May 23, 2017

How to Perform a Successful Data Migration

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According to Raymond Kurzweil, futurist and author of The Singularity is Near, the growth of progress is exponential. I.e. we’ll see 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century rather than 100 years of progress. Kurzweil also suggests that by the year 2020, the growth of integrated circuits will slow, and “another paradigm” will replace that and carry the exponential growth.

Until the Singularity actually happens and data moves itself across systems, we’re stuck migrating data any time we want to move to a new server or software platform. Businesses in every industry amass vast amounts of data about their customers, employees, products, digital properties, and finances. Eventually, as systems become outdated, we need to move the usable and business-critical information from one system to another. Continually changing data storage means we need to start building concrete plans for validating, moving, and testing data.

Before You Migrate: Plan

Understand both the source and the target, meaning where the data comes from and where it’s going. For example: you’re porting ledgers and financial data from a desktop accounting system into QuickBooks Online. Once you understand the source and the target, you can start to map out your process. Understanding the IT environment where the migration will take place can help you make decisions about the speed and scope of work, as well as minimize inconvenience. 

Plan the migration project according to your business objectives. It’s exciting to pick out new software and start learning a new system, but if the software doesn’t support business objectives and the migration doesn’t move forward with a minimal process disruption, the results can be disastrous. Try to include a stakeholder from every relevant team during the planning stage. Even straightforward internal migrations can fail due to business restrictions, security policies, or other problems that might not be immediately visible to insular employees.

Try to include a stakeholder from every relevant team during the planning stage.

You should also watch out for known risks during the migration process. Often the data profiles and form structures in the old and new systems don’t perfectly match, which means data is liable to duplication or distortion during the transformation process. If your testing process fails to accurately translate real data, you may need to make some adjustments to your API configuration, or call the vendor for support.

As with any project, you’ll want to consider migration costs as part of the investment you’ll make in a new software tool. Oracle suggests that you factor the costs of any data migration into your investment calculations, rather than tacking it onto your overall costs as an afterthought. Depending on the complexity of the move, the cost and labor of the migration itself could make a new piece of technology prohibitively expensive, and ignoring the migration costs can set your team up for failure.

Plan Again—in Detail This Time

Most migrations take place through five major stages: 

  • Extraction: remove data from the current system to begin working on it.
  • Transformation: match data to its new forms, ensure that metadata reflects the data in each field.
  • Cleansing: de-duplicate, run tests, and address any corrupted data.
  • Validation: test and re-test that moving the data to the target location provides the expected response.
  • Loading: transfer data into the new system, and review for errors again.

During this time you’ll want to actually build your plan in a project management or task management software. Your plan should include burndown charts, task assignments, and dependency charts so all involved know their responsibilities and when each task is scheduled to take place. Take the time to do test runs and involve the entire team again to address as many unknowns as possible before the actual migration takes place.

Move the Data

Time to put your plan into action. Some teams migrate data on weekends or bank holidays to reduce disruption to business objectives, but this “big bang” migration has many problems of its own and can leave your IT team scrambling to clean up a botched attempt before everyone gets back to work. Others decide to run the old and new system concurrently and transfer data piecemeal. A parallel migration can extend the process, but also gives teams a chance to react to unforeseen difficulties.

Build a Repeatable Process

As new platforms continue to hit the market and businesses move faster every day, data migration will become a near-constant process in IT. Once you complete your first data migration, your team can run a full audit of the process to better understand strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes. Document everything in your project management software, and set up a clear, repeatable plan for the future.

If you’re approaching a data migration but still shopping for the next software platform, you can use our Product Selection Tool to compare options and get a custom recommendation based on your needs.


  1. Anurag

    After failing so many times and after facing so many issues. I have finally found how to successfully migrate data, I use GS Richcopy 360 to do this task. Its simple to use, provides many features like real time file sync which maintains your data integrity, fast transfer speed due to its multi threaded file transfer feature. Although its paid but its worth the money. Go for it!

  2. Habib

    I’m so glad you talked about the data migration process and how you need to be detailed in each step from extraction to loading. I’ve been learning about this a bit in my class at school, but I wanted to learn more about how they do it in real life. Thanks for helping me get a little bit ahead of my course material! This should really help me understand data migration better.