How to Migrate Business to a Better Future

Migration can be the best or the worst of things for a company. Done properly, it can transform a company's business so that it's ready for the challenges of the future. Done badly, it can become the corporate version of a near-death experience - except without the shining lights. Celona Technologies CTO Tony Sceales explains how to plan things so you do it right.

{mosimage}IT systems are supposed to support enterprises to enable them to do whatever they do better, faster and cheaper. Yet all too often the systems that were supposed to make life easier are now preventing the business from operating in the way that it desires. IT has become a blocker rather than an enabler.

But, as we survey the rubble of more than 30 years of development, we realize that the problems we face are very much like those of the urban planner confronting decades of piecemeal building. While there may be some excellent examples of individual buildings - or, in our case, systems - the whole does not function in the way it needs to. In both cases, the solution is far from trivial.

To renew a large, enterprise-wide IT infrastructure requires a clear vision and deep pockets. Moreover, there is a very real risk when, while trying to improve the situation, you end up wasting a lot of money without really delivering added value. The renewal process can also seriously handicap the ability of enterprise to function. It can eat up large sums of money, while actually making things worse - or just not any better. And in the current 24-hour business climate, there is less opportunity to migrate systems and much less tolerance of a situation where applications and data are not available.

At the same time, the drivers for IT renewal have fundamentally shifted. In the past, projects were motivated by IT issues - such as re-platforming applications to decrease costs and increase efficiency. But today the motivation is increasingly due to business issues. The enterprise has rediscovered the role IT can play in helping it achieve its goals, and it is articulating its desire to gain these benefits much faster. Likewise, it is now unwilling to accept that the only route to these benefits is high-risk and eye-wateringly expensive. And, finally, the enterprise also wants to prioritize and set the goals for the migration to its new systems - not have these imposed on it by technical constraints.

This change in emphasis is actually a very positive thing all around. John Morris, author of the book Practical Data Migration, articulates the issue very well in the book:

"Data migration is most definitely a business, not a technical, issue," he argues. "In the past, the IT department was given the responsibility for data migration by the business, but not the power to deliver successfully. The business has requested migrations, but then has not taken responsibility for them. To be successful, migrations must be owned and driven by the business."

In fact, enterprise application-level migration is a complex mix of business, organizational, process and technical challenges. And, not only does it need to be aligned to business requirements, but it needs to stay aligned to these requirements as they inevitably change over time. The migration technology, method and the people doing the migration all have to be able to work in this new way.

How to Deliver a Successful Migration

So how do you deliver a successful business-driven migration? Well, there are three key strategies that you need to employ:

1. Reduce risk - High levels of risk are one factor that has led to enterprises shying away from complex migrations. Risk can be controlled and minimized by keeping data available throughout the migration and keeping the progress of the migration itself fully visible.

2. Stay agile - It is no longer acceptable for the business to be told that change is not allowed until the full data migration process has finished. It is critical that the migration of application data is kept separate from the migration of business processes, and to give the business the flexibility to decide when new processes will be used to deliver services to customers.

3. Demand faster time-to-benefits - Time is the enemy in data migration, as extended timescales increase the risk profile and the time-to-benefits. The business needs a much faster time-to-benefits and this can be achieved by finishing the migration faster and by providing the flexibility that enables the new systems to be used before all the data has migrated.

A business-driven migration uses formalized, standardized methodologies - flexible tools that can handle any type of migration style and which allows you to define and migrate business data sets as distinct from database tables, rows and so on. It enables the business to take control of the migration, defining its priorities according to business and customer need, rather than technical constraints. In doing so, it delivers a better business outcome.

Business Benefits of Better Migration

There are business benefits of better migration. These include increased revenues due to the ability to launch and support new services more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost. Also, reduced costs resulting from overall lower cost of migrating data and the ability to remove duplicated or expensive-to-maintain legacy solutions and data. Further, better business planning, since the business can plan new product launches based on the knowledge that they will not be held up by data migrations. This is important because project delays mean that lost revenues may never be recouped. Finally, increased shareholder value, as an enterprise that can reliably deliver migration projects is demonstrating both good corporate governance and the ability to respond to change.

{mosimage}A science graduate of the University of Wales, Tony Sceales has spent over 20 years building and managing major products and development programs in the global software industry. Much of that time has been working in Telecoms markets with the balance in the Reinsurance, Banking and Systems Software sectors. He co-founded SESI Ltd as a solutions and systems integration business in 1997, successfully transforming it to form Celona Technologies in 2004. He was CEO of Celona, leading the strategic thinking behind the growth of the company until 2007. He now holds the post of CTO, in which he is responsible for the direction and production of all technology.

Prior to Celona Technologies, Tony worked in senior architectural and management roles with British Telecom plc, IBM (Australia), Prudential Reinsurance (USA) and AON. Based in London, Tony is a regular speaker at industry events, and has published articles and papers in many journals and the press.