Four Tips for a Successful Data Migration Project

From establishing governance and transparency to embracing smart timing and change, following these four tips at the start of your data migration project will dramatically increase your success.

by Chris Gorton

More than 80 percent of data migration projects run late or over budget, which can put your enterprise application deployment at risk and negatively impact your business operations. What may seem like the straightforward task of moving data from an older system to a new enterprise application actually involves much more strategic planning and thought to successfully deliver trusted, accurate information that your business can run and rely on.

With this in mind, there are four common facets that are typically overlooked elements to a successful data migration project. When embarking on such a project, remember:

  • Timing is everything
  • Gain transparency within your project
  • Establish data migration governance
  • Recognize and embrace this strategic opportunity for change


Data migration is not just a single task that should be executed before production implementation. At the very least, it should run for the full duration of enterprise application implementation, if not longer. Let me explain why.

First, obtaining security accreditation and data access always poses risk. Never underestimate the complexities of obtaining data from systems perceived to be owned by the organization. Too often, accessing data from unfamiliar applications takes vast amounts of time and money. Data migration is not driven by one single execution, but rather is a continuous process that allows access to particular data to mitigate this risk.

Second, you must get third-party provider and supplier agreements in place. Do not focus 100 percent on the enterprise application specialists and service providers as the keys to a successful solution implementation. Instead, analyze where else in the organization you use third parties, as this is where surprises and challenges invariably lurk. Do you use a third party to host your applications and databases? Have you examined the service-level agreements with this party? Chances are there will be costs and turnaround time involved in making what you require happen, which can take months to unravel and agree upon.

Finally, remember that finding a suitable data migration services supplier takes time. To be successful in data migration, from the onset you will need to engage with a partner that has experience in this field. Enterprise applications may revolutionize and streamline today’s complex business operations and efficiency, but this does not come without complexity.

Ensure both the financial and time commitments you have to complete the data migration are based on fact rather than fiction. Be wary of any party that claims to be capable of providing project time and cost estimations without first understanding the assumptions and facts upon which the estimate is based. Demanding smaller assessment and data audit exercises early on in the process is a key tool in customer and supplier alignment, and offers a level of protection for both parties moving into this important engagement.

Project Transparency

Senior management and board executives need transparency in all business initiatives to justify the return on investment. Data migration should not be an exception to this rule. Sufficient investment will likely not be granted if sponsors believe that data migration problems will solve themselves, or if they perceive data migration as simply moving data from Point A to Point B. To make the workstream viable, a proven methodology should be adopted and communicated to (and accepted by) all stakeholders from Day One. This methodology should include:

  • Sufficient organization and project team communication: People must know when and where things are going wrong and why. Also, advertise the success. Don't let hard work and commitment go unacknowledged.
  • Flexible enterprise reporting and dashboard capabilities: Well-designed reporting environments are key to supporting any data project, not just migration. Reporting is the key facilitator that supports your data migration project team and the larger organization in understanding and managing the risks associated with the data being used as part of the project. After all, it is about the data!

Focus on these components to ensure that all levels of your organization can come to understand any areas of concern, and enable them to take action on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Also, incorporating a mechanism to track and analyze performance over time to ensure the expected progress is achieved will enable better project control. Identifying elements that start to go wrong early on, and ensuring preventive measures are put in place prior to their malfunction, will ensure the “Why, where, and when did this all go wrong?” effect can be avoided should the project fail.


Without a framework for governing your information assets, data migration projects may spiral out of control. Create an information governance process to establish policies, standards and rules that drive your data migration project. Keys to successful data migration governance include:

  • Having trust and confidence in the process and investment made
  • Eradicating unpredictability within the project
  • Providing better project visibility and management

You would not run a business without monitoring and reacting to the key performance indicators that have been critical to your business for years, so why put your data migration project at risk? Can you afford to have your new enterprise application go live without high quality data in it? Without ensuring you are migrating trusted information, the system might not go live at all. The costs of not adopting information governance for data migration include:

  • Delays and cost overruns in project execution and implementation
  • Inability to identify and mitigate risk
  • Increasing scope and requirements
  • Poor user adoption due to bad data quality, structure, and presentation
  • Business process disruption post implementation


Often, organizations mistakenly view data migration as tactical. Typical approaches include hiring IT contractors or assigning the task offshore just to get the data through and loaded. This might work for much smaller, simpler projects, but rarely will it support what are often complex, multiple-system, multiple-geography IT roll-outs, sometimes spanning a three- to five-year period or beyond. The scenario has become ever more popular, and requires data migration to be treated as a strategic enabler. Data migration should no longer be considered a competence all its own, but should be viewed as the start of the journey toward implementing an enterprise information management strategy and information governance initiative.

When evaluating data migration as an opportunity for change, remember:

  • Data migration is a rare opportunity for an organization to get up close and personal with one of their most important assets and to establish a foundation of trusted information to drive their business processes. Take the time to do it properly, and you will be able to better manage information and use it as a new, strategic asset.
  • Don't invest time and money understanding what might be wrong with your data, fixing or cleansing that data, and then loading it into a system without first considering your ongoing strategic approach to continually manage it. At a minimum, determine whether you can re-use the methodology, process, and tools for the next system roll-outs planned as part of the overall implementation process.
  • You will have uncovered valuable business and validation rules within this process. You should now be asking yourself whether you will monitor these key quality indicators once the enterprise application has gone live. After all, bad data will continue to be created whether or not the problem is solved.


Considering these four key areas before you start your data migration project will dramatically increase the success of your endeavors. Furthermore, establishing a strategic approach that incorporates the correct techniques, tools, and processes for data migration will optimize your businesses performance. Focusing on these areas will set a solid foundation for the kind of ongoing information management and governance programs your organization is trying to achieve.

Chris Gorton is the information management lead at SAP BusinessObjects. You can contact the author at

Must Read Articles