A Complete Data Migration Checklist (for Enterprises)

Data migration sounds like a headache of an endeavor, but that’s just because it seems so monumental and complicated. Fortunately, like most problems, its weight seems to dissipate if you break it down into smaller parts through a solid plan.

We’ll look at what constitutes a good data migration for an enterprise and see how to go about performing each leg of this race. We’ll offer you some great advice to ensure the entire process runs as seamlessly and error-free as possible. No migration is perfect, but it’s definitely possible to have one that’s virtually painless.

Part One: Planning and Strategize

The first (and arguably most important) part of any data migration is solid planning. Data migration of any size is a complex, highly-technical process with a lot of moving parts. If you fail to account for the task, you’ll run into roadblocks along the way. At worst, you’ll end up losing or miscategorising some data and you’ll have to spend more money and time fixing the issue.

Any enterprise should put a lot of work into their migration strategy. This can include finding the right vendor for your transfer, vetting the vendor, and start aligning your IT and business teams so everyone is prepared when the actual transfer comes about. Above all, no one wants to be blindsided by something as big as this.

One thing to remember is vendors don’t always handle every aspect of the data transfer process. A vendor might just take care of moving the data and without necessarily organizing it in ways to immediately benefit your company. This will likely be left up to your IT team once the transfer is complete.

Don’t forget about alerting any stakeholders connected to the data being migrated. They have a vested interest and need to be made aware you’re moving critical data vital to your shared success.

You should also take the time to tell your employees what to expect and how they should go about preparing for the transfer. Those who use the pertinent data are often in the best position to help you prepare it to move, so don’t neglect this resource.

Part Two: Decide on a Plan/Assess

This is all basically one step because your data migration plan is going to depend on the type of data you’re moving around, the data quality, and the amount. Obviously, smaller amounts of data will require a different strategy than larger amounts. It could also involve using a migration tool from one of the many third-party tools out there.

Therefore, it’s important you take stock of what exactly is moving and make sure this list is as accurate as humanly possible. Here are a few good questions to ask:

  • How much data are we moving?
  • What type of data is it?
  • What format is the data in? Are there multiple formats we need to plan for?
  • What attributes does this data have?
  • How much can we get rid of? Is any of it redundant?
  • How old is the data?

All of these are critical to ask and have answers for, as they will directly impact the effort, you’ll need to ensure a successful transfer.

What this usually entails is a small team whose job it is to sift through every file you think you’re going to move. Because this will take some time and may contain sensitive information, you should choose this team wisely and not leave it up to random members of your IT department. Pay a lot of attention to the redundancy question. If you can get rid of a lot of junk or duplicate data, you’ll save yourself time and money in the long run.

Data transfers are a great time to do some cleaning of your servers and/or databases.

Part Three: Prepare for the Transfer

Once you have a plan of action and have a detailed list of all the data you’re going to move, it’s time to get ready for the big moment. You can make sure anything you have on paper is appropriately digitized and readied for the transfer and at the same time get rid of those paper files. This is less work for your enterprise in the future, too!

Start pre-processing all of the data once it’s been collecting. This includes tasks such as compressing, enhancing your metadata, changing it from one filetype to another (such as a PDF), and so on. You might take this time, as well, to search for sensitive information you can’t afford to become public and redact or otherwise encrypt it.

Once the vendor you’ve hired or your IT team starts the transfer, your data is theoretically at its most vulnerable. Don’t be the victim of a security breach. You should also make certain employees of the enterprise aren’t taking advantage of this possibly chaotic time.

Most importantly, take your time with this phase. There’s no real rush beyond your schedule, and if you planned properly, you should have afforded your enterprise enough time to complete all of the needed tasks with some time to spare.

Making mistakes during any part of a data transfer is bad, but making them here—at the cusp of the actual transfer—can lead to even worse problems as soon as you start the operation.

Part Four: Organize, Collect, Extract

It’s finally time to start transferring your enterprise’s data. This is going to be a time-consuming, methodical process no matter how good your team or your hired vendor is at the task. There’s no point in rushing it, so start by making sure all of your data is going into the right places and organized exactly as planned.

By watching the extraction process carefully during its opening stages, you can potentially catch problems as they arise early in the process. This is far better than discovering you’ve transferred half of your data into the wrong bucket!

