For months, this is the moment you have been waiting for. It’s “live day” on the new software! Everyone has been anticipating the big unveiling. You’re nervous. After all, you had a major role in selecting the software. You’re the one that has been telling everyone how great everything is going to be. It was your responsibility to coordinate the “data conversion”. How will people answer the question, “What Happened to My Data?” Will they say “Wow, I never thought our data could look so good!” with a smile or “Where’s all our stuff?” with a look of panic and disappointment. If it’s the latter, I’d get out before the lynch mob formulates.
Data conversions have gotten a bad rap. Why not? There are certainly enough horror stories to go around. They scare me and I have been doing them for almost 30 years. But like everything else, everyone talks about the bad things that happen but seldom do people share news on something that has gone right – unless asked.
So how do you avoid the look of panic and disappointment? You have to start with appreciating the magnitude of what you are dealing with. In order to tackle it you need to be scared of it. You wouldn’t randomly walk into a lion’s cage at the zoo or step out of an airplane without a parachute. Likewise, approach a data conversion fully prepared and informed. Understand the concept of what is going to happen, how it will be gone about and the results that you can expect to receive. The last point, “expect to receive” is the most critical. Let’s break the process down into 10 simple rules.
Rule # 1: Do not hand your data over to a stranger that you have never met, and ask them to handle the conversion without your input. You need a point person at your end and as many people as necessary to get involved in the process as an internal conversion team.
Rule # 2: Do not ask for everyone’s opinion. They will all want something different and in the end you will have to separate people that are brawling in your conference room. Select “key” people within the organization who use the current system What Happened to My Data?
Rule # 3: When you are deciding on what data to take along, challenge yourself on why you need it and what role it will play in the new system. Remember, you are moving to a new software solution. If you spend too much time making it like your old system you will lose the impact of what the new system can do for your organization. When you are making data decisions, decide on what information will be relative to success. Do you really need that field that was added 20 years ago and was only used by the guy that left? Is it a good idea to bring along old numeric codes just because “people are used to them”. What about new people that you hire that are not used to them? Now is a good opportunity to map old codes to new ones that are easier to work with. Assess what you really need. This will not only reduce the conversion cost but eliminate getting bogged down with old irrelevant data on day 1 of the new solution. Believe me you will never miss it.
Rule # 4: Work with a conversion professional. If you are converting name, address, city, state and zip probably anyone who knows how to import files can do the job. If you are converting a robust front office solution that features clients, candidates, job orders, and more then you need to work with a professional conversion expert(s). A lot can go wrong. Before you begin find out the types of conversions that were performed and ask questions on what the process will be. If the conversion expert simply wants to grab the data and run, put on the brakes. They need your help. If they say that they don’t then begin devising a disaster plan.
Rule #5: Make sure your data is in good hands. You are handing over your entire database chock full of confidential data and information that is essential to your business. Ask how the data will be handled, who will have access to it and if it will be kept in a secure location during the process. You need to feel secure that your data goes nowhere but into your new database.
Rule #6: Your data conversion professional needs to work with your organization in order to create your “custom conversion bible”. This is a list of all of the data that is going to be converted and where it will go in the new system. Even with a document such as this something is going to be missed, but it will ensure that all of the major data is covered. This document will also act as a reference tool for live day when you are trying to figure out where a piece of data is. The conversion team should work with the conversion professional in order to create this document. Audience participation is essential on this one. Never assume. Always ask questions. Stay involved.
Rule #7: Use your current screens and if possible compare field content with the raw data that the conversion professional is working with to ensure that the field data on your screen is the same information they are looking at in the data. This is a simple process of letting them know what is on your screen for a specific piece of information for a client or candidate; then having them affirm that Field X in the data they are looking at compares favorably. The headings on your screen in most cases will not match the headings in the database. You are viewing the outside of the car and the conversion professional is looking under the hood. You may be using the fax # to store cell #. In the database that field is still called fax #. If you don’t tell them you use it for cell # it will be converted to fax #. You need to compare together because you may not know the database has it labeled as fax #. You had a custom screen change 10 years ago and only the screen heading was changed.
Rule #8: Have a realistic expectation of what the result will be. If you followed Rule #6 you know what you will be getting and the conversion expert knows what you want. Even so, expect the unexpected. It is likely that a field was forgotten – poor chap. Usually it is a non-vital piece of information that can be procured if you really want it (think about this). Just tell the conversion expert what is missing and more than likely it could be recovered. If you convert from a legacy system, you may see formatting that is ugly. Sometimes legacy system notes look atrocious in a more contemporary environment. That’s because many times formatting occurred using old techniques and when removed from that environment data may contain odd characters and not space properly. Not much can be done about this without spending a lot of conversion dollars, so try to look past this as long as you can read the information.
Rule #9: Come to terms with the premise that some data will not convert properly. Different systems handle things in dissimilar ways. What makes sense to do under one philosophy upsets the apple cart in another. If you try to force an old design on a new system the end result will be that employees will try to use the new system as if it were the old. This will be frustrating and the company will not be able to benefit from the features that made you make the transition to begin with. This is very difficult to come to terms with but it is obligatory if you are to make a commitment to the new technology. Otherwise, why spend the money?
Rule # 10: Prepare employees for the change. Provide details on how they can check their data on live day. Review the conversion. Train everyone how to operate the software using a professional trainer. Discuss system differences. Put together a new system procedure handbook. Talk about new processes. Let people know that it’s ok to be a little scared. Life as they know it at work will be different. Address the concerns of the naysayers and make it clear that they are expected to use the new system and that the old system is not coming back. Use your conversion team leaders to help with the transition and inject positive statements into the environment. It’s challenging because everyone has to learn the new software and at the same time fulfill their job responsibilities. This is an exciting time because new ways are available in order to produce more successful results and profitability. The company can compete more effectively and enhance the customer service experience for customers and candidates. Make this evident to employees. Share the technology plan and make everyone feel a part of it. Have team leaders available to help the new users. You are on your way and have converted successfully.
This article appeared in the March 2011 issue of staffdigest Magazine. www.staffdigest.com
Terri Roeslmeier is President of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra‐Staff software for the staffing and direct hire industry. Ultra‐Staff is a staffing software business solution with components for front office, back office and the web. Terri’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org for for more information on Ultra‐Staff go to www.abd.net