Software Migration Simplified


This is one in a series of blogs from top execs at CRN Fast Growth companies. Virtual Graffiti, number 50 on our list, grew 76 percent between 2008 and 2010. Here, Sackstein discusses how to lessen the burdens of software migration. -- Jennifer Bosavage, editor.

For any business, migrating from one software system to another presents a host of challenges which only increase with the complexity of the system and its centrality to a company’s core processes. A migration might be as seemingly straightforward as a FAX-software upgrade or as daunting and intricate as a move to a new ERP or CRM platform.

In any case, the process is never pain-free. Even a switch from OpenOffice.org to Microsoft Office can introduce thorny issues such as document incompatibility, the need for hardware upgrades, end-user retraining, etc., but the application of a few basic principles can go a long way toward easing the move from the old to the new (or the broken to the fixed).

1. Understand Your Business Needs and Identify the Problems

This is the most critical stage of any software migration process – and the stage where many companies stumble. Without asking the correct questions, you’ll never determine your core business needs and precisely where your current software falls short.

So first, clearly define and document the pain-points with your existing product. What functionality does your current platform fail to provide, and how important is it? Involve your entire management team. Be brutally honest. Determine what is absolutely necessary to your business, and what is “nice to have” or “maybe, but in the future.” It’s okay to look ahead five years, but your new solution will likely be obsolete by then anyway.

2. Audition Several Solutions Before Making a Decision

The temptation at this point is to avoid the endless parade of marketing guys with 60-slide PowerPoint presentations documenting in exhaustive detail their “game changing” technology. These can be beneficial, if for no other reason than to clarify what features you don’t want. In reality, the more competing solutions you look at, the much better your chances are of finding the perfect (or close-to-perfect) fit. And the solution might be in a place you hadn’t anticipated.

Once you’ve settled on two or three front-runners, you’ll need to commit to some serious testing, ideally in your own environment with evaluation copies of the products. While in evaluation mode, don’t be hypnotized by shiny new features if they don’t satisfy some part of your core business need. Keep your focus on the features which are absolutely essential to your business. Ensure that your solution meets as many of your documented needs as possible. Evaluate the potential solutions against predetermined criteria: Will this solution cause unintended effects in your current processes or infrastructure? How easy will it be to add new functionality? How well-documented is the API? If, for example, you need to add “print to PDF,” will it require hiring expensive consultants or can your in-house development team handle it?

You’re in a hurry, of course. You’re not happy with what you have. You’re tempted to rush this step and go with the first product that meets most of your needs. Or the least pricey. Resist that urge. Remember that the cheapest and quickest solution is the one you’ve already got, and you don’t want it anymore.

Whether you go with a third-party implementation partner or manage your migration in-house – or combine the two approaches – how you assemble your team and who manages it is often the difference between a six-week success and a six-month morass. The project manager is the crucial role here, because she’ll be responsible for drafting the project plan and schedule, while managing the team and ensuring that milestones are met on budget and on time. Remember: Unless you’re shooting to go live in March, 2015, there can be only one project manager.

3. Pitching the Benefits and Getting Employee Buy-in

After weeks of planning and several 60-hour workweeks, your migration is complete.

Right?

Wrong. What comes next is in many ways more difficult.

Your staff will be resistant to change, as most people are. The move to your new software platform has inevitably led to changes in corporate policies, workflows and processes. Entire jobs have been eliminated or completely transformed and several new roles have been created.

You’ve created a political nightmare, because people fear what they don’t understand, and you’ll need to manage this fear by presenting a united front in support of the new solution and your staff’s new roles. Targeted training and constant communication will go a long way toward ameliorating this. Your employees won’t know you’ve streamlined a formerly-cumbersome process unless you show them. The more familiar your employees are with the new features of the replacement product, the more likely they are to embrace it.

By clearly identifying your core business needs, mapping them to your proposed new solution and managing the deployment and inevitable uncertainty to follow, you’ll significantly increase your chances of a win-win scenario for your staff and your company.