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Advice on Data Migration from the Experts

July 22, 2015

by David Degroot
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Everyone’s been talking about data this year – how to secure it, analyze it, and why you should pay attention to it. It’s an important topic.

So what’s the key to improving the overall health of your business? Clear, accurate data.

The best way to streamline and organize your workflows? Managing your data.

Need to get everyone on the same page and boost client and agent relationships? Data again.

Data-Migration-Blog_ResourcesIt’s definitely a big concern, and for those of you who are in the midst of or considering moving to a new management system, maintaining the health and integrity of your data is critical. As the VP of Technical Services at Applied Systems, I live, eat and breath data. Over the last five years we’ve managed more than 3,800 data migration and merger projects from multiple systems. This represents over 10,000 individual databases delivered within that same time period. We’re very familiar with some of the most common issues that agencies face. Some agencies see data migration as a daunting challenge and let this delay their conversation to a new system. Following a well-defined process makes this transition much smoother with less time and a faster return on investment.

Evaluate the Data in Your Current System

To make your move to a new system successful, you will need to spend time taking a thorough inventory of the data in your current system. Why? The answer is simple.

I recently read an article by Oracle that calls accurate data “the raw material that maximizes the value of enterprise applications.” In short, it’s what makes your new system worthwhile. Taking time to evaluate, organize and update your data at the beginning of the move will maximize the return once your new system is in place.

It’s likely that you’ll have data from the very beginning of your business and from every employee you’ve ever had. Not all of it will be necessary to move to the new system, so I recommend that as you evaluate, you determine the value of each portion of data, and make sure you keep a record of it.

Next, ask yourself some questions. When is the last time you examined your data? Have entries been kept up to date, or have they been duplicated or saved in different locations? How accurate is your policy and coverage information?  What about lists of clients and prospects? You can utilize the reporting tools in your current system to generate a more accurate look at what data you have, and what might be missing.

That brings me to the next step: updating. This is something you’ll need to determine early, because there are two ways to do it. You can clean and modify your data prior to conversion, or you can manage it as part of the conversion process.

The key here is to acknowledge that the data conversion process is one of the most critical elements of the migration, and you will most likely have to make updates to your existing data. Be sure that your timeline includes enough time to make any and every correction you might need.

Develop a Data Transition Plan

Planning is one of the key steps to transitioning your data. You won’t just need to move it to a new system; you may also need to convert it into a new format that works better within the new framework. Creating a solid overall timeline with completion dates will help you lay out a roadmap to the conversion and migration process, and ensures that you include ample time to test your data.

In a recent article, Steve Forte of OneNote recommends doing “dry-runs with large data sets to flush out inconsistent source data,” and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll want to identify the areas where data is incomplete and inconsistent as early on in the process as possible to allow you time to run these tests.

Investing the time to make sure that the data you are migrating will be as accurate as possible in your new system is possibly the most important step you’ll take in this process. Treat the conversion of your data from the old system to the new with as much care and attention to detail as possible, and you’ll be much more likely to have a successful implementation.

Get Staff Up to Speed

Naturally, migrating to a new system will involve training for your employees, but you can significantly ease the process of transitioning by carefully planning the training process from the beginning. Besides ensuring that everyone is up to speed at the right time, requesting additional training for your staff creates additional resources when reviewing the data conversion process. When scheduling training courses, consider the dates of completion and aim to have all training completed by the time you’re ready to perform your data testing.

Implementation

Remember, you have options with how you choose to manage getting data into your new system. Oracle recommends that you move your data to the new system in stages, and use both systems together until the new one is fully functional.

*In the implementation phase I recommend there should only be 1 system of record. Meaning, there is only 1 true production system. Prior to an activation date on the new agency management system, the system of record is the current agency management system. As data is converted, the data review and new system workflows should be tested repeatedly from the new system. This approach gives you additional time to ensure that staff are fully trained and comfortable with the new system. It also allows you to ensure that you have fully completed evaluating your data. You can catch any remaining gaps or incongruences that may need to be addressed prior to system activation.

Regardless of how you choose to go about the final implementation, making sure that your data is as accurate and up to date as possible is going to smooth the process immeasurably. It will also put your mind at ease. If you’ve taken care to ensure that everything is as complete as you can make it, then you’ve already done the hard part.

What tips do you have when it comes to data migration?

Dave-DegrootDave DeGroot, vice president of technical services, is responsible for data migrations, integrations, and infrastructure assessments. DeGroot joined Applied in 1989, and since that time has participated in numerous product development initiatives including Applied TAM, Applied Vision, Applied Epic, and many custom development projects.

Jul
29
Jennifer Godwin

Great article, Dave! I agree with everything except the implementation while using both old system and new. While it’s great tool to do dual processing of items during a testing and validation phase, I feel “peeling the bandaid off slowly” by allowing active work (other than view and print in old system) is more confusing and stressful to properly trained staff. The knowledge of the new system functionality is trying to replace the user’s knowledge of the old system functionality. I have found the longer the user needs to retain old system functional knowledge, the more difficult it is to adopt and adapt to the new.

Aug
17
David Degroot

Jennifer, I agree with your statement and you bring up a good point. As I mentioned above, running both systems and migrating gradually can make things much more complicated. To clarify my point further, I should note that the implementation phase there should only be 1 system of record. Meaning, there is only 1 true production system. Prior to an activation date on the new agency management system, the system of record is the current agency management system. As data is converted, the data review and new system workflows should be tested repeatedly from the new system. That will ensure data quality but also enforce workflow education prior to the new system activation. I have updated the blog to make this point clearer (see *).

May
30

Thank you for this insightful article. Yes, leveraging data is the only way forward and for this, businesses need to ensure that data migration occurs in the smoothest possible way. I absolutely agree with each step that you have suggested. What I’ve found the most crucial for businesses that want to make the best of the newest technology is training the staff. Without this key piece, all else will prove to be a waste of time and money.

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