Feb 26 2020

How to Plan for and Install a New Collaboration Tool

Skype for Business Online reaches end-of-life next year; here’s how to prepare for the change.

When Skype for Business Online reaches end of life in July 2021, Microsoft expects agencies will migrate to Teams, its replacement. But moving to a new collaboration platform, whichever one it is, isn’t without complications.

No matter what collaboration tool an agency intends to transition to, careful planning and communication will provide a successful outcome. 

Like any project, transitioning to a new collaboration tool should be supported by key people with a vested interest in its success. This might include the CIO’s office, IT professionals, project managers and someone responsible for managing user adoption. 

Once the stakeholders are identified, establish the goals of the project. Will there be a full, immediate transition to the new platform? Will a team coexist on both platforms for a while? Whatever the plan, make sure that the two platforms have parity among features. 

Orchestrating a complex migration and completing it on time is always challenging. Once the project goals have been established, agency IT staff can understand both the technical steps required to move to the new platform and how users will be impacted. 

Adopt a Proven Framework for Migration

If a framework that’s already been tried and tested exists, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. A structured framework will provide both the ­governance required for a successful ­project and make sure business and IT goals are aligned.

Start by looking at the vendor of the destination platform. For example, if an agency is migrating from Skype for Business Online to Microsoft Teams, Microsoft already has a framework to adopt and rely on. 

The framework should also include a risk mitigation plan; risks can be both technical and connected to user acceptance. In the technical stages of the project, always have a rollback plan or an alternative means to provide critical functionality in case of a failure. Agencies must also ensure that the new platform meets any regulatory standards required for storing and transmitting communications.

Help Workers Acquire New Skill Sets

In most cases, it is better to upgrade users to a new platform in small groups rather than flip the switch for an entire agency in one go — managing risk is much easier that way. The available coexistence models may also vary, each providing different end-user experiences and levels of interoperability. 

Temporary coexistence is usually the best option, although it comes with its own difficulties. Technical limitations might mean that there is no interoperability between the two platforms. For example, users might be able to receive calls on the existing platform, but not the destination tool, until the retiring platform is turned off completely.

In addition to coordinating the technical aspects of the migration, it’s important to ensure that users will be ready for any changes when they happen. Liaison between technical and management stakeholders is critical to ensure that at each stage of the project, IT and users are on the same page, ready to handle changes as they occur. 

Never assume that users will accept or be able to intuitively use a different platform. In addition to ensuring that the new collaboration tool supports all the features of the outgoing platform in the way users expect, users may need to be oriented to the new tool and given in-depth training.

In coexistence scenarios, you need to establish whether users are tech-savvy enough to work with two platforms at the same time. Don’t assume that users will be able or happy to manage two ­collaboration platforms concurrently. It will depend on their technical capability and willingness to accept change quickly. 

For instance, if the coexistence model is chosen, merely having to use two applications simultaneously could make users’ lives complicated, as could having to use overlapping capabilities in both tools during the coexistence period.

READ MORE: Learn how to make collaboration tools work for your agency.

Make All Platform Changes Transparent

Before changes are made, make sure that you clearly communicate to users what those changes are, how users will be affected, and what steps need to be taken beforehand. The plan should include mitigations for situations in which users resist planned changes.

Transitioning to a new collaboration tool also means that IT staff will need to know how to support it and manage day-to-day operations. Migrating between cloud-based platforms from the same vendor is easier for IT because the ­platforms are likely to share some core technologies; for instance, Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams can both be managed using PowerShell.

But migrating to a platform from a different vendor will be more technically challenging, and may require a different skill set. IT staff could need training in the new platform and might need to learn to manage certain aspects of it from the command line. 

Connected systems such as security information and event management solutions will also need to be reconfigured to work with the new collaboration platform.

Richard Mia Collection/Theispot

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