I often see SharePoint environments that exist in parallel to good old file shares. The idea usually is to switch from file shares to SharePoint, because they allow the users to collaborate more effectively and efficiently. However, some users do not want to move away from the file shares. But then again, other users get confused if not everything is moved immediately. I do not have a silver bullet to determine the ideal moment to unplug the file shares. But let us take a look at some considerations, which came up in recent projects.
Switch from file shares to SharePoint
People sometimes ask me why they would stop using files shares and start using SharePoint in one of its incarnations. What’s in it for them? SharePoint sites do offer more functionality for collaborating that file shares. Mosst users can benefit from them, if they adopt them.
And why do I talk about SharePoint sites and not about the newer offerings in Office 365? Because these advantages appear in old school team sites on-premises or new modern team sites in SharePoint online, as well as in the sites associated to Office 365 Groups or Teams. It does not matter, many of the relevant options still live in a version of SharePoint.
SharePoint sites work better than file shares when you need to…
- Share documents with people outside your organization
In SharePoint sites, you can only allow externals if the administrators have switched the option on. But I have never had a file share that allowed for external access anyway.
- Work anytime, anywhere.
Of course some organizations lock down access without VPN, even in Office 365. But when it lives in SharePoint, your chances are a lot better for accessing information from outside your organization’s network or on a mobile device is a lot easier.
- Collaborate in a controlled manner
- Work in a document at the same time with multiple authors
- Powerful versioning
- Email notifications when a document is changed
- Keep track of documents that have more properties than the windows basics
For example, if documents have an expiry date, owner and a status, you can enrich them with metadata and use those to offer smart views, filtered to display overdue documents owned by my and grouped by status.
- Work with more than just documents, like action lists, news, links, …
Classic collaboration entails a lot of documents being exchanged. But the tools allow for more and more different ways to share and keep track of things, especially with the interactive Groups and Teams, including the spiffy Planner.
- Collaborate on informal notes (for which sites contain a OneNote notebook).
Most of these advantages also apply to OneDrive for Business. OneDrive for Business is the replacement of the personal file share (P-drive or I-Drive or whatever it is called).
Unplug file shares when you switch to SharePoint
You can use file shares and SharePoint sites at the same time, in parallel. But this does cause problems, which you want to avoid by unplugging file shares.
If you have both, it is:
- Confusing for the users: what do we store where? In an organization where IT did not want to rush the unplugging of the file shares, some users complained that the old file shares ought to be switched off right away. If we are on SharePoint and others still on a file share, how can we find each other? And how can we get used to SharePoint if most of the information is still on a file share? Of course other users panicked at the mere idea of losing their file shares, which is why the IT department took it slow…
- Costly for IT: storage on file shares is expensive, and you don’t want to spend time and money maintaining two systems.
But look before you leap
Organizations are often eager to unplug the file shares quickly, in order to achieve the desired IT cost savings. However, this can also cause problems.
- Some files don’t work in SharePoint For example, supersized files or “dangerous” file types (like .exe) cannot be uploaded into SharePoint. Filename with symbols like & have to be changed before they can be uploaded. Connections of connected HTML-files, such as handbooks, can no longer be browsed when they are moved into SharePoint.
- Is SharePoint really working for the users? Don’t unplug the old file share before the new SharePoint sites can really be used. Not only should the environment be available, but it should also be accessible without hiccups and perform properly. I have hear enough people complain that they did not use SharePoint sites because they are so much slower than the old file shares. Then they are only working theoretically, but not in real life.
- Have the users been empowered to adopt the SharePoint sites? Do they know they exist? Do they see what the benefits are? Do they understand how they can use them to achieve those benefits? Do they feel confident enough to dare use them? Can they get support?
- If not:
- Old school users may revert to older tools If you unplug the file share and they do not see SharePoint sites as a good option, users may go back to sending files back and forth as classic e-mail attachments. Then you may get the IT cost savings, but you will end up with a mess of unmanaged information.
- Savvy users will find their own tools in Shadow IT Some users love spiffy new apps and tools, and they want to get the job done. So they will just go out there, download this, subscribe to that and join anything else if IT does not provide great tools. I have heard enough users explain that SharePoint sites did not work for them, so they used Dropbox or Google docs or WeTransfer or whatever else instead. This may be just fine, but it may also be a risk if they adopt Shadow IT tools that do not meet the security requirements for example. And don’t think you can prevent this by blacklisting the known tools for file sharing in the cloud. There is always one that the IT official will have missed and that some creative user has found…
- And transition carefully The best way to transition depends on who you are as an organization, what information you have in the file shares, and what governance rules your information has to obey. Maybe you can move the current information from a file share into a new structure in SharePoint as you go along and leave the rest for a year before you just delete it. Or you can migrate a nicely structured file share into SharePoint using a migration tool. But you should think about it, before you get some garbage-in-garbage-out migration or lose crucial information. And maybe you only have regular office files, without any complications, to which SharePoint is ideally suited. But you should make sure, before users have no other option but to put exotic files onto their C-drive (which may crash) or flash drive (which they may lose) or external storage tool (which may be pirate by who knows whom).
So for some types of files, you may need to keep a file share. For some organizations and some users, a file share may continue to play an important role. But for most organizations, most users and most of the information, it is a good idea to move to SharePoint and unplug the file shares. However, don’t unplug them before you have made sure that the users have adopted the new tool and embraced the new way of working.