Successful data migration is vital to the effective transformation of telcos into lean and agile competitors in the communications marketplace. Celona Technologies' Charles Andrews, CEO (left) and MD, and Tony Sceales, CTO, talk to Lynd Morley about overcoming companies' fear of failure, and the best way to achieve a winning migration
A data migration project that works, comes in on time, within budget, and without causing major disruption to the business may sound like a extraordinary piece of wishful thinking to those experienced in the pitfalls of the exercise (after all, Bloor Research puts the failure or overrun figure at 80 per cent among Forbes 2000 companies) but it is exactly what Celona Technologies CEO, Charles Andrews, stresses can now be delivered.
Andrews believes that at the heart of any successful data migration project is the clear recognition that migration is a business issue. "Keeping the business aware and in control of the migration is the first and biggest challenge - but absolutely critical to getting it right," he says. "Simply put, most of the decisions that need to be made during the process require business rather than technical knowledge. Sure, the analysts understand about data formats and interface requirements, but they can often only guess at what the data they are processing means to the business."
Successful data migration must surely be a central plank of any telco's plans to tackle the business transformation now so essential to survival in the highly competitive communications market. Along with innovation and business process optimisation, transformation is certainly the dominant theme in the industry at the moment, and Andrews agrees that innovation is seen as a key differentiator for many businesses.
"Innovation is not a fad - it is here to stay," he says. "It is a mantra that drives businesses, and will continue to move them forward.
"In the 1990s businesses became adept at sales and marketing, branding, re-branding and growth through merger and acquisition. With the support of the Internet, businesses opened up new global markets and the barriers to setting up a business lowered. This provided a host of new opportunities, but it also introduced a range of new threats - not least that increased numbers of competitors made differentiation harder, and premiums for particular products and services more difficult to maintain.
"Today, each innovation is scrutinised, copied and the advantage negated that much quicker - thanks to the power of the Internet-supported global market. GE's Jeffrey Immelt, for example, explains that now ‘constant re-invention is the central necessity...we're all just a moment away from commodity hell'.
"The ability to respond to change, to continually innovate and to get product to market quickly and reliably are the new hallmarks of business success. Or, in Rupert Murdoch's words: ‘big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow'."
Andrews who, before joining Celona at the beginning of this year, had worked with both IBM and Sun Microsystems, clearly has his eye firmly on the business issues, but is more than well grounded in IT. He stresses that IT is a central player in a business' search for both innovation and differentiation. "IT's critical role in supporting an organisation's innovation fitness was underlined in a recent survey conducted by Capgemini Consulting. The survey revealed that two-thirds of CIOs believe that IT is critical to business innovation, but only 25 per cent feel their IT function is actually driving business innovation. Capgemini's Eric Monnoyer, BIS Global Leader, comments that the requirement to balance operation and innovation is ‘a constant challenge' for CIOs, although the survey indicates that 60 per cent of CIOs believe it's possible to do both," Andrews says.
"Seemingly it's the old, old problem of how to have your cake and eat it," he continues. "CIOs are being asked to ensure that IT is continuing to function efficiently, to comply with legislation and regulation, and to be secure against an ever-wider range of threats. They're also expected to perform the usual upgrades, renewals and maintenance on legacy infrastructures, and to ‘manage' (as in maintain or reduce) IT budgets. But as if doing all of this were not enough, IT is now required to ‘innovate' to support businesses that are being fundamentally re-engineered for the new economy. All of which has far reaching effects on IT infrastructures, budgets and goals.
"So why aren't more IT departments supporting business innovation effectively? Well to some extent we have already answered this question. Many CIOs and IT departments are busy just keeping IT running and measuring performance against vital key performance indicators. Often IT is seen as a cost centre that needs to be measured, optimised and controlled, rather than as the powerhouse of business innovation. And CIOs may have little time or budget to innovate, due to the fact that such a large chunk of existing IT budgets, resources and staff are committed simply to keeping legacy infrastructure running. The scale of this problem was revealed in a recent white paper by Erudine's Dr Toby Sucharov and Philip Rice who noted that: ‘The cost of legacy systems [from industry polls] suggest that as much as sixty to ninety per cent of IT budget is used for legacy system operation and maintenance'."
Andrews believes that IT underpins the business process, whether it is the customer relationship management systems, the billing system, the provisioning system or whatever. IT can either be an enabler or an inhibitor. Frequently, he explains, different people in the business see the same IT system as both.
"This is a tough place for a CIO to be. If you want to re-align your IT to business needs there are two options: to tactically manage the issue (for example, by extending systems or by partial replacement of infrastructure) or to strategically redesign your infrastructure. While the second approach will yield the most benefits in the long run, in practice the first approach is taken by most companies. The migration of mission-critical applications and their associated data have a risk, degree of difficulty, and such a poor track record of being delivered on time or to budget, that businesses shy away from this approach. The compounded effect of using a tactical approach to solve legacy IT problems over a number of years is the unbelievable complexity that is now responsible for sucking IT budgets dry.
"We now have a seemingly intractable ‘chicken or egg' conundrum of innovation versus operation," Andrews notes, but stresses that a solution to this problem is offered by the new generation of application migration technology that is coming to market.
"So-called ‘third generation' migration solutions are very different from preceding generations of migration technology. Notably, they are highly adept at dealing with the thorny problem of business logic held in legacy systems and are flexible enough to enable ‘business-driven' migrations. CIOs that have employed this technology have achieved business-driven application migration and consolidation projects on time and to budget. They are benefiting both from a lower legacy infrastructure cost and the ability to offer new products and services to their customers - supporting innovation and opening up new revenue streams.
