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Top Concerns with Hybrid SharePoint: Customizations & Branding

Editor’s note: This post is one in a series from CollabTalk CEO Christian Buckley called “Top Concerns with Hybrid SharePoint.” Read the other blogs in the series below: 

Hybrid SharePoint: Customizations and Branding

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned over the past decade is that healthy end user adoption and engagement within your Intranet or document collaboration environment has as much to do with the look and feel of the environment as the features and functionality. Just as your employees prefer to work in a clean, organized, and well-designed workspace, they want their digital environments to also be well-designed and on-brand.

Changing the look and feel of an environment can have an immediate effect on end user adoption, even if the new system has expanded functionality. People identify with brands – and look and feel is an important part of enterprise collaboration.

So it has not been surprising to see some of the strongest push-back against the move to the cloud coming from customers who have made major investments in customizing and branding their SharePoint environments. As Microsoft began their cloud push, much of the initial feedback from customers and even the Microsoft MVP community was around the lack of control over branding and personalization when moving to the cloud, as well as the lack of support for the customizations that may have been in place for years.

As Office 365 has matured, so has Microsoft’s messaging around customizations and branding. Hybrid is now positioned as a pathway to the cloud, and a way to take advantage of the newest innovations while leveraging your existing on-prem infrastructure. For customers that have made huge investments in customizations and branding and want to continue leveraging their existing infrastructure, hybrid may be the right answer.

Quick Overview: Customizations and Branding with Hybrid SharePoint

In the video below, I am joined once again by Bill Baer (@williambaer), a Senior Technical Product Manager on the SharePoint team, as we discuss the topic of customizations and branding requirements as a driver of interest in hybrid SharePoint. Bill does a great job of explaining the evolving thinking around hybrid – and the very real challenges of organizations that have built SharePoint into a business-critical system with customizations that are deeply embedded within core business processes.

Why is this topic important?

For many years, SharePoint has been a “Swiss Army knife” solution that could be built into whatever the customer needed. However, as Microsoft has moved to a cloud-first, mobile-first development model, SharePoint’s positioning and messaging has moved away from this definition, focusing instead on its core strengths as an intranet and document management platform – as well as a core aspect of the other workloads within Office 365.

Once touted as a core strength of SharePoint, it’s extensibility encouraged many customers to treat is as a development platform – which is difficult to scale and support within the cloud. For example, some vendors built full-trust solutions, but in many cases the vendor either no longer exists, or the solution was not updated to work within the cloud. Hybrid has the ability to solve part of this dilemma, allowing customers to continue using these business-critical on-premises solutions while also taking advantage of all the new capabilities of Office 365 and the cloud. This could be a slow process or moving one workload at a time to the cloud, or a quick process that replaces large portions of the current environment – but customers have the ability to choose the path forward that makes sense to them, and minimizes the impact to their employees.

Microsoft is also extending its investments in the SharePoint Framework to support on-premises environments, with its ability to build once, deploy anywhere. Organizations also have the option to move their customizations to the App model, which would make each solution cloud-ready when the company is ready to begin their transition to the cloud.

Microsoft Guidance on Hybrid SharePoint

Overall, hybrid usage is on the rise. According to a recent study, more than a third of SharePoint environments will be hybrid within the next 5 years, driven by the complexity of existing environments, restrictions due to data sovereignty, or concerns around security measures.

Customizations from past SharePoint environments may restrict some companies from moving fully into the cloud, because the time and cost of re-architecting solutions exceeds the near-term value that the cloud provides. But as these legacy systems age, that barrier to adoption of the cloud decreases.

Regardless of the underlying motivation, organizations need to better understand their options for moving or managing SharePoint customizations within a hybrid environment. Microsoft recommends that customers begin with an assessment of the content, customizations, and branding needs within their current environment. Microsoft Fast Track includes a number of different assessment tools and remediation guidelines to help with this assessment.

Essentially, organizations need to understand what is in place today, map them to the out-of-the-box experience within SharePoint Online and Office 365, and then assess what can be migrated or integrated through a hybrid platform. Key to success of this planning activity is having conversations with your end users about the move, and reviewing the true impacts (and savings) of moving to a hybrid or pure-cloud environment. Ultimately, the hybrid path is an option — do what makes sense for your organization.

How AvePoint can help

As a leading provider of management solutions for both on-prem and online environments, AvePoint provides a number of solutions that can help you design, deploy, and manage your hybrid SharePoint environment. To help with your initial planning, AvePoint provides the tools needed to perform a pre-migration discovery analysis, helping you to identify not just your content and SharePoint structure, but also the many customizations within your environment, including workflows, custom columns and views, InfoPath forms, Nintex and SharePoint Designer workflows, and much more.

Once you’ve identified what is running under the hood, you’ll be better prepared to build your plans for a hybrid environment.

You can find out more about the AvePoint Pre-Migration Discovery tool in this feature spotlight (PDF), or by reviewing the user guide (PDF).

Additional resources related to Hybrid SharePoint and Office 365

The MVP blogging world is full of articles and commentary around support (or lack thereof) of SharePoint customizations and branding. As you begin your assessment, here are some resources from AvePoint, Microsoft, and the community to help you in your planning:

  • The Benefits of Office 365 and File Share Integration [Blog]
  • Top Concerns with Hybrid SharePoint: Moving Customizations [Blog]
  • Content, Customizations, and Design Changes: How DocAve Online Automates SharePoint Online Management [Blog]
  • Your Office 365 Migration Plan in Five Steps [Blog]
  • Regain Control of SharePoint On-Premises Before Office 365 Forces You To [Gartner whitepaper]
  • Best Practices on SharePoint site Design [SharePointMaven]

The AvePoint team would love to hear your feedback on this topic, and answer any open questions. Post your questions here, and myself or someone from the AvePoint team will respond. And be sure to check out the other posts within this series – there is some overlap between topics, and other resources referenced that you may also find useful.

Christian Buckley
Christian Buckley
An Office Apps & Services MVP and Microsoft Regional Director, Christian Buckley is an internationally recognized author and speaker and runs the community-focused CollabTalk blog, podcast, and tweetjam series.


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