Robin Harris on how to get your files and permissions ready to migrate, and put good data practices in place.
Robin Harris is a Cloud Technologies Specialist at Community IT. She primarily works with clients who are moving files into SharePoint from a server, another cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or Google Drive, or creating a file sharing database for the first time.
Today she shares some tips from her years of helping many clients who have faced this daunting task, and helps us break it down into smaller tasks. She compares moving your files to moving house. Making sure you throw out all the stuff you don’t want to move and clearly labeling the boxes from each room makes moving day so much easier.
But as with all nonprofit tech, there is no one size to fit all. The organizational principles you choose and the leader of the project should fit your nonprofit. As long as the files are organized, it doesn’t matter if you have a committee or an individual in charge. Robin also explains when it is advantageous to have an outside company like Community IT assist with the migration, and some of her tricks for helping nonprofits prepping files to migrate them.
Especially for an organization that has been in existence for a very long time, the way files were organized has probably changed often. Sometimes using a “dump truck” approach is the only way to migrate. If your business is such that you are always busy, it’s always going to be hard to prioritize organizing the files, before or after the migration.
If you can start to make organization a habit, you will find that many other policies will start to fall into place, especially as you think about your permissions. As AI tools for discovering files become more advanced and ubiquitous, you are going to want to be sure your permissions and your policies are in good shape. A migration can be just the deadline you need to update your organization-wide attitudes toward knowledge management.
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Robin Harris is the Cloud Technology Engineer working primarily on SharePoint migrations and other tech projects. Her mission is to help clients become more comfortable using cloud technology to work from anywhere. When problems arise, her approach is calm and caring and she aims to eliminate anxiety. Prior to joining Community IT Innovators, Robin worked at a local charter school for 10 years.
Robin enjoys being able to work in the Information Technology field while contributing to the overall missions held by nonprofits. Church, children, knitting and Star Trek occupies her time when she is not working. Robin has A+ certification, and is pursuing Microsoft Certified Professional certification. She enjoyed sharing her expertise in this podcast on prepping files to migrate them.
Transcript: Prepping Files to Migrate Them
Carolyn Woodard: Welcome, everyone to Community IT Innovators’ podcast. My name is Carolyn Woodard and I am the Outreach Director for Community IT. I’m here with Robin Harris, who is one of our senior engineers.
Robin Harris: Yes. Hello, I’m Robin Harris and I am one of the Cloud Technology Specialists here at Community IT. My primary focus is SharePoint migrations.
How Prepping to Migrate Files is Like Packing to Move Houses
Carolyn Woodard: And today, I think you’re going to share some information on preparing your files to do a migration?
Robin Harris: Yes, definitely. Some tips on how to prepare your files ahead of time to have fewer headaches during your migration, and after. Probably the best way to have a smooth migration is to make sure that you are only taking what you need to the new house. I like to use the moving house analogy because literally you don’t want to have to open boxes in the new house if you didn’t need that stuff to begin with. So it’s a good time to get rid of old things, but also, it’s a good time to decide which method you want your users to use to access your files.
In one case, we had a client that had the same type of file in many folders for many different clients. Whereas, if they just had the client folder, they could go to that folder that corresponded with that client; they could get to that file faster. But it took some training along the way. So they did that, they created folders for their clients, and then folders inside that contained the standard documents that they needed for that client.
Carolyn Woodard: To go back to your house metaphor, if you were moving the house and each client was a room, the boxes in that room are labeled, living room or kitchen, and you might have some things that you need in both places, like pencils that you need in your living room and in your kitchen.
Robin Harris: Right.
Carolyn Woodard: You wouldn’t be organizing a box full of all the pencils from everywhere in your house. You’d want the pencils that were in the living room to be in the living room boxes, the pencils that are in the kitchen, to be in the kitchen boxes. So they’ll be there when you unpack them at the new house. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Robin Harris: That’s exactly what I’m saying. Yes, and in their instance, that is exactly what they did. They had a pencils box, they had a scissors box, but they were all inside of each individual client, which simplified things for them.
In the long run, it made it easier for the employees to be able to find files specific to their client because some of their employees were assigned to one client and others to another client. Now they didn’t have to look through all of the clients to find just the folder that they needed.
Carolyn Woodard: Just a pencil?
Robin Harris: Yeah, just a pencil.
What’s the Best Way to Organize Your Files for a Migration?
Carolyn Woodard: Are there other ways to do that kind of organization that you have had people use? I wouldn’t think that every organization would need to do that analogy of, it’s the living room box, it’s the kitchen box. Are there other ways of organizing? Does it just matter as long as it is organized?
Robin Harris: It just matters that it is organized specific to your druthers on the other end. And thinking about how you want things to look on the SharePoint side as opposed to the service that you’re moving from, or the server that you’re moving from.
Carolyn Woodard: Do you have advice on sitting down to do this? I imagine that for a lot of organizations and the staff that are in charge of doing this, it just seems like an overwhelming project.
Thinking again about moving house and you’re like, I should have been packing these boxes up two weeks ago, and now the movers are coming tomorrow and I have to get it done tonight.
