Anita Fritz

Gain, Not Pain When You Move From File Shares to SharePoint

When SharePoint was first introduced, one of its key value propositions was that it would provide a better way of managing documents than the Windows file shares that most organizations were using.  Windows File shares have been around for over 20 years and have their limitations, especially as the volume of documents has grown. So the SharePoint prospect of a new and better way to manage documents was very appealing.

But all too often I hear after the organization has tried to switch from File Shares to SharePoint that their users are NOT happy.  The users report that the new SharePoint way of saving and managing documents is nowhere near as friendly as the old File Share approach. They then tend to revert to saving documents in their C: drives, which from the corporate perspective is a real step backwards in terms of sharing, retention and governance generally.

Why is this happening? In a nutshell the reason is that the end-user experience provided OOB by SharePoint is not great.  In this article we’ll take a look at how by combining SharePoint with software called MacroView DMF you can avoid the frustrations associated with OOB SharePoint and instead make users happy with SharePoint as the document store because it is not only intuitive and familiar but also more functional.  In other words how you can get gain, not pain when you move from File Shares to SharePoint.

Familiar Tree-View and Interaction
A common user complaint is that the OOB SharePoint user interface makes it much harder to visualize the structure of the document store. They are familiar with viewing the structure of a File Share as a tree of folders. SharePoint also has a tree structure but end-users are not able to view that complete structure. Some fragments of the tree are displayed in the SharePoint web browser UI but you often have to display another web page if you want to drill down to the next level, or click a breadcrumb to go to a higher level.

 MacroView DMF comes to the rescue by displaying a complete and accurate tree-view of the structure of the SharePoint document store. MacroView DMF lets you:

  • Drag and drop to save, upload and move documents and emails;
  • Click to drill down in the tree display;
  • Click an area in the tree-view display to see a list of the files in that area;
  • See formatted previews of files;
  • See a rich menu of options when you right-click a document;
  • Etc.

All of these experiences are familiar to any user who has previously used a Windows File Share. By providing this familiar user experience for viewing, browsing and interacting with a SharePoint document store, MacroView DMF overcomes some major user frustrations with OOB SharePoint.


Working with Large Document Stores
Navigating a large File Share can be quite difficult. Navigation using OOB SharePoint is not much better. But when you combine MacroView DMF with SharePoint, navigating a large document store implemented in SharePoint becomes even easier than navigating a large document store implemented on a Windows File Share. This results in a useful gain when you move to SharePoint.

Other products in the market that offer to improve the user experience of managing documents and emails in SharePoint typically require the user to register each site collection that they want to view and navigate. This is increasingly a problem, because as document volumes grow, organizations are using more and more site collections.

With MacroView DMF you just need to register the SharePoint web application or Office 365 tenant – the MacroView software will then automatically discover all the site collections for which you have permission.  This, together with the enhanced navigation described above, makes MacroView DMF the go-to product for a large SharePoint document store.

Making Search Work for End Users
Being able to find documents by searching on their content and their metadata was meant to be one of the big benefits of moving from File Shares to SharePoint.  The SharePoint search engine is certainly powerful, but again end-users are frustrated by the experience of searching for documents with the OOB SharePoint user interface. A developer can tailor the SharePoint search page in the web browser so that it is easier to use the metadata attributes that are relevant to an organization. But the key problem is that to do a search the user needs to jump out to the web browser from whatever other application they are using – which is often Microsoft Outlook, Word or Excel. 

MacroView DMF makes searching in SharePoint work the way end-users want it to. It lets users perform searches based on content and / or metadata while they work in familiar applications. With a single click you can have selected search results retrieved from SharePoint and inserted as attachments, which is dramatically easier than with OOB SharePoint Search.
Behind the scenes, MacroView Search utilizes the SharePoint Search engine, so that there is no change to your search crawls nor any need to maintain an additional search index.

Aegis-DMF Explorer Search

Custom Underwriting Search panel facilitates searches using metadata attributes relevant to a Business Unit within an Insurance company.

Managing the Change to SharePoint
From the user perspective replacing File Shares with SharePoint is a change and like any change, needs to be well managed if it is to be successful. Let’s look at a number of issues to consider as you decide how best to handle the change from File Shares to SharePoint.

Structuring Using Folders is Familiar, Right?
Designing an appropriate structure for the new SharePoint document store is a critically important step in managing the change. The fact that a SharePoint document library can contain nested folders has led many organizations to use SharePoint folders to replicate the existing folder structure in the File Share. At first this sounds like a good idea – a tree of folders was what the users were familiar with, but users get frustrated when nested SharePoint folders with relatively long, meaningful names lead to errors associated with exceeding the limit on the length of document URLs. Nested folders might sound the same, but they do not work the same in SharePoint.

MacroView DMF does not overcome the issue of exceeding the maximum permitted length of document URLs. However by displaying the complete tree-view, MacroView DMF makes alternative designs feasible, which avoid the constraints of SharePoint and instead take advantage of SharePoint’s enhanced support for metadata. The optimal SharePoint structure to replace a 6-level folder tree in a File Share might use:

  • One or more site collections
  • Two levels of SharePoint sites (top level site with sub-sites)
  • A document library level
  • Document sets within those document libraries
  • Metadata columns (with metadata navigation) within the document libraries.

This makes the migration more challenging, but if you ignore this challenge your users will end up with pain rather than gain from their new SharePoint document store. We developed the MacroView Migration Framework to address this challenge. 

Grass Roots’ rather than ‘Big Bang’ Migrations
Many IT Departments have the view that the best way to handle the switch to SharePoint is to bulk-transfer all the existing documents or emails so that when the users arrive on Monday morning they can start using SharePoint to save, find and manage their documents.

Another option, which can be much less confronting for users, is to let the users do their own migrations. As a first step, the central IT area provisions the overall structure of the SharePoint document store and makes the existing File Shares read-only. Then, as users need to work with existing documents (e.g. because an existing project or matter continues), they load them into the relevant area(s) in SharePoint, capturing metadata as they do so.

MacroView DMF is an excellent tool for these sorts of ‘Grass Roots’ migrations. The user selects files in any Windows folder and drags and drops them to the desired destination area in the MacroView tree display. MacroView DMF then bulk-loads the files to SharePoint in the background, automatically removing illegal characters from file names, recording metadata and optionally deleting uploaded files from the File Share.

MacroView DMF also facilitates the creation of new areas in the SharePoint document store – document libraries, document sets and folders. With a custom right-click menu item even Contribute-level users can create and provision new sites – e.g. for new Projects or Customers.  In this way MacroView DMF provides the same level of self-service capability that the users previously enjoyed when using the File Share, while at the same time instituting better control and ensuring accurate metadata.

A useful technique that can be used in conjunction with these ‘Grass Roots’ style migration is to have the SharePoint Search engine index the existing files ‘in-situ’ – i.e. in their existing File Share folders. Users can then find and open these files by using a MacroView DMF Search, saving new and amended documents in SharePoint. 

More Information
For more information about how MacroView can help you to realize the potential benefits of SharePoint as you move from File Shares to SharePoint (or from Outlook folders to SharePoint) contact MacroView Services or see