January 30, 2023 By Alan Pelz-Sharpe 5 min read

Migrating your enterprise content management (ECM) system to the cloud can be a painless process with these tried-and-true tips.

Don’t believe the hype! If you think you’re the only one with an expensive, old on-premises document management system that can’t be improved and moved, you’re wrong.

Many organizations feel caught in a bind—they want to migrate to something more effective but migrating a legacy system to the cloud fills them with fear. They’ve heard that it may all go wrong or be expensive, complicated and risky. Ten years ago, those were valid concerns, but today, a migration to the cloud is much more straightforward than you may imagine. It also typically brings a wide range of immediate benefits, including lower costs, increased security, the elimination of tiresome maintenance and updates, and easy access to content—anywhere and anytime.

In short, the move is much easier to make than most realize, and the benefits make it well worth the effort. We know this because Deep Analysis has advised many large and small organizations over the years on how to migrate document management and ECM systems to the cloud. In this blog post, we share some simple and well-proven top tips to ensure success for your organization.

A three-step process to a successful migration

First, it’s important to note that successful migration is a three-step process: preparation, migration and optimization. We call this the 60-20-20 plan, as that is how you divide your time:

  • 60% of your time will be spent in planning and preparing to decommission your legacy system.
  • 20% will encompass the actual migration process.
  • 20% will be used to optimize the modern system to accommodate and leverage the migrated content.

But how much time is needed in total? If the plan we suggest here is followed correctly, it may be only a few days or weeks for a simple system, or longer for more complex and extensive legacy systems. Either way, no migration project should last longer than a few months (except for extreme examples, which you likely want to avoid anyway). So, keep in mind that when preparing to migrate to the cloud and transform your business, you will spend most of your time preparing and optimizing, bringing far more value to a migration project than simply lifting and shifting files.

But before doing any of that, it is often best to start with a clean sheet. If you are planning to move to the cloud, why not try it out first by deploying a new application? That way, you can get your new application up and running and become familiar with working in the cloud before migrating your older applications and data. Start with something small. You likely have a list of new apps you were planning to build and deploy, so pick a relatively simple, quick win from the list, and by deploying that, you will also set yourself up for a successful future legacy migration.

Top 10 tips for migrating document management and ECM systems to the cloud

  1. Ensure any migration project is business-led: Though migrating a legacy system to a new, more modern environment requires technical expertise, any such effort should always be business-led. The migration’s success depends on thoroughly understanding your future requirements and mapping the move to meet those needs.

  2. Avoid the lift and shift: Don’t just move everything from an old system to a new system. Lifting and shifting is a common mistake. The small effort required to define some simple rules regarding what you need in your new system is worth it. Anything that does not meet that new need should be disposed of or moved to a secure, low-cost separate location. It is your chance to clean house, and you will reap the rewards.

  3. Be brutal: It’s an urban myth that you need to keep everything forever. You don’t; nor should you. What you will almost certainly find in any legacy is an opportunity to put rules and procedures in place so that the same legacy data mountain problem does not recur. Keeping everything forever is a major compliance and legal risk when you have a legal obligation to destroy some data after set periods of time. A system migration is an opportunity to essentially automate that work moving forward.

  4. Prepare your new system for success: Never migrate content from one location to another before optimizing the new system for that content. New structures, metadata and locations must be defined for the incoming content. This is not difficult to do, but many skip the step and end up with another useless mountain of inaccessible content residing in a newer system.

  5. Start small: Don’t move everything in one go; transfer a small but representative quantity of content first and ensure that everything works fine. Alternatively, start with a brand-new application to gain a quick win and become comfortable with the system. Check that the content runs correctly in its new home and ends up in the right place. As you test a few small batches, you may want to make adjustments before moving to larger batches. Again, a steady, step-by-step approach will deliver dividends.

  6. Learn from your past mistakes: Take this opportunity to put rules and procedures in place to avoid another legacy data mountain problem. Don’t repeat the mistakes of yesterday by again hoarding and failing to manage information assets. When you migrate from a legacy system to modern architecture, you will clear out a lot of junk, add controls where there were none and start to work more efficiently.

  7. Document the process: Though there is no need to write a lengthy detailed report, do document what you have done and why. Common sense tells us that at some point, someone in your organization will pop out of the woodwork and complain that their old system isn’t working anymore. Be sure you have documented what happened, why and the steps you took in the migration. This ensures continuity of service if and when the people who run and use the system move on, and it will provide a record of lessons learned and a playbook for future migrations.

  8. Plan for governance surprises: Old legacy systems will contain unexpected—and at times unpleasant—surprises. Most typically, they will reveal information assets that should never have been there in the first place. Be sure to have a basic plan to consider compliance, privacy, security and regulatory issues that may govern the information and your organization.

  9. Integrate with other systems: Sometimes, you may only move a pile of information into a lower-cost and easier-to-access location. But often, you will want to use that information more effectively in the future. So, think about how that information is leveraged and how it will be integrated into your remaining systems and processes.

  10. Expect the unexpected: If we have learned one thing over the years, it is that every migration delivers surprises. You might find scores of “personal” photographs, pieces of weird software, unreadable and corrupted files or locked folders within locked folders (often belonging to long-departed employees). You don’t need to move these, but you do need to look out for them. Trust us, the unexpected can be the most memorable and, dare we say it, fun element of any migration project!

“Legacy” is a term used widely in the IT world; it refers to software and hardware that have been superseded by more efficient, cloud-based technology. Legacy systems are seen as difficult to replace. But in most cases, such systems and data stores can be relatively easily replaced. You can migrate anything of value from them and, in the process, reduce costs, increase efficiencies and improve your customer and employee experiences. The migration process does more than simply move you to a more modern system—it’s an opportunity to clean house, reduce costs, and simplify.

So, let the migration begin.

Learn more about IBM Content Services

IBM Content Services is an IBM-managed, pre-configured set of content management capabilities that make it easier for you to get up and running quickly. Easily integrate content into your applications with an out-of-the-box user experience—ensuring that the right content can be quickly accessed by the right people. With IBM Content Services hosted on AWS, you can provision and get set up within minutes. See for yourself how IBM Content Services can help your organization improve employee and customer experiences, mitigate compliance risk and modernize your content management system while lowering your total cost of ownership (TCO).

Visit the IBM Content Services webpage to learn more about how to get started and to sign up for a 30-day free trial.

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