Do you have advice or suggestions on being able to get it done early? Is it good to have one person in charge? Is it good to have a committee? Do you survey the different people who are using the files and come to an organizational principle that way?
What is the Best Organizational Structure to Manage Nonprofit File Migration?
What are some ways to break it down so it’s an easier task?
Robin Harris: First of all, if your files are already overwhelming, then the committee method might be preferred because then, marketing can focus on just the marketing items and development can focus just on development, and so on.
However, in some cases, regardless of the size of your files, the size of your staff might not be conducive to that setup. And in that case, a single person that has access to everyone who is a decision maker is beneficial.
I’ve actually worked with clients in both situations where yes, we have the staff and Community IT has met with each department to make sure their files are organized the way they want, have them explain to us how they want it, and then do the migration.
And then I had a relatively small client, just maybe seven staff, where just one person was involved. She had a lot of files to organize, but she had access to each person that needed to make those decisions. And she just took a month to set up all the folders the way she wanted it on the other end, which then made it easy to do the migration because in the mapping of files, the destination was already inferred.
Carolyn Woodard: That’s my next question. I know that you are interested in this, having seen it at a lot of different organizations.
Our clients have different kinds of situational awareness of being ready to move their files or needing to do a lot of work on the files before they move them. Clearly, as you just said, when you are migrating files from a server or a different service to SharePoint, it’s very helpful. It will take less time for the migration if there’s a clear path, these files go to this new folder, et cetera.
Other Migration Methods
Are there benefits also to the organization? Are there reasons not to just use a dump truck on your house and put everything in it and then get to the new house and tip it up into the yard and figure it out then?
Robin Harris: Sometimes that’s the only way it can be done. Especially for an organization that has been in existence for a very long time, the way files were organized has probably changed often during the course of them being in business. So yeah, sometimes that’s the only way to do it.
Of course, it’s not preferred because some things you will never get to, because if your business is such that you are always busy, that’s hard to prioritize after the migration. So in that case, I would still say some minor organization is helpful so that you at least have piles of things that make it easier to go through. Piles of marketing, piles of development and organize that way so that then on the other end, after moving day, you can maybe assign somebody the task of organizing the files and getting rid of what you don’t want before actually rolling it out.
Carolyn Woodard: Can you talk a little bit more about that?
I’m sure some organizations come down to where they draw a line at a certain date and any files that are older than that, just archive them somewhere where we can’t mess with them. I’m sure people don’t want to delete old files, but sometimes you don’t really need a hundred photos from the gala in 2011. Get rid of them. I’m sure they can make decisions like that.
But in the bigger picture, I imagine that there are permissions issues when you’re migrating from one system to SharePoint where you want to set up your new files, like marketing has access to their files, but don’t have access to files they are not supposed to have access to. So it seems like you need to do some organizing, whether or not you feel like you need to.
Robin Harris: Yeah, that’s very true. That’s exactly why I recommend there should be separate folders that the person in charge of organizing them has access to accordingly, but not to the things they don’t need.
Carolyn Woodard: Now, is this something that you recommend? People would write down the permissions and the policies instead of just having it in someone’s head, or have it be “obvious” from the way the files are structured? How do people go about that?
Robin Harris: Yeah, so we have what’s known as a folder disposition document, which tells specifically the source of the file, the destination of the file. And then on another page, there is as far as destination, who should get access. The access is assigned the very last day after a migration before turning it over to staff. So they get that invitation and then at that point they should be ready to access their files the next day.
Carolyn Woodard: That seems like something that only the organization can really do, like Community IT can’t decide for you.
Robin Harris: Yes. Our point per person decides who should have access to each site and it’s not written in stone. They can certainly move things around, but it’s best to have that before the files go live.
Carolyn Woodard: And then you have that document for anyone who has any questions about it. And then also if you need to change the structure around in the future or who knows, migrate somewhere else at some point, you have a written document of why you made the decisions you made at the time that you made them.
Robin Harris: That’s very true, yes.
Should You Spend Time and Effort Organizing Files If You Aren’t Migrating Them?
Carolyn Woodard: Everything we’ve been talking about today is to prepare for a migration in this case into SharePoint. But I’m sure this would also fit for if you’re migrating to some other file share, file storage system. But is there a benefit to cleaning up your files and your file structure and your permissions even if you aren’t planning to migrate?
Robin Harris: Yeah, good file hygiene is always good to practice. If you have saved a file in marketing that also should belong in finance, it’s best to then decide which one of these locations that file should live in for good and remove the other one because that eliminates confusion later. Duplications are never good. That’s one of the things that we try to make sure of. Duplication is one of the things that we try to avoid.
Carolyn Woodard: I feel like it’s human nature you’re fighting against. You have a nature to think, well, I might need to share this with someone else. But then you get two versions and somebody’s worked on the one that was shared in finance, but the marketing one is the old one. And so you’re like, which one is it? I’ll just share it again. And then you run into these multiple versions of it.
Do you have any advice for organizations that want to embark on that kind of a file hygiene process if they’re not forced to because they’re migrating? Is it just one person who says, Hey, we’re going to do an inventory. We’re going to put some good practices in place.
