No other subject seems to capture the attention of IT leaders right now like database migrations. If there were an IT theme for 2022, it would be: Enterprises migrate from legacy data warehouses to the cloud. And it is no longer just the “early adopters” but the entire customer base that is looking to make the move to cloud-based systems.
Depending on the environment and various other factors, enterprises chose one of several approaches. Small systems and data marts typically may be a simple case for an application rewrite, while large systems are best migrated with database virtualization (DBV). However, in organizations where IT leaders do not have sufficient executive support, moving to the in-cloud variant of their current system can be a good stop-gap measure.
Once a customer has chosen a method, their teams will embark on a journey of between ten months for DBV and five years for a rewrite. In either case, this will be the type of project the organization has most likely never undertaken. Although, when organizations do have prior experience, they likely failed to decommission the legacy system.
Let's examine the three most common problems that hamper the execution of migration projects and what can be done to avert migration disasters.
#1: Communicate the “Why” to the Team—Frequently
Invariably, every large IT project has its ups and downs. What makes database migrations tricky is their 80/20 nature. The last 20% of the project will demand 80% of the effort and expenses. This can lead to frustration, because the initial progress was swift and the project seemed close to the finish line, then stalled out.
In our practice, we found that leaders who keep the eye on the prize and frequently focus their teams can overcome dips in motivation. By ensuring that everybody has a sound understanding of the “why” behind the decision to migrate, IT leaders lay a solid foundation for their teams.
In addition to extolling the expected benefits of the migration, it is important to remind team members what their roles will be in the future. Painting a picture of a world after the migration is crucial. For example, when virtualizing the database, team members can continue contributing their existing skill sets. However, other approaches may require broader changes.
Experienced IT leaders know there is no such thing as over-communicating. Running monthly show-and-tell sessions to illustrate the team’s progress and celebrate milestones can be a powerful tool to ensure everybody is on the same page.
#2: Fend Off Incumbents’ Counterattacks
Moving to a different solution such as a platform-native system naturally means the incumbent vendor will lose business. But this is not just about an individual account, rather, incumbents must worry that the departure of any account might be the beginning of a trend. Hence, they want to nip this in the bud and kill off migration projects.
Database vendors have long relied on vendor lock-in to keep their customers in line. They didn’t have to do much really. They just had to let the dynamics of vendor lock-in play out, so long as they could delay or slow down a migration project. They know, when customers run out of time, they will likely revert back to staying on the current platform.
To hasten the demise of a migration project, incumbent vendors routinely resort to spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). While experienced IT leaders will not be intimidated by the fear mongering, their team members may not always be able to see through the ruse. Incumbents will almost always offer to perform more comparisons by feigning concern that the new solution might not be up to the task, etc.
It all comes down to guarding the team’s most precious resource: time. IT leaders need to navigate a delicate balance between keeping the incumbent cooperative for the duration of the migration, yet stay firm and not give in.
#3: Manage Up, Constantly
Air cover from executives is critical for every major IT project. In the case of migration projects perhaps even more so. Like the project sponsor, executives are the target of the incumbent’s campaign that aims at derailing the migration. However, in addition, they will also be subjected to other competitors who sense an opportunity to sweep in and turn the migration project in their favor and become the new vendor.
To avoid the project going sideways now, IT leaders need to ensure they are working in lockstep with their executives. Getting buy-in does not only concern the new technology to move to but also the method of the migration itself. Making executives part of the decision-making process as well as the monthly cadence of progress reviews is therefore critical.
It also doesn’t stop with the direct chain of command. Rather, including executives from all business functions that will be affected by the migration helps galvanize the organization and prevents surprises.
And Now, Charge Ahead
The discussion above focused on execution challenges. They are universal to any approach be it database virtualization, rewrite, or a temporary move to in-cloud databases. We attribute the grim statistics of failure rates for conventional database migrations over the past decade at least partially to execution challenges.
The fact that a migration of the Enterprise Data Warehouse to the cloud is probably the first migration a team is undertaking puts many IT leaders in unchartered territory. However, with modern technology and steadfast leadership principles, IT leaders can overcome the above challenges and transform the enterprise fundamentally.