Monday, July 16, 2012

Congratulations, Your Data Migration Project Was a Success! Or Was It?

In recent years I've begun to notice something amongst data migration providers that I'd seen little of before. Many of them (or at least many of those that I've had dealings with) are beginning to be far more proactive in taking steps to ensure that their migration projects are successful. That's a good thing, isn't it? Well I guess that depends how you define your success metrics. Does a successful migration always translate into benefit (or at least lack of significant pain) for the enterprise?

Perhaps the most noticeable shift has been towards the "less is more" philosophy. That is, rather than trying to take all of the data that's available, or that the business users say they need, there is a push back to reduce the amount of data migrated between systems. In my opinion this is a good thing - not migrating data that isn't required should remove complexity, decrease cost and time lines and, perhaps most significantly, reduce the risk of unexpected problems leading to delays and cost blowouts. For me there are a number of scenarios when this approach makes a lot of sense:

  • Some of the data can be shown to add no value to business operations (that is it's only required for compliance or records management requirements) AND the business users agree that this is the case;
  • There have been several past restructures to business operations resulting in data which is very hard to map between different charts of account or the like;
  • The cost of migrating the data is significantly higher than the value that having it available in the new system would deliver AND not migrating it does not expose the company to any significant additional risk.
However, I've seen other arguments for this approach, among them:

  • Only open balances and other current data are required for the business to operate;
  • Migrating anything over and above current data introduces more cost and risk of project time overruns;
  • It will be more cost effective to use alternate means (other than migrating it) to get to old data, including:
    • Leaving the old system in place in a read only state;
    • Leaving the old data available via a an existing data warehouse or BI solution;
    • Leaving (just) the database from the legacy solution in place and having IT staff query it to service user requests.
There's a common thread amongst these items - they all focus on a successful project outcome, i.e. getting the project delivered on time, whilst making some major assumptions about life post migration. So, if you're faced with a migration project where your vendor is proposing this style of approach, or even if you yourself are considering this option, take some time to validate those assumptions. Ask the business users if they really can operate on that minimal data set. If they say yes then ask them some more questions, paint a picture of how the world well be and test their theory - how will they do trend reporting, how will they respond to an e-discovery request, how will they bring a new product to market quickly or design future sales and marketing campaigns in a timely fashion?

Don't just talk to the business users, spend some time with the IT folks as well. What's the impact to them of having to keep old systems around for some (potentially significant) amount of time? Chances are IT Management won't have budgeted for having to continue to pay licence fees for the old software on top of the new fees, let alone the operational support costs of keeping the computing hardware that it runs upon up and running. This can be made worse still if a third party supports this hardware and requires that it be kept in warranty as then there may well be new hardware purchases, product installations and potentially even a migration of the old system (to the old system) as well. And then there's the need to maintain support and help desk skills with the old products. At best this means having to keep staff cross skilled, potentially reducing their ability to perform higher order work, but it may also mean the need to bring on new staff, adding head count and increasing wage costs. A tricky situation becomes even worse if the project business case doesn't recognise the need for increased IT operational spend or projects IT savings from the increased efficiency the new system will bring. 

Only when you've satisfied yourself that the assumptions are understood and hold should you proceed with reducing the data migration volume. Chances are there will be a middle ground where the data required is more than the bare minimum set and both the business and IT can operate without significant compromise - aim here! Hit this and there's every chance that your migration project will be seen as successful not just at go-live but also in the weeks, months and years that follow. Aim for the minimum migration set, without first validating the approach, then enjoy the accolades at go-live, but hit the road in a hurry because it won't be long before both business and IT managers are queuing up at your door to ask some hard questions. Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the useful post. I strongly agree with making sure that everyone understands the impact of deleted data, especially as you say to paint the picture of the impact. Also, at least in the case of the website migration space that I work in, there is the question of the quality level (and repurcussions) as well, so it's not just a migrate or don't migrate decision but what quality the resulting data (content) will be.