What works for organizations?
Robin Harris: Right now we have a client that is trying to decide just that. Part of the organization actually uses another service to share their documents out of the organization. But likely those same files exist in SharePoint that the other part of the organization uses avidly. And they’re trying to decide now whether to bring their external users from that one department onto SharePoint or to keep them where they are. And in that case, what do they do with their files?
The best method is to really, really engage all the stakeholders at that level just to make sure that, A, they can access. Do they have internet access? Do they have Microsoft 365 or do they use Google? Whatever their needs are is something that you should definitely weigh when you’re deciding both file location and file access as well as what platform to use.
Carolyn Woodard: I feel like that is one of the ways that SharePoint gets out of control. The different people using it have different styles. And so, like you said, having that conversation and having a lot of stakeholders discussing what they need, what they’re used to doing, and why they’re used to doing it that way. Is it because it’s easier for them, or they’re just used to it, are they open to change? And then you could surface or discover, this isn’t going to work because all these other people are on Google and they can’t be on SharePoint. So then you could find those problems before you find them the hard way.
Robin Harris: All right, exactly.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Databases
Carolyn Woodard: Can I ask one more question a little bit out of the blue? I’ve been having a whole bunch of discussions recently about artificial intelligence and how artificial intelligence, AI tools, promise they can go through your database or they can go through your archive, or they can go through your fundraiser database and write reports on the data that they find there.
Is that something that if you’re planning or already starting to use AI tools to try and write reports out of your SharePoint database? Is that something that having a good policy and good file hygiene is going to help you with? Or is that something that AI can do for you?
Robin Harris: It’s definitely a good idea to have those things in place before you engage AI. Security is always our number one focus. Even when selecting a platform, security should be your number one focus as far as who has access to your files; in this case, what has access to your files, before you engage.
Permissions and AI
Making sure that sensitive information isn’t accessible in the same location where nonsensitive information is accessible is always something you should focus on before engaging AI, because AI doesn’t know what you as a human know: who and what should have access.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, that’s a great point. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I think some organizations may have an artificial security in that there’s some sensitive information from a decade ago, but it’s so buried that a human being that’s very busy at work wouldn’t really go looking for it and wouldn’t be able to find it even though they have access to it. But once you unleash an AI tool on those files that the AI tool has access to, then you could in fact be turning it up. You could just query, what were the payrolls of whatever. So I think that is really good advice to make sure you do your data cleanup and your file cleanup before you use one of these tools.
Robin Harris: Yeah, definitely. Always stay safe as far as security and error on the side of caution rather than ease.
Community IT has created an
Acceptable Use of AI Tools policy template; you can download it for free here.
The Technology Association of Grantmakers has published a
free framework for nonprofits using AI tools available here.
Carolyn Woodard: Exactly. You do often find that a department will just wall its stuff off. Maybe that’s why they don’t want to use SharePoint or they don’t want to give other people access. They’re worried that someone would have access that they weren’t supposed to have.
Robin Harris: Right. Yeah, that’s always the question: am I the only one that can see this? And you have to confirm that the reason that you are opting to go with Microsoft 365 is because you’re leveraging Microsoft’s attention to security and all of their methods for keeping you safe as well as your data safe.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah, I think that I’ve read that the new Copilot is going to be permissions based. So it might be able to look in all of the files, but you’ll only be able to see the ones that you have permission for. But that means, again, you need to have written down who has permission to see what, because if it’s not written down anywhere, there’s no policy. You may have people who have access to stuff they’re not supposed to have access to.
Robin Harris: Very true. I have to make sure that people understand what the ramifications are of using AI just because it’s something brand new, rather than thinking first about what you have access to and what you want this bot to have access to.
Carolyn Woodard: Yeah. Copilot, right? It’s going to be private to your organization. But within your organization, everyone’s going to be able to use it, so what are they going to find?
Robin Harris: Right, exactly.
Carolyn Woodard: I remember I was at a nonprofit way, way back in my career. I was still in grad school, so this was a part-time job, very, very junior, entry-level job. My boss’s boss had left his pay stub in the trash that I had to take out. I wasn’t rooting around or anything, but it was right there. There were only three things in the trash, so I had to take them out and put them in the big trash can. And I was like, interesting. I didn’t know you could make that much (at that job)! I didn’t think he was that smart, but he was senior, so … I kept it to myself, but I was just like, interesting. That was a physical file, he had just, in a bonehead move, had put it in the trash.
Now, they’re trying to do more salary transparency, so it wouldn’t have been as [shocking], but that place was super secretive. No wonder!
Robin Harris: Yeah, right.
Carolyn Woodard: Well, thank you so much Robin. I think we’ve gotten a lot of good tips today on how to organize yourself to get organized. And whether you’re doing a migration or just want to have a better handle on your own files and your file sharing, your structure, and your permissions. And of course making those policies as well is important, especially as we’re getting ready for AI.
Did you have anything else you wanted to add or tips you wanted to give us?
Robin Harris: No, that covers it from my perspective.
Carolyn Woodard: Robin, thank you so much for sharing your time with me today.
Robin Harris: Thank you.
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