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Ensuring business continuity during ERP migration

Enterprise resource planning software is used widely across many sectors but moving from one ERP vendor to another can be a daunted task due to the potential business continuity risks involved. Andres Richter looks at the issue.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, is often considered an essential for managing and supporting business operations, regardless of the size of your company. While ERP platforms provide numerous benefits for businesses, it’s important they’re implemented correctly, and then regularly upgraded. And, if you decide to change your ERP vendor, it’s crucial that that occurs without any hiccup to the every-day processes that happen within your business.

One of the key things to watch out for, whether you’re implementing, upgrading or changing an ERP system, is data migration. According to a 2016 report from Bloor Research, 30 percent of data migration projects fail, and 38 percent run overtime, or over-budget, so it’s important to get it right.

Data migration is the process of transferring data between storage types, formats, or computing systems. Data migration may involve several phases, but as a rule, it will always follow at least two steps: data extraction, where data is read from the old system; and data loading, where data is written to the new system.

Generally, when approaching data migration, you will find that there are two types of data that you or your IT team will have to deal with:

Master data
This is the proverbial ‘core’ of your records, and includes data that rarely changes, such as parts catalogues, accounts, price lists, and bill of materials.

Transactional data
This includes the mundane and familiar daily transactions, such as purchase orders, invoices, and inventory. By and large, it’s data that’s constantly changing.

If you don’t handle this data correctly, you’ll run into trouble when you give the green light for implementing or upgrading a system. For many businesses, if their ERP system fails, key processes and functions cannot be performed, either internally within the company, or externally, for users.

The holy grail during data migration is complete continuity, whereby all that users notice is a new user interface.

Here are some tips on how you can ensure this:

Ask questions

Before you undertake data migration, it’s important to consult your ERP software vendor or consultant, and ask questions. This will ensure you’re following the best course of action for your system and business, and will give you an understanding of the process that is about to happen. Ultimately, your ERP system, and your point of contact, should be delivering a high quality service, and so you should feel entitled to ask questions and demand answers. Some questions that you may find beneficial to ask are:

  • Can you store data elsewhere and not in your ERP?
  • Will your old system still be available for backup in case of an emergency?
  • If so, will you be able to store external files that are no longer needed?

Create a plan, and a fall-back plan

ERP data migration isn’t to be taken lightly, and it requires some serious planning and thought. It’s important to be thorough, and cover all bases. Dedicate the time and the manpower to planning how you’ll approach data migration. The good news is that many of today’s ERP systems will have processes in place that will help you maximise your time and resources. Automatic internal system mechanisms will bring over all of your master data, but then it’s up to you to decide how you want to fine tune your data migration. This is where forward thinking and planning will help you. For example, you might decide that you want to move a decade of RFPs, but only those from publicly traded North American prospects. Forward planning will allow you to make these adjustments and execute them without a hitch.

Only migrate what you need to

Similarly, use this occasion to trash your old data. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to migrate everything, and you don’t have to do it all at the same time. However, the less you migrate, the less problems you will encounter, and the easier it will be. As part of your planning, make sure your heads of departments, and other members of senior management, are all involved in the conversation about what’s needed, and what’s not. For example, do you still need that list of customer addresses that’s been hiding in a folder which hasn’t been touched in years?

Test, test, test

Once you’ve discussed all your options with your ERP vendor, or consultant, and you’ve planned how you want to proceed, you can go ahead with the execution. Before you go live, a good way of ensuring everything goes smoothly, is to test small amounts of data in your system, gradually building up the amount until the entire project is completed. This will allow you to spot any problems as and when they appear. Finally, once you’ve migrated, make sure you can view, access, and manipulate ‘live’ data, to ensure that everything has been transferred successfully.

The tell-tale sign of a smooth data migration will be if the number of user complaints remain at a minimum. Ideally, users will hit their keyboards as normal, and the only thing they’ll notice is the upgraded user interface from the new system.

The author

Andres Richter is CEO, Priority Software.

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