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7 steps for ECM migration

Organizations must know when to migrate ECM systems for up-to-date content storage and security. These steps reveal what companies must know and do for successful migrations.

No matter how well an organization maintains its content management system, any CMS shows its age over time.

Enterprise content management (ECM) vendors have always struggled to keep their technology updated, especially those with strong, on-premises installation bases. As the technology world evolves, enterprise vendors can become entrenched in old, formerly successful patterns. These outdated patterns create outdated user experiences, an inability to tie ECM systems into digital processes and a struggle to keep software running. Eventually, organizations must move on.

A cloud-based CMS can remove one of the largest challenges in ECM implementation -- infrastructure -- and enable organizations to focus more on creating good user experiences.

When is it time to migrate?

A successful cloud migration takes planning and forethought. And while a lift-and-shift approach is effective, it also lifts and shifts current challenges and only removes the ability to blame old hardware for problems.

For the best results, organizations should adopt ECM platforms built for cloud environments. As always with ECM, the key is knowing where content lives to ensure its security and give users access when and where they need it.

Key steps for migration

Organizations can follow seven basic steps to ensure their ECM migrations run smoothly.

1. Research and identify platforms

Content managers must ensure cloud ECM platforms meet business needs. If they don't identify the right platform, they create as many problems as they try to solve.

To see if a cloud ECM platform fits an organization's business needs, content managers must ask the following questions:

  • Can the organization create an information model to reflect its business?
  • How are user experiences?
  • How much flexibility does the organization have to adjust user interfaces and automate business rules?
  • How are the APIs?
  • Does the platform have the right auditing and security controls?
  • Can the organization manage records in a compliant manner?
  • What avenues does an organization have to migrate its content?

When moving large volumes of content, vendors should offer the option to ship data on a device, like AWS Snowball. Shipping data has security risks, so an organization needs a device designed to protect the data using security measures like encryption.

2. Prioritize the content

Every organization has content that serves multiple purposes, including finance, HR and mission-centric content like case files, reports or other business-generated content. Each domain manages content differently, with different challenges, volumes and criticality.

When content managers decide which domain to migrate first, they should choose the domain that struggles most to manage content. Focusing on one domain enables managers to reduce the variables involved, view the content more critically and adjust plans accordingly.

3. Clean the content

An organization doesn't need to migrate all its content. It should eliminate the ROT -- redundant, outdated and trivial -- information in its current CMS. Organizations can view ROT in the following ways:

  • Redundant. Organizations don't need 20 copies or all 50 versions of the same report.
  • Outdated or obsolete. If financial records from 10 years ago aren't needed, don't migrate them.
  • Trivial. Organizations can purge the company picnic flyer from five years ago.

While organizations should minimize ROT as they go, ECM migration presents the perfect opportunity to cut back and reduce costs and time.

4. Address current workloads

Before an organization migrates its content, it must determine how business should operate in the cloud ECM platform. It must also understand how employees use content and how the new platform can support them and improve their processes.

If users can't easily create and manage content in the new ECM platform, switching platforms may worsen processes. Challenges can lead to poor adoption, poor content security best practices and, potentially, another CMS migration a few years later.

A chart depicting benefits of cloud ECM systems
Organizations that adopt cloud ECM systems can expect benefits like automatic deployments.

5. Migrate inactive content

After organizations determine how to manage current workloads amid content migration, the process can begin. Content managers should first migrate inactive or older content and move forward from there, as this content is extremely unlikely to change.

Whatever the metric, content managers should aim to migrate the bulk of content in advance. With some content migration underway, organizations can see how the new ECM platform performs and determine how and when to move active content.

If content managers understand the ways employees use content, they can choose the best migration approach for their operations.

6. Migrate active content

Many organizations struggle the most with active content migration. The process is simple, but proper timing to minimize its effect presents a challenge. Options to approach active content migration include the following:

  • Weekend cutover. While not necessarily over a weekend, organizations can take this tried and true approach over a short period of time: Shut down the old system, migrate the last of the content and turn on the new system. Content managers may struggle to move all remaining content over the defined migration period, so this option doesn't work well for client-facing content repositories.
  • File sync. This approach involves tools, either purchased or built, that constantly move active content from the old system to the new one as users update and change it. While tool implementation and testing can present challenges, this approach offers the cleanest cutover when done correctly.
  • Hybrid. A hybrid approach combines aspects of the cutover, file sync and inactive content migration. Each method is as unique as the content it migrates.

If content managers understand the ways employees use content, they can choose the best migration approach for their operations. Content managers may also ask experts for advice, especially if migration is critical to business operations.

7. Validate

Validation is critical, and it begins early in the process. Content managers must validate migrated content by format, document type and timespan, among other mission-critical metrics. For a more detailed audit and validation at the document level, content managers can check the content's hash value in current and new systems.

Content managers should create a validation and auditing plan and scale it in size to the organization if content migrates incorrectly. Validation offers a positive UX and faith that all the content transfers into the new system.

Closing out the migration

After the migration is complete, content managers should review the process. What went well? What didn't? What could they have improved? Every migration generates new lessons, successes and challenges.

Organizations should never undertake content migrations lightly. The better an organization selects, sets up and migrates to a new platform, the less often they repeat those actions. If organizations migrate poorly to ECM systems, either on premises or in cloud environments, new migrations remain necessary for successful content services.

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