5 Questions for Your Data Migration Systems Integrator

I recently reviewed the approaches of a range of data migration system integrators and noticed a huge variety in approaches, particularly around methodology.

The challenge for many organisations is that they’re in a catch-22 situation. They know they need external expertise to help them deliver a successful data migration but they lack the data migration expertise to know which integrator is likely to deliver the best result.

If you scratch below the surface of the slick PowerPoint presentations and fancy methodology graphics you can often find a great disparity in what the different integrators have on offer. There are some truly excellent providers out there but there are also many who don’t fully understand the distinct challenges that data migration poses and have a dubious delivery success rate.

So what should you look for in a data migration systems integrator?

Here are some sample questions but feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments and we can start to build up a checklist.

1. Can you provide client testimonials of successful data migration projects?

An obvious starting point. Has the integrator a proven track record of completing successful data migration projects. The key here is to focus on data migration. Many integrators will pass off data warehouse, integration and various data conversion type projects that may incorporate elements of a data migration but not the full end-to-end data migration journey that your company may be embarking upon.

Data migration is very distinct to data integration and warehousing initiatives, yes, there are commonalities but there is far more upheaval to people and processes. Ensure that your prospective integrator can provide referenceable clients who can testify to the successful outcome of past data migrations.

2. Can you supply examples of the deliverables across the various methodology phases?

I once sat through a wonderful bid presentation from a system integrator who was bidding for a data migration work item within our finance department. The methodology looked comprehensive and well thought out until I asked for examples of all the outputs listed in the framework. Days went by and nothing was produced. It was clear that the methodology was ‘vaporware’, they had never actually implemented the methodology.

Ask the integrator to provide examples of how the various phases of their methodology create specific deliverables required for the migration.

Tip: There are a list of deliverables in this Data Migration Strategy Checklist

3. Can you supply CV’s of the data migration team members who will be assigned to the project?

This is where careful attention has to be made. Under the terms of the contract the integrator may elect to substitute different personnel on the project but at least you’ll get an example of their staff and their background. Cross-check them against LinkedIn to see if they work experience checks out and that they do indeed work for the integrator.

Some integrators rely on a network of freelancers to resource projects but there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach. In many ways this is a good option as opposed to an integrator simply scrabbling around to find any vaguely related skills on the bench across the organisation.

The key here is transparency, you want to find an integrator that is open and honest with their resourcing approach. Some integrators have been known to embellish and doctor CV’s in a bid to win the project so be sure to carry out a detailed investigation of who will deliver the project, this is so critical to success. Carry out your own interviews using a Skype video call or visit their office where practical.

4. Can you walk us step-by-step through a past data migration strategy or project?

If the prospective integrator has answered questions 1 and 2 then this should pose no problem to them. By asking them to explain their approach on a past project you can really get a feel for how well they will cope with the challenges of your own project.

For example, you can ask how they discovered data quality issues, what modelling tools were used, how they created mapping specifications, what steps were taken to validate that the data was migrated successfully, which skills were required at each phase, how was the data quality team and process structured, how were the client personnel involved and so on.

5. Can you explain how you arrived at your data migration resourcing and quotation results for the proposed project?

This is a great question to ask because system integrators vary greatly in the approaches they take for resource estimation and forecasting. I have witnessed some integrators using function-point and lines of code estimates as means of scoping and costing the project, a completely flawed approach!

With this question you’re looking for an open and honest discussion. In the past I have refused to scope a migration until I have got a small team together to carry out a pre-migration impact assessment and small pilot. As the client you have an obligation to find the right integrator to support your project so I always advise clients to put in the effort to establish the scope, scale and size of the project beforehand.

Work with an independent specialist if needs be who can help you build a solid RFP that helps providers quote for the work with the relevant information they need. If your RFP is vague then expect a wild variation in quotations and resourcing estimates.

Tip: Check out this post from Northfield Consulting Group’s Richard Trapp that gives some pointers on estimating data migration projects.

So, 5 questions to pose during your RFP process with prospective data migration integrators but what is missing from this list? What other questions would you ask? Welcome your views in the comments below.

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