"Take early adopter BT, for example, who wanted to migrate the legacy billing system that supported its Featurenet customers to Convergys's Geneva system, but who also desired a ‘completely seamless transition' to the new system. It achieved a successful migration in just six months (a full 13 months ahead of schedule) using the Evolve tool from Celona Technologies. BT Retail has since credited the successful project with creating more than ?148 million in new revenues, thanks to its ability to launch innovative new services to Featurenet customers.
"Third-generation migration technology could be the CIO's best friend - the key to unlocking the budget and resources trapped in legacy systems, by enabling effective, low-risk application migration and consolidation. And, by significantly reducing both the risk and cost of consolidating and renewing legacy infrastructure, it allows more resources and effort to be targeted at innovation."
Keenly aware of the trends now fashioning service delivery in the telecoms sector, Andrews highlights the importance of successful data migration to the effectiveness of the new delivery platforms.
"Two main trends are clearly emerging," he says. "The first is the standardisation of components in the SDP (Service Delivery Platform), as opposed to bespoke development, and the second is that the key adoption drivers are now commercial rather than technological.
"Business is demanding that technology should not inhibit change. SDPs promise vital competitive advantage, enabling service providers to roll out new services, faster and cheaper than before. However, realising all the benefits offered by SDPs also requires service providers to have the key application data in the right place. The move to a standardised set of applications, with more re-use of functionality, means that the application data will need to be moved into the new applications.
"The traditional way of moving this data involves either people-based techniques or primitive data migration using extract-transform-load (ETL) techniques," Andrews explains. "Unfortunately, the downside of these approaches - such as the inability to scale or to respond to the changing business requirements, as well as high cost - are diametrically opposed to the reasons for implementing an SDP. SDPs put the business in control rather than the technology, which means that data must be where and when the business needs it to be, rather than something that the technology controls.
"The key to delivering the vital benefits provided by SDPs is, therefore, the ability to move critical data on time, without loss of service and without spiralling costs and budgets. A survey we conducted amongst IT management revealed that 60 per cent of respondents thought a principal cause of failed migrations is that data complexity and cleanliness are poorly understood; 36 per cent said that they did not think they would be able to get some or all of their data across.
"These challenges cannot be ignored: data migration needs to move into the era of SDPs and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) - with re-usable standard components, and with the business directing the use of the technology."
Celona, Andrews believes, can answer both the concerns of the surveyed IT managers, and the vital needs of service delivery. "Data migration is our core competence, and we have gone back to basics and begin with a definition of the types of migration. There are five possible approaches that can be applied to a migration - 1) Don't migrate; 2) Event based; 3) Incremental; 4) Bulk-load; 5) Big-bang. No single approach fits every project's requirements: any programme of transformation must ensure that a range of approaches can be delivered. Celona is able to deliver each approach and can adapt and change between approaches depending on requirements.
"Even a single project may move through a number of approaches over time or even combine approaches, in parallel," he continues. "For example, to get a new customer service up and running, without delay, an enterprise might decide to go with a ‘Don't Migrate' approach initially. Some information may be synchronised with the existing systems, eg revenues written back to the old accounts receivable system. Following the launch and trial, with new customers, existing customers who take up the new service are migrated with their old service information on an event-by-event basis. After the new systems have stabilised, then incremental or even bulk-load strategies might be added, whilst continuing to migrate individual customers as each new service order is received."
Conscious of the uphill battle Celona might well have in persuading companies that data migration need not be the agonising (and ultimately unsuccessful) undertaking many imagine, the company has refined what it describes as the ‘Four golden rules of data migration' - describing the common characteristics shared by proven, successful data migrations.
Tony Sceales, Celona's CTO, explains: "The first two rules stress that data migration is a business issue, and that business knows best. Putting business in the driving seat means that before we ask ‘how do we migrate data' we first answer a series of important related questions that help to frame and scope the project. These are: "Why are we migrating data?'; ‘What data should be migrated?'; and ‘When should it be migrated?'. These questions cannot be answered by technicians, but only by business managers."
Sceales goes on to stress that ensuring the business makes the decisions and drives the project also frees up IT to do what it does best - the technical aspects of moving the data.
"At the same time," he adds, "the second rule stresses that business drivers, not technical ones should take precedence. It is critically important that business goals should define the solution and approach selected, and not the other way around. To be successful, the chief business stakeholders must not only define their requirements, but must also take responsibility for driving the project."
The third ‘golden rule' states that no one needs, wants or will pay for perfect data. Sceales explains: "While enhancing data quality is a worthwhile goal, it's really important not to go off on a tangent mid-project in the quest for perfect data quality. Data owners and users need to determine the level of quality they require at the start of a project so that the technologists have an appropriate goal to aim at."
The fourth rule also addresses data quality, noting that ‘if you can't count it, it doesn't count'. Again, Sceales explains: "The challenge is how to measure data quality in order to asses the state of your legacy data and determine the level of quality your business users require. To make matters worse, data quality is not static, but erodes and improves over time. It's really important that the measures used make sense to business users and not just to technologists. This allows deliverables to be measured, gap analyses to be performed, and ongoing data quality to be monitored and improved."
Celona is a small company, very much at the forefront of solving a big problem - a position that Charles Andrews is clearly very proud of. "Data migration," he says, "is all about getting the data in the right place at the right time, and we are solely focused on this.
"We have built a platform, a method and experience/best practice which can deliver the promise by managing the detail and allowing the business to decide on the speed of the migration. We are calling it progressive migration - it could be called migrating at the speed that the business needs to be able to drive innovation and new products and services into the market."