Software migrations can be a nightmare. As you move your system from one platform to another, four major obstacles threaten to destroy the entire project. Understand what you’re up against and how to (relatively) breeze through any software migration or legacy modernization project.

When it comes to software migration, everyone agrees: “There’s a lot that can go wrong from both a technical and people perspective.” (From Hari Vignesh’s article on 10 steps to planning a system migration.)

Be prepared for the project to be larger and more complex than you first anticipate. Make sure you assign experts to the project who have intimate knowledge of the legacy system. It’s crucial to have their help during the actual migration. And keep your stakeholders engaged by delivering iterative business value as much as you can.

Finally, watch out for the four threats to software migration success. All software migration failures result from one or more of these hidden forces of doom, so be prepared and proactive!

Tips for Legacy Software Migration

Threat #1: Not Capturing Routine Workarounds in Requirements

Legacy systems often contain hidden user workarounds that become tribal knowledge. These workarounds become so routine, they can be completely missed when gathering requirements for the new system.

Missing these requirements can end up costing your project a lot of unexpected expense. When they are identified later on in design or development, you’ll have to allot additional time and budget to work them into the new system.

Take these three steps to ensure you don’t miss any requirements:
  • Review legacy system documentation and workflows to help elicit gaps in identified requirements.
  • Review documented procedures.
  • Perform side-by-side analysis with operational and reporting experts. Closely observe the out-of-system transactions for processes that need to be added to requirements.

Threat #2: Reactively Fixing Flawed Data

Take a closer look at the data relationships and information hierarchies that hold together your legacy system. They are likely very unstable.

Companies using legacy software systems are often living with workarounds. These workarounds are intended to help the software keep plodding along, but they ultimately lead to a weak infrastructure. Over time, the workarounds create data relationships that are either very loosely connected to each other or completely disconnected from the way your business operates.

Software migrations become necessary when these legacy systems can no longer support a growing, scaling operation. For example, what was designed when a business has 100 clients begins to cause latency and breakdowns when the business has 1000 clients.

If your software migration preserves the flawed structure of your legacy data, your new system will be doomed to fail as well.

Reactively coping with flawed data will kill your budget.

A proper software migration requires you to redefine the data relationships and information hierarchies of your legacy system. This move will drastically change the resulting user experience, reporting requirements and back-end system integrations. So don’t save it for the end of your project. Discover and address structural problems before you begin designing your new system.

Take these four steps to understand and clarify data relationships in your legacy system:
  • Perform entity-relationship-diagram reviews early and often to identify gaps in the legacy systems.
  • Interview key stakeholders of legacy and back-end systems to identify gaps or pain points in data relationships.
  • Perform side-by-side analysis with operational, reporting, and integration system users to help elicit gaps in identified requirements.
  • Create contingency and validation processes. These processes should consider the transition from legacy, to the first stage of development, to the end of the project.

>> Check out these additional tips on how to drive a positive, game-changing software modernization initiative.

Threat #3: Being Unprepared for Temporary, Out-of-Scope Costs

Be prepared for any additional labor costs needed to keep your system going during the software migration process.

Of course, you’ll want to make as much money as you can off of your technology investment. So keep in mind that generating revenue delivers a higher return than saving money operationally.

Take these steps to effectively manage additional costs during software migration:
  • Define the ROI for each of the major legacy system components. That way, the implications of deferred scope are clearly understood.
  • Create a resource contingency plan and build that into the project ROI.

Threat #4: Losing Sight of Long-Term Gain Because of Short-Term Pain

A negative, emotional cycle can easily derail your entire project.

Be aware that you’ll need to make tough decisions about scope. And be prepared for the difficulty of the first phase. Software migration can be painful, causing you or your stakeholders to feel like it’s not worth it.

While a good custom software company will work to make your software migration as easy as possible, there is almost always something you can’t automate in the first phase of the project. Additional manual effort is usually needed to keep your business moving through the initial stages of software migration.

Keeping all stakeholders engaged and excited is crucial. While painful at first, a well-executed software migration project provides invaluable long-term benefits, including the ability to scale and identify new revenue opportunities.

When software migration gets hard, remind yourself and your team that the legacy software is costing you money every time you have to scale operations. A modernized software system will allow you to stop focusing on maintaining your infrastructure, and start focusing on business strategy and new growth.

Take these five steps to encourage a positive commitment among teams and stakeholders:
    • Communicate early and frequently.
    • Document changes in scope and how those impact the project ROI.
    • Create and deliver product demonstrations early and frequently to get feedback early and often.
    • Produce and communicate milestone reports to celebrate and gain excitement with the team.
    • Produce and communicate regular status updates, blockers, and action items to keep everyone informed.

Next steps: Why Software Projects Fail

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