Data management in the modern era faces complications from numerous facets, including controlling volume and securing information from breach. Perhaps less discussed publicly, but a problem faced by every company, is the challenge of migrating data from legacy systems.

Systems commonly become obsolete as they are retired by the provider, new technology and features pique interest, or the organization changes. Regardless, once a determination is made to transition, the migration of the data must be properly managed. The features and functions of the new system, as well as the character and use of the impacted data, will dictate the appropriate pathway for transition, which generally fall under the following three options: 1) full transfer of data; 2) partial transfer of data; or 3) continuing retention of data within the legacy system.

We cannot comprehensively address all the nuances involved or provide the procedural steps to migrate the data in this article, as that is dependent on the systems and data in question. But the action items noted below identify critical aspects from a data management perspective to raise awareness and support a successful effort.

Identify and Transfer Only Necessary Data
Engage with business owners to determine how they use the information and the extent of the information used. For example, consider a scenario with a legacy system that holds data going back 10 years and the business owner affirms that only the last two years’ data are necessary to execute business functions.

Where the data is not yet subject to disposal under a company-approved retention schedule, a plan can be devised whereby the data can be segregated, with the information in use transferred and the remaining data preserved until the end of its lifecycle or discarded because it is redundant, obsolete, or trivial. Migration offers the option to cull unnecessary data and “clean up” information, so be prepared to take advantage when given that opportunity.

Tag Data for Better Accessibility
According to various studies, most corporate data is stored in an unstructured format. As such, it is difficulty to retrieve because of limited search capabilities. To prevent these issues, communicate with business owners to identify how they use and recall information for the system being replaced and build a metadata framework.

Then, coordinate with the information technology team to understand the capabilities of the replacement solution and tag the information with the relevant metadata. This will promote better user experience and productivity through improved search and retrieval, as well as prepare that data for future migrations.

Assess Continuity of Data Governance 
Not all data is created equal in the eyes of the law, as is evident in the abundance of laws that regulate the retention, as well as the manner of retaining, securing, and handling information.

The functions to manage these requirements must be tested in both the legacy system (if it cannot be retired) and the replacement solution. Armed with this knowledge, data management can move forward as is or, if compatibility issues are identified, can develop an appropriate workaround. If both the legacy and replacement solution are maintained, it is also imperative to lock down the legacy system and communicate the go live date of the replacement solution to curb duplication issues.

Lastly, establish processes to ensure that confidential and sensitive data are cloaked with appropriate safeguards to mitigate security issues and prevent compromise.

The transition and migration of data from legacy systems will become more prevalent as systems become obsolete. Use these factors as a springboard to proactively understand the information being transitioned and identify data management issues in the migration process. Then, create work processes to assess, test, and resolve those issues prior to implementation, and you will find yourself in a much better position for a successful transition.

Author: Soo Kang, General Counsel at Zasio Enterprises, Inc.