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Data Conversion Essay

1 - Introduction


By Thibault Dambrine

On August 7, 1974, shortly after 7:15 AM, one Philippe Petit stepped on a wire he drew with his team overnight, illegally, between the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, 1,368 feet above the ground. Starting from the South Tower, he walked to the North Tower. For 45 minutes, he crossed the distance between these two buildings, demonstrating a level of risk that can be absorbed when with adequate preparation. It took 8 months for Petit to prepare this unique walk. It could not have happened without extensive and detailed planning.

This event is a metaphor for the topic of this essay: data conversions. Not unlike wire-walking, a software conversion will almost invariably put a corporation's data in a precarious position.
Wire walking events are seldom deadly. This is due in great part for one reason: Preparation. Like Petit's wire walk, data conversions typically are very well planned events, they have to in order to be successful. There is no room for failure.

Data is lifeblood of any modern corporation. Indeed, one can think of data very much like one would of any high-value, mission-critical physical asset. In this respect, it would be

- Acquired at a price,
- Identified and Classified,
- Valuated and Depreciated,
- Maintained,
- Replaced or destroyed.

To get a better understanding of why there is so much pressure associated with conversions, one only needs to look at their lead-in or trigger events. There are three predominant causes which lead companies to go into software conversion projects:

1) Corporate Take-Overs or Mergers
Mergers or aquisitions can be friendly or unfriendly, meaning the target company is either willing or unwilling to be merged. In some cases, the primary driver for the merger is strategic market advantages - complementary products for example. In all cases, whether it is said outright or not, saving money on the expense side is part of the picture.The areas to save in are almost always in overhead expense, such as accounting and IT.

A simple question could be why have two distinct ERP systems in one organization? One could extend this question to Why two IT departments? Why two Accounting departments? In such cases, a large effort to merge the departments, the systems is required, followed by layoffs, as fewer staff are needed. It is often a hard sell to ask the existing staff to work long hours with the prospect of being kicked out once the conversion project is done.

2) Outdated software solution
More and more, software and data is seen by the C-suite as a potential competitive weapon. Parallel to that trend, perhaps with a cause-to-effect relationship, the trend for faster rate of software aging.

When a software package becomes obsolete, decisions must be made, not only about the timing of a change but also the choice of new solution, infrastructure as well as the implications for the day-to-day life of the company.

This second situation may sound less traumatic than a take-over, but if a corporation waits too long to replace an aging software platform, competitiveness may be already affected. The drive to be competitive, to do more, more efficiently, with fewer resources will likely translate into layoffs, typically enabled by newer, more powerful software solutions

3) Growth Management
In the best case, a software conversion may be triggered by business growth, if the company out-grew the software solution it was using. Good news, except growing too fast may be just as dangerous as not growing at all or growing too slowly. There again, there is a high degree of stress to protect the down side, not to fall back. While the prospects of growth are great, managing growth while converting is not easy.

Regardless of the reason, software package conversions can be daunting projects. On top of being large, stress-inducing projects, conversions carry a lot of risk, as the data, the life-blood of the company, is about to get the equivalent of a complete makeover.

In this essay, I will outline the broad principles that made the conversion I have participated in a success. The key here is “broad principles”. These principles are applicable for anything from EPR conversions to any other large-scale conversion.

This is the first part of a story that will unfold until 2012. Join me in my conversion journey.


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