When a supply chain company determines that it’s time to make the transition from an outdated legacy system to a modern, digital-ready system, the process is similar to moving out of a family home after years of occupancy. The old house was designed to fill the needs of its time, it’s accumulated a great deal of clutter in the attic, and the structure of the wiring and plumbing doesn't allow for more modern features like an in-house dryer or bathroom with multiple sinks. Legacy systems have many parallels to this situation in that they weren't designed for today’s environment, and, as a result, meeting the needs of today’s customer can be an incredible challenge.
With 76 percent of supply chain companies already using a mobile app or website for everyday tasks and projects, today’s data must remain consistent across all channels and be available in real time. Migrating data from siloed, disconnected systems to new, transformation-ready technology stacks is essential, but it’s also no easy task. If done incorrectly, a migration effort can create inconvenient delays, cost an exorbitant amount of money, or even bring the entire supply chain to a screeching halt.
With a strategic plan, careful engineering, and comprehensive knowledge of both the old and new systems, supply chain companies can seamlessly execute a data migration effort. Supply chain leaders should follow a few simple steps in order to make the transition from an older legacy platform to a new, digital ready platform as stress free as possible.
Keep or Give Away
The first step for any move is to evaluate what you really need. Moving is the perfect opportunity to do some “spring cleaning.” As supply chain companies begin to modernize, it’s critical that they are able to identify what data is useful and what is just taking up space. The legacy systems of record have been housing highly valuable information such as day-to-day business operations, financials, customer information and inventory levels for years. But they also hold onto irrelevant information, embedded business rules and outdated processes.
Relocating data that is not going to be useful within the new digital framework is a waste of resources both in terms of storage and bloating the system and making it more challenging for the user to perform tasks. Supply chain decision makers should use the migration as a chance to clean house and get rid of any data structures that are no longer necessary or useful to the business. Though time-consuming, this investment will pay dividends down the road by allowing the new system, the IT staff maintaining the new system and the users of the new system to work at peak efficiency.
Map the Move
Once you've determined which data should be migrated, you should begin to work on the structure of the data in the new system. While a supply chain company’s in-house IT staff may want to execute the migration, the complexity and amount of engineering effort needed often calls for outside support from experts. Modern data solutions structure their systems in a way that is much simpler than legacy systems of record, meaning they sometimes don’t speak the same language. In addition to the “language barrier" between old and new systems, legacy systems vary widely from one another, meaning what works for one system’s migration might not work for the next.
A large time investment is often necessary here, but it’s worth the effort. Properly mapping data to the new systems will end up saving a great deal of resources and unnecessary headaches in the long run.
Assess Any Baggage
A digital transformation effort is also a good time to evaluate how efficient existing processes are. One of the benefits of software systems, particularly in the case of ERP software, is that a lot of the best practices are move-in ready. They’ve been tested and iterated upon by your chosen enterprise software provider over a number of years and should be considered best-of-breed. Changing them should be the result of a unique requirement that is a strategic piece of your business rather than a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.
For some supply chain companies, duplicating current processes is essential for their business. But for others, they can easily use or slightly alter the baked-in processes that the new system provides. Software solutions can become costly or inefficient with excessive modification, so companies are wise to stay within the recommended approach of their software of choice to gain maximum benefits of the transformation effort.
Keep the Lights On
Every supply chain company is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to digital migration. Many companies must exist in mixed-mode for awhile, operating on both the legacy and new systems as they work to transition to the modern solution piece-by-piece to minimize risk and maximize value.
There are a variety of architectural concerns that arise during this phase. Some potential considerations include timing of the roll out, how much disruption is feasible during the transition and when to train users on the new system. These questions are so unique to each situation that it’s impossible to give a standard response. Skilled software architects must create a custom architecture that allows for the old and new systems to work in harmony in order to meet the company’s specific needs. As previously mentioned, selecting a partner from a professional services organization that is experienced in data migration and digital transformation solutions is key to the success of many companies’ digital transformation efforts.
While any strategic software migration has many challenges, the supply chain industry is becoming increasingly technologically-driven, making change a necessity rather than a luxury. Instead of seeing the move as a burden, companies should view it as an opportunity to lay the foundation for the future while decluttering the remnants of the past. With a solid strategy and proper planning, supply chain companies can make migration to new, state-of-the-art technology platforms as painless as possible.
Aaron Shook is a Lab Technology Officer at PointSource.