Although SharePoint Online still lags behind the SharePoint on-premises versions in terms of active users (Concept Searching survey), it has been gaining a momentum for the last two years. Microsoft doesn’t hide their passion for the cloud and keeps promoting the Office 365 suite. A massive marketing campaign seasoned with constant updates does the job well: during the Virtual SharePoint Summit this May, the corporation reported 90% growth in active users for SharePoint Online and OneDrive.
However, this movement to the cloud can disturb companies that got used to their on-premises deployments and have never planned any changes except upgrading or migrating their SharePoint solutions to the platform’s higher version. The AIIM report on the impact of SharePoint 2016 showed that well: companies that actively use SharePoint 2007 and even 2003 are still here.
Yet, with such a dynamic growth of SharePoint Online solutions, it’s hard to ignore the cloud offering: reduced infrastructure costs, simplified maintenance and support, ongoing functional and security upgrades. It is how the SharePoint paradise looks like, isn’t it? The path to this paradise is pretty thorny, though, as the cloud brings several challenges to SharePoint owners who have to make tough decisions.
SharePoint Infrastructure and Team: Should You Wave Them Goodbye?
SharePoint Online is hosted in the Microsoft Datacenter, which means you can retire your SharePoint on-premises farm. It also means that from now on, only Microsoft will be responsible for delivering functional upgrades and security patches for your cloud solution. Sounds cool, right? Yes, sure, you can take a heavy burden off your IT infrastructure and IT department.
Still, at this stage, you will have to consider at least two issues. First of all, if you invested heavily into your SharePoint servers and in building up your SharePoint infrastructure, will you be ready to dismiss it? Second, you will most probably have to restructure (read, lay off) your SharePoint development team, as SharePoint Online environment requires much less effort to be supported compared to the on-premises one.
Functional Dilemma: What to Choose
While approaching the functional issue, keep in mind that you have the following options: either using SharePoint Online standalone or get subscribed to the entire Office 365 suite choosing among multiple plans.
On the one hand, your choice will determine the cost of your solution: From $5.00 user/month for SharePoint Online Plan 1 to $35.00 user/month for Office 365 Enterprise E5 plan.
On the other hand, various plans open up various opportunities for end-users. Going for SharePoint Online standalone, you will get SharePoint Online and OneDrive features only; subscribing to Office 365, you will get a set of Office 365 apps and services, including a collaboration combo of SharePoint, Yammer, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business.
Once you choose a suitable plan, there will be another set of challenges related to migrating your on-premises solution to the cloud and customizing it according to your needs. This can be more difficult than it seems.
Customization Peculiarities: SharePoint Online vs. On-Prem
To cut it short, customization methods in SharePoint on-premises and SharePoint Online are different. It is not essential if you launch your first SharePoint solution in the cloud, but the customization gap can be critical for companies that plan to move their on-premises solutions to the cloud and keep the same functionality. In some cases, it will be just impossible to get the same experience.
All in all, Microsoft recommends customizing cloud solutions with caution: as SharePoint Online gets regular updates, these changes can affect existing customizations. However, taking into consideration that in real life, companies rarely use out-of-the-box solutions, they will obviously continue customizing their SharePoint Online solutions despite warnings.
To succeed with customizing your SharePoint Online, it’s worth using one of the recommended methods. This includes starting with browser-based settings, then trying out Microsoft-enabled tools and remote provisioning and, finally, moving on to custom apps. Another important thing to keep in mind is that code-based sandbox solutions have been disabled in SharePoint Online (declarative or no-code sandbox solutions (NCSS) are still supported), so SharePoint developers should now replace them, for example, with SharePoint Online apps.
Customizing a SharePoint Online solution for a social care provider, our SharePoint team applied a combination of available customization techniques. We used SharePoint Designer 2013 to tailor custom workflows for HR and accounting departments, and SharePoint Color Palette Tool to deliver custom SharePoint themes. We added custom HTML components to the portal pages with SharePoint Content Editor Web Part, while SharePoint REST API and jQuery were applied to get, modify and display SharePoint data.
Security: Should You Worry About Your Data Protection?
Security can be another pain point for organizations planning to adopt SharePoint Online. Despite the fact that Microsoft keeps assuring companies of their datacenters’ reliability, SharePoint owners are still highly concerned about their sensitive data protection, and both of the above-mentioned reports prove that. At the same time, there are companies that will never move their deployments to the cloud due to data compliance restrictions.
This can be the case for healthcare organizations, where PHI privacy and protection is the top priority, which can conflict with the shared cloud philosophy. It still doesn’t mean that SharePoint Online isn’t for healthcare organizations at all. The platform can serve well as a solution for cross-departmental collaboration, a learning system for interns or a knowledge management solution to power evidence-based medicine. SharePoint administrators should stay vigilant, though, and track data sharing within the portal, as well as train employees to use the solution wisely, especially when it comes to mobile apps.
This can also be a reason to consider a hybrid SharePoint environment and keep sensitive data on-premises while enabling cloud-based team collaboration.
SharePoint Online Adoption: Are There Any Challenges for End Users?
Employees who have been using their SharePoint on-premises solutions for years will have to handle the new cloud environment, too. In this case, dedicated training sessions are a must to explain to end users how the cloud solution functions and help them understand new interface, features, and mobile applications.
To add more, SharePoint Online finally provides more freedom. It means that users can choose among several team collaboration tools, become members of various groups (including users inside and outside of their organization), as well as access their SharePoint solutions at any time and at any place via mobile devices. User freedom, however, implies much larger responsibilities. Your staff should not only understand perfectly how to use their solution but also constantly think about data protection.
The Bright Side Is Also Here
Well, the road to the cloud can be quite difficult. However, this shouldn’t scare you away from SharePoint Online. Instead, consider this post a way to help you make reasonable decisions about your existing SharePoint deployment. When you see all the possible pitfalls up front, it is much easier to avoid project failures, be it a stalled SharePoint migration project, a poorly adopted cloud solution or extremely expensive customization.
If you prepare to deal with the described challenges on your own or with your service provider, SharePoint Online can bring a bunch of advantages, such as easier solution management and support, functional flexibility, richer collaboration capabilities, and happier end users.