In general, you’ll want to watch the process until all major types of files have started moving from their original location to their new location. In this way, you can see how each phase of your plan is proceeding. If all goes well, you can spend some of the time during the transfer doing other things to investigating other aspects of the transfer process.

During the extraction phase, you’ll want to make sure advanced or more complex data is being moved correctly as well since these bits may be responsible for where data is organized at the new location. Client names, supplies names, or invoice numbers are all important to your enterprise and it would be a failure of monumental significance if something went wrong with any or all of these.

If you hired a third-party organization to transfer your data, it’s no problem at all to ask questions or watch during the process. They are there to ensure your satisfaction, after all.

Part Five: Validate, Triple-Check, and Stage for Transfer

One thing to note is data transfer is iterative. It’s not a “one and done” process where it starts one minute and ends the next. Instead, as the transfer is proceeding, it’s up to you to make sure everything is looking right at the destination location, as well as to identify anything  potentially wrong with the original systems. This might involve visiting those servers personally or computers connected to them.

By checking the information coming into the destination, you can ensure the process is working according to the plans you drew up earlier. This migration testing will also alert you if you need to stop the process immediately and make adjustments.

Checking your data at this juncture of the process will help you during the penultimate phase where you need to export it to your enterprise’s actionable stations. Any time you have left to catch or correct errors has to be found during the data migration testing because once the data has been spread throughout your enterprise it will propagate and be utilized. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, it’s too late to save the mouse.

Take your time and enlist other pairs of eyes if you feel the need. You’re aiming for as error-free an operation as you can get, and sometimes includes triple-checking incoming data even if you’re almost sure everything is going well.

Part Six: Export and Confirm

Assuming the data transfer went as planned during migration and you didn’t identify any major errors required recall or adjustment throughout the test, you can start exporting your data to the other facets of your enterprise. This will likely be much quicker than the actual data transfer process, in large part because at this stage you should be basically sure all of your enterprise’s data is secure and correct.

As you export, all you need to do is examine how it’s working within your enterprise’s functions. You can ask employees or your IT team to check and confirm everything is in place, but essentially, you just need to see if the entire machine works once it’s been put back together again. In theory, if all the parts are there just the way they were before you shouldn’t run into any trouble.

However, if there are some discrepancies requiring explaining, it’s best to find them now while your vendor is still on your premises. You can enlist their aid in finding out what went wrong or for troubleshooting possible solutions. It’s also possible during the transfer there were duplications or errors you didn’t anticipate; this is often a face of life with complicated data transfers.

That being said, at this phase of the transfer everything should be working smoothly and your enterprise should be back on its feet. Now all left it to make sure the people who matter know about it.

Part Seven: Inform Stakeholders and Wrap Up

Your stakeholders should have been informed of the impending data transfer during the initial stages of the endeavor. If this was completed, they will no doubt be expecting an update. It’s now your final task to inform them and anyone affected by the transfer, including employees, everything either went successfully or there were some issues and the timescale needs to be changed.

If the timeframe does need to be adjusted, it’s important this information is disseminated quickly so everyone can adjust their expectations, financial or otherwise. It’s also quite possible any issues are minor in scale and can be handled without having to affect your schedule at large.

Your enterprise’s employees, too, will want to know if they can go back to work. This is your opportunity to collect more feedback on the success of the transfer by having the people who will use the data inform you of its authenticity or accuracy. All of this should, in theory, be a relatively smooth time and you can likely finish your contract with the vendor you hired to enact the transfer.

A good final thought to consider after all is said and done is to take notes during this whole process in the event your enterprise needs to transfer data in the near future. We live in an evolving digital marketplace where the future is often uncertain. If you remember the lessons you may have learned during this transfer, you can easily apply them to future scenarios and potentially avoid the same pitfalls.

Conclusion

With this checklist in hand, you have all the steps you need to go about a near-perfect data migration for any enterprise. This is a universal checklist you can apply to virtually any dataset or datatype and in large or small quantities.

The number one lesson to be learned is simple: plan ahead and be methodical. This kind of operation isn’t a sprint but a marathon, and accurate data is much better than jumbled. Remember what we talked about here and your enterprise will be back on its legs with organized data sooner than you think!