Move It or Lose It: Content Migration Strategies

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Plotting Your Move
On both the theoretical and practical level, take some time before migrating to figure out why the company is moving—and how. Since a company's information network is at the center of its daily operations, taking a CMS down without an almost instantaneous replacement could hobble employees.

Matt Coblentz, senior CMS product manager at EMC Corporation, believes that a company should articulate clear goals and expectations before going into the migration. "For any data migration project to be successful, you will need to be very clear on the success criteria," he says. "Once you are clear on the objectives, you can map out the strategy for implementing the migration."

For instance, Coblentz says that there are two different ways that most companies approach a migration, and figuring out which one is the company's primary objective can help the team pick an appropriate migration plan. "If this migration is driven by IT needs, then often the lines of business do not want to participate in the migration and simply want little or no change to the existing data structures, reports, and associated business processes and tools," he says.

"But in cases where the lines of business are driving the change, you can involve the users in much of the decision-making processes around the migration," explains Coblentz. "Most data migration efforts that include a data reorganization or revised technology also usually involve a business process re-engineering effort to some degree."

Content migration experts usually draw a detailed technical road map before the actual move so that confusion doesn't keep the company offline. Closing down the company website for even a couple of days could result in lost income, and content managers looking to move live or archived web page content work to beat the downage clock. When Vamosa helps a company migrate web content, it comes prepared with a solid game plan.

"We build a movie script of what happens the day of the migration, what happens at each step," says Lovelock. Sometimes a dry run-through is used to prepare. With three to four months of planning and coordinating, the actual system switch deployment only takes a day. During that day, the legacy website will continue to run, although no new content is added.

It's All Content
Since the days when businesses created the first Word documents on company hard drives, corporate data has gotten more complex. Now it's not just numbers and words making the leap onto a new server. "You'll find customized tools, queries, report generators, and other items that have been built up around the existing system, and all of that will need to be addressed in the overall project impact," says EMC's Coblentz. 

According to Lovelock, companies are only now realizing that web content needs to be a part of a unified CMS. "Up until about a year and a half ago, we migrated lots of flat-file HTML content stored on hard disks. Over the last 18 months, we've seen a considerable shift from those types of systems to pure CMSs." 

Several of Day's larger clients come with custom-built applications that employees use to simplify common daily tasks. Those employees expect that those applications will follow old content into the new system, which can be challenging if the original CMS isn't similar to the new one. 

Ed Rogers, COO of web CMS provider Ektron, emphasizes that building flexibility into the structure of applications and website pages now can save time during a migration. "What you need to do is think about having a portable structure around your content and think about the content in a way that's separate from its presentation," he says. "The web page shouldn't be so tightly intermingled with the content itself that you have to rip a page apart to get to the content." 

Setting Up Structure 
To Rogers, keeping the information architecture coherent and comprehensive in a legacy system is critical to making migration easy, since no matter how great a company's CMS is, an eventual upgrade is inevitable. 

"The best thing companies can do is understand that they're probably going to want to change their look-and-feel a couple years from now, but not the content," says Rogers. "Not only should content be structured in your new system, but it should also be categorized in a way that you can retrieve it, even if you have to do it from a piecemeal type of way. You want the categorization of the content to represent where the information is relevant."

But EMC's Coblentz argued that organizing information prior to the move isn't as important as figuring out what goes and what stays, since formats and structure vary between systems. "It's usually a matter of deciding what to migrate at all," he says. "In legacy system migrations, the number of duplicates found is often quite surprising. For each occurrence, you must determine which copies must be moved and which should be left behind." 

Unstructured information and duplicates are unavoidable within any organization, but a content migration is a good excuse to trim unnecessary data and find a place for unstructured data to go. Systemware's Basso says that getting that information into the new system is a part of the task. 

"Unstructured data that is disconnected from the business process has no context, which results in an execution gap that slows business performance and leaves cracks of uncertainty around the true performance of the business," says Basso. "The solution is to ensure that unstructured data is given context by adding business metadata or other business process intelligence to make the information more useful to the end user."  

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