Why Grown Up Managers Need to Think About Managing Data Migration – A Christmas Tale

In this tale of future harmony and greater project success, leading data migration practitioner, author and speaker, John Morris of Iergo, explores the often complex relationship between IT and the "business".

John goes on to recommend some simple approaches for fostering greater collaboration between these two communities.

Remember the good old days of Christmas Past? Before Information Technology? When we had Data Processing (DP) departments ruled over by DPM (Data Processing Managers) not IT functions managed at board level by a CIO?

In those days the DPM would generally report through the Finance Director. But the mainframes, hidden away in their own air conditioned caverns, were seen as a cost centre and largely allowed to do their own thing provided the invoices were sent out on time and the wages hit pay packets by the end of the month.

How things have changed

Now we see (or claim to see) IT as the great enabler.

Our business objectives and, in many cases, our entire businesses are dependant on the prompt delivery of new and improved systems – be it a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or a Data Warehouse implementation.
Even scarier, every new company acquisition now has, as it’s part of its business justification, the absorption of a swag of someone else’s information and the closing down of their systems. The license and HR cost implications of failing to deliver on those objectives should give everyone sleepless nights, never mind the marketing implications of failing to provide a uniform service to both old and new customers.

Back then, DP was impenetrable, both physically (getting into the machine rooms) and intellectually (we didn’t have the access or the skills to develop our own applications). Now every workstation is its own IT department. Hundreds, thousands, of man-hours devoted to developing local solutions – spreadsheets, small access data base applications, word documents, – to local problems. The cat is well and truly out of the bag.

Things have changed, but have we changed with them?

Our relationship to DP was one of child to adult. We made our demands of the adult and we let them produce a solution, as they thought appropriate. We were often vaguely disappointed with the result – like a child at Christmas who didn’t get quite the bicycle they asked Santa for. But there was little we could do about it and we learned to live with what we had to the extent that within a very few years our businesses could not exist without these supporting systems.

Now though the balance of knowledge power has shifted back into hands of the user. But has our attitude shifted with it?

Are we not still approaching our IT department like children?

Asking politely, or demanding in a strop, for the delivery of new systems by the Santa Claus of IT. Limiting our involvement to a wish list of features and delivery dates then going to bed, anxiously, on the proverbial Christmas Eve of new system delivery. Only to wake in the morning to the disappointment of an empty stocking hanging limply by the fire and an IT elf wringing their hands and explaining that "Unforeseen Data Issues" had compromised delivery but that "Something would be forth coming, maybe in time for Easter?"

And it was partly (well almost all) our fault because our "Bad" data was compromising their shiny new systems.

Oh yes and half the promised features have been postponed until the "Data Issues" can be resolved. Like the naughty children of fairy tales Santa has taken us off his list!

Like any disappointed child we react with cries of "But you promised…..". We don’t see it as our fault. It was "Them" that were going to deliver, wasn’t it?

Why do things go so badly wrong, so often?

Well let’s go back to the beginning.

IT departments no longer have control over the burgeoning knowledge load held by the users.

All those local spreadsheets carry vital knowledge that the IT department simply did not know about.

Secondly, modern IT applications don’t just automate stovepipe processes.

It’s not just payroll or invoice issue now. It is the complex warp and weave of a whole enterprise. A scale of knowledge that no one individual can possibly comprehend. All that knowledge, all that information, has to be corralled for you to see the benefit of your investment.

But there is a group of people within the organisation for whom this is a day to day issue. You the managers.

Your day job is to manage this complexity, precisely by not knowing where every bit and byte sits, or how each of the myriad specialists in HR, Accounts, Production, Marketing etc. do their job. You work by synthesising the strands of data you can see with your knowledge and experience into working information.

It is also your reputation and working life that could be compromised by poor data at system start up or a merger failing to be consolidated into a single business within the appropriate window of time.

How do we manage our relationship with the IT department at a more mature level?

Firstly we have to change our outlook.

We have to shackle that inner child who wants the false reassurance of leaving it all to the grownups in the IT department. We own the consequences of failure so we need to own the cause of success. We need an adult to adult relationship with IT.

Secondly we have to work with the IT department to change their attitude for the better. Time to get rid of the patronising approach. Time to embrace a virtual team, a peer to peer relationship to information migration, acknowledging that each side has an equal but different gift to bring.

I’m afraid to say this, but at the risk of upsetting the inner child, it is time we stopped believing in Father Christmas and started working towards the mutual deliverance of all our own futures.


Johny Morris is one of the founders of iergo Ltd. He has over 20 years experience in Information Technology and has spent the last 10 years consulting exclusively on Data Migration and Systems Integration projects.

During that time he has been responsible for the creation and implementation of Data Migration strategies for the likes of South West Water, British Telecommunications plc, and Barclays Bank. His book "Practical Data Migration" is an easy-to-read guide for managers, sponsors and practitioners alike who want to de-risk migration projects and provide the most appropriate data, on time and to budget. John welcomes comments addressed to him at jmorris@iergo.co.uk.

© Copyright Iergo Ltd, 2007
Author: John Morris