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Email migration to Office 365: Part 1 – Understanding the scope and aims of your project

Dec 9, 2016 by Emma Robinson

If you’re considering migrating your email to Office 365, in the planning stage, or you’ve already started the process, you will probably know that a project like this can offer hidden challenges and complications. Email is integral to business communications and operations, and ensuring that the process runs smoothly, adhering to the deadlines that have been outlined, and with minimal end-user disruption can seem like a real uphill struggle. Our blog series on email migration to Office 365 aims to: highlight important aspects to consider, help avoid some of the pitfalls, and contribute to the success of your migration project. We’ll start at the beginning, before the decision to migrate has even been made.
How do you ensure your corporate email migration is a success?
For many organisations, email migration is the biggest obstacle they have to face before they’re able to realise the full productivity and cost benefits of Office 365. Deciding to migrate your email ecosystem to a cloud-based service can bring up a lot of issues and questions for companies of all sizes, for the following reasons:

  • Migration procedures must be legally defensible. You’ve got to be able to immediately lay your hands on accurate, uncorrupted data at any point.
  • The information has to remain secure, and normal business operations should be able to carry on uninterrupted.
  • There are technical challenges in converting files types, de-duplication, ensuring archive integrity, supporting e-forensics, and in physically moving the data.
  • It is crucial to plan around any bandwidth restrictions, you’ll need to consider extended time-frames to physically transfer large archives.

Other aspects to consider…

  • Email is a corporate record, so before beginning any migration you’ll need to ensure fundamental audit trails can be preserved together with clear chain-of-custody, and that specific roles and policies can be defined to control administrator access.
  • Except for the most basic projects, some level of automation will be essential. Automation helps manage resources, speeds up the process, reduces errors, deals with exceptions and ensures everything remains defensible.

The good news is that most migrations are performed from live mail, archive, offline file and shared folder structures with well-known characteristics, so there shouldn’t be any need for nasty surprises. With appropriate tools, sound project planning, and support from experts, there is no reason why your migration can’t be a complete success.
Reasons to migrate to Office 365
Let’s start by summarising the motivating factors for migrating to Office 365.

  • Able to meet regulatory and legal standards for retention and discoverability.
  • Ensure data resides in appropriate location/geography.
  • Reconcile files with correct users (even if they have left organisation).


  • Prevent local ‘PST’ files being created, lost or stolen.
  • Improve protection against email-based viruses and attacks.
  • Centralise control over live and archive mailboxes.


  • Enable VDI and multi-device roll-out, and improve employee mobility.
  • Improve utilisation of existing network and system resources.
  • Improve business continuity and disaster recovery capability.

Cost control

  • Prevent expensive third-party remediation for unsupported products.
  • Improve management of licensing.
  • Reduce internal support cost of email administration and intervention.

Service enhancement

  • Enable adoption of cloud services that complement Office 365.
  • Improve scalability of email services against business requirement.
  • Consolidate systems following acquisition or merger.


  • Standardise for future portability between email service providers.
  • Mend broken and neglected email archives containing critical records.
  • Fix problems with lost, corrupted, oversize and duplicated files.

As you see, there are plenty of reasons for migrating to Office 365. And although not all may apply in your situation – it is likely you’ll recognise some familiar issues.
Let’s start by giving some thought to your compliance framework.
Understand your regulation and compliance imperatives
Before you even start considering how to migrate, you need to familiarise yourself with the requirements governing your data. Compliance laws vary between territories, but typically include controls on data protection, freedom of information, and data retention – all of which apply to email as much as any other correspondence.
Although most retention periods governed by law are typically less than ten years, retention of highly sensitive information can be compulsory for much longer in certain circumstances. For defending patents, for example, emails might be kept for up to 25 years. Failures in email retention can bring big fines. In just one example, Barclays was fined $3.75m (€3.35m) by a US regulator for allegedly failing to keep proper electronic records, emails and instant messages.
There are also specific rules covering individual industries – in particular those that are highly regulated, such as finance (e.g. the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Financial Services Act and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37E) – that affect email governance. It may be that in your industry you still need to retain some element of email on premises. If so, you’ll need to consider how this will interact with the Office 365 element as a hybrid configuration.
Your Office 365 servers will need to be compliant with the jurisdictions of individual territories. Fortunately Microsoft has bent over backwards and obtained assurance from the EU, for example, that it is able to meet any concerns in this regard. In addition, an appeal court ruling, issued on 14 July 2016 ensures the US government cannot force Microsoft to give authorities access to the firm’s servers located in other countries.
“The US government can no longer seek to use its search warrants on a unilateral basis to reach into other countries and obtain the emails that belong to people of other nationalities,” said Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft. “It tells people they can indeed trust technology as they move their information to the cloud.” In other words, Microsoft’s enterprise cloud is not only subject to Europe’s rigorous privacy standards no matter where that data is located on Microsoft’s enterprise cloud services – including Azure and Office 365, but there’s been an assurance that its data is secure from US government interference too. The legal and regulatory framework around products like Office 365 has grown increasingly mature, and is unlikely to cause you any problems. The bottom line is that you are unlikely to fall foul of compliance problems as long as you understand and act in line with your existing obligations.
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at the reasons to migrate, and the considerations that need to be made before you’re able to put a plan in place, our next post in the migration series will take list the most common Office 365 migration mistakes – and how best to avoid them.
If you’re considering migration, or perhaps you’re plans are underway, make sure you check back for more tips on making your project a success!
Cogmotive is the leading global provider of enterprise level reporting and analytics applications for Office 365. Find out more now.