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As we all know, critical business information that is needed for accountability, efficient processes and corporate memory exists in myriad business systems across government and the private sector. But right now, many systems are undergoing significant change, brought about by triggers like:

  • the move to the cloud
  • Government data centre initiatives; and
  • privatisation of government enterprises.

    Snow Geese Migration Corrine, Utah by Kevin Jensen.

    Snow Geese Migration Corrine, Utah by Kevin Jensen.

Businesses are moving to consolidate multiple systems into a single unified archive, or are reworking them using interoperability standards, to take advantage of the data analysis and reuse opportunities that follow. Government agencies are preparing legacy systems for permanent archiving.

In all such cases, it is vitally important that the data contained in systems is migrated carefully and with an understanding of regulatory and business needs, and that it is done in a way that is cost efficient and maximises the potential benefits from the data’s continued use.

In government sectors, the evidence shows that many business systems are in need of triage before any migration can be executed. In particular, with regard to considerations around the usability of the data they contain and its expected lifespan. Moving a legacy system relying on proprietary software containing an excess of low value transactional data of no further utility is a recipe for high costs and increased risks.

So what can be done?

Our advice is that assessment and planning before the migration is essential. This means asking questions like:

  • What was the business context for the creation and capture of the data? How has this evolved and have risks and requirements associated with it changed?
  • How does this affect the need to retain the data? Is it low value and eligible for deletion, or needed for the very long term?
  • How is metadata used to contextualise and manage other information in the system, and how can these related pieces of information be protected through change?
  • Does the data contain personal information with implications for privacy protection?
  • What other information does this data relate to?
  • Is it both structured and unstructured? Does the data rely on proprietary systems to be read and used? Can the migration involve a process of conversion into more sustainable formats?
  • Will the access and use arrangements meet requirements for now and into the future?

Answering these questions provides a strong, evidence based foundation on which an appropriate migration strategy can be developed. At all stages of a typical migration project, value can be derived from an approach like this that is mindful of the business context and requirements for the data:

Business case – how can the migration of the system/s be done in a way that will bring benefits from more usable, robust data? Where can these be quantified and where are they intangibles? What risks can we manage by a mindful approach to the migration?

Project initiation – which stakeholders will understand the information risks and opportunities associated with the system? which technical resources and expertise will be required to manage format conversions, metadata extraction and analysis and more?

Planning – understanding the data, metadata and any unstructured information that is to be migrated and confirming that which is to be left behind, with regard to identified regulatory, compliance and business requirements; ensuring the migration takes account of relationships and the persistence of these; confirming format/s conversion choices

Execution – migration execution involves not only the management of the data that is copied to the new environment but management of the ‘source’ system. Are there requirements for it to be preserved for quality assurance or other needs? Execution also means making sure you have an accountable process: tracking and recording the stages along the way.

Fortunately, there are a range of tools that can assist with some of the technical aspects of systems migrations; from export functions that come with the systems themselves, to data extraction and normalisation tools such as EMC’s InfoArchive or specialised digital preservation tools developed in the international digital preservation community.

But the use of any of these sorts of tools must be directed by the analysis and identification of the risks and requirements relating to the systems . This means a thorough understanding of optimal data models of source and target systems and a clear idea of how to make the data sustainable over time. With this grounding, mindful migrations will ensure our critical business data is secure, rich in context and usable for as long as we need it.

About the author

Cassie Findlay is a Senior Consultant with Recordkeeping Innovation. In past roles, Cassie has worked strategically at the whole of public sector level on digital recordkeeping, training and open data / open government initiatives. In planning for and establishing the NSW Government’s first Digital State Archive, she gained practical experience in designing and implementing a large and complex technical and procedural infrastructure for keeping digital information. She was also responsible for a number of open data initiatives and the design and launch of OpenGov NSW, the NSW Government’s website for published information Cassie has a Masters degree in information management from the University of NSW and particular strengths in digital recordkeeping and information management strategy, digital preservation, training and communications design and delivery, systems design and implementation, and open data.