To read the previous entry in this blog series, click here.

You've strategized. You've inventoried. You've cleaned up. It's time to answer the pivotal question: how are we going to get this stuff from here to there? If the move in question is from your college apartment to your parents' basement, the family minivan might be all you need (and all you can afford). But if you're moving from a multi-floor penthouse in Manhattan to a beachfront palace in the Hamptons, the challenge is entirely different. Similarly, the size, complexity, and available resources associated with a content migration effort will drive the approach definition process, which at its essence involves defining the degree to which the execution of the migration will be automated.

The range of available content migration approaches is broad. At its simplest, content migration can be executed by coaching end users to manually paste/enter/upload content into the target system and select metadata values along the way. At the other end of the spectrum, a third party migration product can be configured to apply sophisticated business rules as it publishes content to a system-derived location, automatically transforming legacy metadata to new values according to the new taxonomy. Custom scripting often represents a happy medium in cases where content volume is significant but the costs of a third party tool are prohibitive; on the flip side, in contrast to many third party tools, custom scripts require extensive involvement of the development team and cannot always be repurposed in subsequent migration efforts.

The ratio of web content to document/attachment content will also impact the overall migration approach. Automated migration of web content is typically more challenging than automated migration of documents because the source and target systems most likely rely upon different presentation frameworks. Even in the case of a "same technology" migration - such as migrating from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 – automated migration of web content must account for updates to the system's look and feel, navigation paradigm, and information architecture, all of which are frequently addressed as part of a major version upgrade or a platform change.

Consider the following imperfect but hopefully useful rules of thumb when defining a migration approach:

  • When content volume is high and migration complexity (especially metadata complexity) is low, automated solutions deliver a high ROI.
  • If volume is low but complexity is high, manual migration is likely the way to go.
  • Automated migration of web content, while plausible, must be weighed carefully given the rework/manual intervention it customarily demands.

Rare is the case in which a silver bullet is identified and a project's entire migration approach can be distilled to one step. Instead, expect that a combination of manual and automated activities will be necessary to migrate all content flavors from all sources to the right place, with the right attributes. As a result, it's also important to start managing expectations early on with respect to the content migration process. Though simple in concept, it's not likely to be simple in practice, a point which will be further illustrated in the next post in this series.