By David Politis

Migrating to Google Apps can be a daunting task depending on the size of your organization, amount of data you’ll be migrating, system you’re migrating from, and employee familiarity with Gmail and other consumer facing Google products. There are several factors IT leaders and executives should keep in mind when planning the very first steps of a migration. Ample preparation early on will lead to success down the road.

Secure support from company decision makers

First and foremost, your organization’s decision makers have to support the migration to Google. Pointing to cost savings, increased efficiency, and collaboration can help convince even the wariest. Once IT and company leadership are on the same page, you can begin to move forward with your migration.

Determine who to involve in the migration

The size of your organization, amount of data and data sources involved in the migration, and your IT staff’s familiarity with Google Apps should be taken into account here. Organizations with fairly little data to migrate, a well-versed in-house Google Apps migration expert and a user-base already familiar with Gmail can likely conduct a migration to Google Apps without the help of an outside consultant.

Companies migrating substantial amounts of email and other data (i.e. documents stored in an on-premise file server) and seeking in-depth employee training will likely find a Google Apps reseller helpful. If you decide to use a Google Apps reseller, choose a Google Apps Premier reseller with certified deployment specialists. For large organizations, conducting a migration without outside help can be cumbersome and technically challenging and for small companies with limited IT resources, the project can be intimidating.

Determine your migration strategy

Determining your migration strategy will depend heavily on the legacy system currently employed by your organization and the size of your company. For very large organizations with thousands of seats and several (sometimes international) office locations, a phased rollout is imperative.

Other companies experiencing technical difficulties with their legacy server will want to migrate the minimum amount of data to keep their employees running until the migration can be completed (for example, you could migrate the last 30 or 60 days of data immediately and then complete the full migration later on).

Still some companies will prefer to migrate all data at once and finally, on very rare occasions, some organizations may wish to start from scratch and not migrate anything. If you have ample time to prepare and a manageable amount of data to migrate, we suggest choosing the cutover date and moving all users and data over on that day, this method is far easier to manage.

No matter your migration approach, be sure to take advantage of the migration tools and guides provided by Google for Microsoft Exchange (PDF) and Outlook, Lotus Notes (PDF), and webmail according to your existing system.

Set the timeline

After finalizing your decision to ‘Go Google’ and appointing your migration team, you should set a timeline of about four or five weeks – of course this will vary for large organizations or companies migrating vast amounts of data and other systems to the cloud simultaneously. Be sure to avoid scheduling the actual systems cutover during major company events and high traffic times. It’s best to conduct the migration over the course of a weekend, giving the IT department sufficient time to fix any issues that arise. When employees open their email come Monday morning, they’ll start the week off fresh with a new system.

If you’re working off a schedule of four or five weeks, it is helpful to stick to the following timeline:

  • Week 1 – Preparation
  • Week 2 – Testing and Configuration
  • Week 3 – User Training and Change Management
  • Week 4 – Conducting the Migration
  • Week 5 – Wrapping up and Following up with Users

Getting your employees on board

Regardless of the size of your organization, it’s crucial that employees are on board with the Google migration. If you fail to convince your employees of the benefits of ‘Going Google,’ you put your entire migration at risk. Employees who are not convinced of the new strategy can literally hold the migration hostage, hanging onto legacy systems long after these systems have been retired. This failure to adopt new systems creates support nightmares for IT, creates friction within the organization and slows down the overall migration.

Seek out and find technology innovators, early adopters, and employees who use Gmail for their personal email. They are very likely already familiar with many of the features found in Google Apps and are extremely excited that their corporate email will be going Google as well. These evangelists can point to the various benefits of Google Apps like the ability to save instantly and in the background, real-time collaboration, one click sharing, video conferencing, voice calling, chat, and much more. Ensuring employee influencers are on board with your migration will make the move much more amenable to any skeptical employees.

In large organizations, make sure to seek out several evangelists, perhaps one per each department. Later on, you can use some of these evangelists for employee training, lightening the load on IT and decreasing your reliance on outside help.

(Over) communicate with your employees

Communicating the upcoming changes to your user base is a necessity. The migration is a huge undertaking from a technical perspective, but also requires that employees familiarize themselves with new interfaces, terminology, and a whole new way of doing everyday tasks. Make sure to send out email updates, training tips, links to useful resource sites and hold in-person information sessions discussing why the migration is occurring and how employees stand to benefit.

Once a timeline for the migration has been finalized, you should also make sure to provide any information regarding potential service disruptions, hardware and software changes and new privacy policies with your employees so they can prepare ahead of time.

Here are a few sample emails to send out to your employees.

Survey your employees

While communicating upcoming system changes to your employees, it’s also helpful to take note of what features users rely on most heavily in the legacy client. When you engage in user training, you can be sure to focus on the equivalent areas in Google Apps.

To quickly gather this information, the IT department can send out a brief survey. The questions asked will vary based on the legacy system your organization is migrating from, but should focus on usage, functionality, familiarity with Google Apps and Gmail,. and concerns about the migration. SurveyMonkey or Google Forms (given that you’re going Google) provide great services you can use to create and send out the survey.

Bottom line

Once you’ve set the stage for your migration, confirmed the timeline and gotten your users and company leadership on board, you can begin to move forward with an in-depth exploration of the Google Apps suite.

For more migration tips, be sure to check out Part 2 of this series discussing Testing and Configuring the Google Apps Suite.

Also read:

David Politis is the founder and CEO of BetterCloud, the maker of FlashPanel, the number one admin tool for Google Apps, and the Google Apps resource site, Follow him @DavePolitis.