in IT hygiene costs. But there could also be other factors to consider before you plan out your cloud migration, such as the implications for security and compliance.

Inventory your current implementation

Before you begin to migrate from SharePoint Server to SharePoint Online or Office 365, you should carry out a complete inventory of your current implementation and ascertain how best to deal with each cache of content. SharePoint blogger and MVP Benjamin Niaulin recommends the mantra “remove, migrate, rebuild”, which pretty much sums up best practice for a migration: ditch useless and outdated information, keep the content that’s working as it is, and reimagine sites that no longer meet their users’ needs.

Plan for differences in features

In terms of features, SharePoint Online isn’t as well-equipped as its on-premise counterpart. It’s not as extensible, for example, as there’s no opportunity to run high-trust apps that connect to remote servers. If you don’t consider this at the outset of your migration, as well as what the change will mean for your workforce, you could be heading for disaster.

A side-by-side comparison of feature availability across the various editions of SharePoint can be found on the Microsoft website, so be sure to check this against what you’re currently using and what you may use in the future.

Set roles and responsibilities

A common misstep that companies make when they’re setting about a SharePoint migration is to put the entire project in the hands of the IT department. Worse still, it might go to a developer who neither understands the business objectives behind the change nor the long list of technologies with which SharePoint intersects. The helmsman of a successful SharePoint migration is typically be someone with skills in strategic content management, and that means putting business leaders in charge and not IT.

Communicate with end users

Finally, no SharePoint migration – or indeed, implementation – should be conducted in a vacuum. It’s critical that project managers communicate with end users about the planned changes, about what’s currently working and what isn’t, and how their roles and responsibilities will be affected in the long run.

This could also include training after the migration is complete, as using SharePoint Online or Office 365 is quite a different thing to interacting with SharePoint on-premise. And if changes to information architecture and governance are also on the cards, it’s critical that workers are aware and therefore able to do their jobs without difficulty or disruption.