Data is the lifeblood of modern commerce. We use it for everything. Performance monitoring, decision-making, and even informing and predicting future opportunities. When data goes wrong, is missing, or is corrupt, it's like someone losing the key to the safe. 

The rise of data

Its importance has also developed over time. Digitisation is still a relatively new concept, and as the world and work life has become more dependent on automation, so has data's prominence within organisations. 

This is highlighted by the role of the CIO - not long ago, they were viewed as a department head. An important role, but less strategic than finance or operations. One whose budget allocation might be lower than the 'key' functions, reflecting its status within the business. 

Data, the new gold

Fast forward a few years, and this has changed exponentially. IT is now the bedrock of most services. Stacks inform business strategy, customer engagement, product development, and more. Data is a precious commodity and now wields as much power and authority as gold - so companies are very keen to make the most of this valuable resource. 

For newer companies, this isn't a problem. Stored in the Cloud, it's easily accessed and managed. For firms that are long established, it's a different story. They've developed their IT stacks over many years, so they aren't in such an agile position. Legacy stacks mean data is stored across vast estates - some on-premises, some in the Cloud, and none of it communicating with each other.  

Migrate to innovate

So, data migrations were born. Their purpose? To provide uniformity, move customers from obsolete or unsupported platforms, reduce cost, and make the data more useful.

For example, banks might want to conglomerate multiple smaller portfolios into one or address the fact that a sub-portfolio costs more in maintenance due to its legacy storage than it generates for the business. Be it cost, better user experience or just access, firms often choose to migrate this data to prevent potential financial exposure later down the line. 

These transfusions can make or break a business. However, the problem remains that often, some projects are doomed to fail before they even begin. Why? It's simply due to the quality of data they want to transfer in the first place. Sometimes, it's just not up to scratch. If lower-quality data is not identified and resolved before migration, the subsequent corruption can lead to project failure or months of picking through files, trying to fix what is flawed. Not only does this cause significant delays, but it also increases costs. Resources are removed from where their attention should lie to help fix a problem which should not be there in the first place. 

The four Cs of migration

In my view, there are four Cs which will determine whether a migration is a success or failure. Each of these should be assessed before a project begins, and without sufficient interrogation, projects could easily fall behind and increase in cost. 

1. Complexity 

Data complexity is a challenge that's often overlooked. It's all very well talking about transferring data from Point A to Point B, but ensuring the data is in a state to be transferred is half the battle. Ensuring it's uniform is essential. It won't be useful at the other end if it's all formatted differently. APIs need to be able to read the data to be able to pull out valuable nuggets. If it can't read it, then there's no point in doing the migration. 

Taking the time beforehand to interrogate what state the data is in, and what it needs to be can help inform project timings. Suppose the migration is outsourced and fixing the data falls on the supplier. In that case, this can add considerable costs to the project, so any inspections should be done in advance, with an agreement up front on who manages any potential fixes. 

2. Commitment 

If you go ahead with migration, whether in-house or outsourced, you must commit to it fully. Half measures won't deliver the results you want. This means setting aside the necessary resource and budget to cover any potential glitches. Now, this shouldn't be necessary in theory. Still, migrations are complex procedures, and it's amazing how bugs can crop up out of nowhere, throwing spanners into the works and delaying the project. 

Cost agreement also requires executive buy-in from across the whole firm. Everyone needs to be on board as to why you're doing this and the benefits it will bring. Yes, it might be a significant outlay, but the cost-value analysis should highlight why migration is important. If you don't have willingness across senior leadership or have budgets called into question, the project's success could be jeopardised. 

3. Clarity 

Ownership is one of the most important aspects of migration. Whether it's done by one overall project owner or managed by stages, there needs to be a clear line of command. Knowing who has oversight helps to streamline decisions and prevent doubt and or decision by committee, which slows down a project and can take it off on a tangent. Agreeing on this from the outset will help drive resolutions and keep everything on track. It sounds simple, but it's amazing how migrations can go off-piste because this hasn't been firmly agreed beforehand. 

4. Complacency 

Complacency is perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to migrations - and the feeling that it's someone else's problem. Until you're in the weeds of a project, it's easy to underestimate the scale of the task. If you're managing it in-house, sometimes you run into problems that require specialist insights that the team doesn't have. For outsourcing, it can be more the complexity of the legacy systems and the quality of the data being transferred. Simply put, until you're doing it, a migration's complexity is hard to predict. 

This means complacency is everyone's worst enemy. Failure to take the required resource seriously, time and expertise can lead to delays, timeliness and overall success. It affects data cleansing and has the potential not to meet expectations or requirements. 

Planning for success

Migrations are meant to add value - helping to prevent costs from adding up due to redundant portfolios or data stacks. Moving onto a modernised platform creates opportunities - from enhanced cross-selling and personalisation through to dynamic product development and insights. For businesses to reap the benefits, data transfer needs to be done correctly. If not, then it's a very costly and wasted exercise. The tips above may not seem ground-breaking, but it's incredible how often they're overlooked.  

Project team planning at a project board

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