Move It or Lose It: Content Migration Strategies

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Moving from one office to the next takes hundreds of boxes and back-breaking labor. By contrast, moving a company's entire digital content collection from a variety of locations or a legacy content management system into a new CMS to the next doesn't require a single box or any heavy lifting. However, content migration is no small undertaking. Within a slew of drives lies a maze of structured and unstructured data, all of which needs to be collected, classified, and formatted before it can move into its new accommodations. And since every situation is different, there's rarely a roadmap that makes the move easy.

As companies outgrow the capabilities of a first-generation CMS, decide to invest in one for the first time, or migrate their web content from one host to the next, they need to figure out how to ensure that billions of bytes of information make a graceful leap from one system to the next.

Migration Routes 
Most companies will spend more time preparing themselves for a migration than they will in actually executing it. Sometimes companies shy away from investing the resources in a CMS upgrade longer than they should because of the perceived hassle and potential snags that could lock up important information during the process. 

"Companies have been holding off for the last three years to see if they could get by on first-generation solutions, limping along," says Santi Pierini, SVP of marketing at Day Software, an enterprise CMS provider. "Today, there's more of an emphasis on the new technology—companies want that Web 2.0 functionality in their systems." 

After a company decides to take the leap onto a new server or system, it has to decide on the best migration solution for its particular data needs. The first instinct for most companies is to ask whether it could be done with a simple cut-and-paste. In fact, "The bulk of the market sees content migration as a cut-and-paste exercise," says Owen Lovelace, marketing manager for U.K.-based Vamosa, which develops content migration and analysis software. 

Cut-and-paste can work, but only to migrate relatively small amounts of information. The problem is that many documents are not designed for straightforward conversion or transfer. For instance, if a spreadsheet contains a hyperlink that connects to something elsewhere on a site or company intranet, that link needs to be updated and transferred individually. For isolated moves, it might be easier to transfer the information manually, but to move entire repositories this method ties up vast amounts of valuable resources, information, and manpower. 

For companies with a large quantity of information, an automated content migration solution is often the most cost- and time-effective answer. Think of it as hiring professional movers—they know what they're doing, and they're there to do the heavy lifting for you. Many new CMS vendors build a migration tool into their products or offer an add-on application to manage the process, although some consulting and setup is required. 

As CMS evolves to be more flexible and scalable for individual companies' needs, so do content migration tools. "The old way to migrate was by connecting to information," Pierini explains, but today's migration technology "is more of a hybrid," to handle the diversity of information and formats that accumulate on office servers and intranets over the years. 

For instance, Day Software's content migration tool divides information into several different groups within the legacy system. Some of the data can easily be converted and transferred onto the new system. But some of it needs to stay on the old system for a little while longer—Greg Walsh, Day's VP of support services, says that many of Day's corporate clients are required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to maintain information in its original file format for a certain amount of time, so that information is gradually migrated through the connective framework between the old and the new systems over time. 

Within organizations, certain content needs to be available around the clock, in others, a large amount of content was created so long ago that no one remembers why it's there. A smart migration strategy doesn't just recognize essential information and get it where it needs to go—it can give a company the chance to revitalize its information along with its systems. 

Know Your Data 
Before a big move, it helps to take inventory and know what needs to go (and where). The same goes for your digital content. Frankie Basso, VP of marketing at Systemware, says that knowing what's hiding in every corner of the legacy repositories is an important step that companies often neglect before attempting a migration. 

"In banking, there is a compliance-driven expression, ‘KYC,' or ‘Know Your Customer,' which refers to the complete understanding of a customer before and after opening an account with him," says Basso. "Within the world of content migration, the equivalent idiom should be ‘KYD,' or ‘Know Your Data.'" 

Basso recommends investigating the answers to the following questions before the migration process gets underway: 

·What type of data is it?
·How much exists?
·How is the data used?
·How often is new data created?
·How long is it kept?
·Are there business or regulatory requirements for the data?
·How is the data secured, and who has access to the data?

But teams don't have the time to gather and make sense of billion of bytes worth of information manually. Vamosa has developed repository analysis tools to do the heavy thinking for you. "Fully flesh out both the legacy and new systems," says Owen Lovelock, marketing manager for Vamosa. "The more you know, the less risk you have of unexpected surprises."

Vamosa offers a free version of its Vamosa Content Analyzer for CMS professionals on its website. Lovelock says that Content Analyzer is run on archives about three to four months before a typical Vamosa migration. The advantage to having an automated tool like Content Analyzer, according to Lovelock, is that companies can quickly take in the big picture and determine the requirements of the move. The analysis also tells the migration team how much total information there is, breaks it down by file type, and describes the shape and size of each item.

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