How to ensure a successful IT migration

Many businesses are hampered by outdated and complex systems that are holding them back. However, IT migrations can be viewed as a necessary but unfortunate cost, because they don’t always achieve what was set out to be delivered. This can lead to an oversimplified, underfunded approach that ultimately fails, as the recent and well-publicised IT issues at TSB have demonstrated.

The process is often vital. But IT migrations are complex, large-scale change management efforts with significant investment and risk which need to be carefully planned and managed. So how do you get it right?


Planning cannot start too early. We start talking to customers about migration up to 12-15 months before the process begins. IT migration is a complex operation, requiring a robust methodology. It should be viewed as a strategic transformative endeavour, looking at the process through a holistic lens across the entire business.

First, be clear about the reasons why you’re migrating. Establish what you want it to look like post migration and then start to take into account all the aspects that will impact that end state. Once you have an understanding of what needs to be migrated, define the scope of the migration plan. Create a list of threats and corresponding vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Also consider what vulnerabilities were possible on the legacy system. Rate each one on a scale of 1-10 to prioritise them, taking into account which could impact the business more.

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Decide which style of migration is most suitable for the business. There are two principal types of migration: big bang migrations and trickle migrations. Big bang migrations involve completing the entire migration in a limited processing window. This approach can seem attractive, in that it completes the migration in the shortest-possible time but of course carries more risk.

Adopting the trickle approach does add some complexity to the design, but it means that target systems can operate in parallel, and the old system can continue to be operational until the entire migration is completed. That way, if issues arise, there’s a back-up plan.

Plan the resources you’ll need to use during the migration and put a realistic budget in place to make it a success. Assess and decide on your vendors and partners – they should be knowledgeable and straight-talking – ahead of time, so you can focus on implementation.

Risk mitigation

Risks detected and addressed in the planning and design phase of a project are significantly less costly than those discovered during the implementation phase. You can’t remove risks entirely, but with a measured view of the potential pitfalls, you can put in place strategies so senior stakeholders in the business can understand possible outcomes and prepare accordingly.

Make sure you have tested the functionality of your chosen platform. The test environment should be a simulation of the live production environment but without the risks. Though we can’t foresee all eventualities, this extra step can help minimise the risk of a system outage and provide an opportunity to prepare corrective measures should any failures occur.

As part of this process, you should consider the longer term. Businesses need to have the capacity, intelligence and mobility to adapt, scale and manoeuvre in near real time to cater for the changing needs of their customers. Don’t just think about day one. Will it support your plans for growth? Is it going to get you to where you want to be in year five? How can it evolve? The fast-moving nature of technology and business means a fast-paced change in requirements—so you should be able to tweak, customise and adapt.

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When you’re thinking about resource, consider whether you have the right knowledge, expertise and resources to deliver the project in-house. Calling on consultancy support means that you can be sure the right level of scrutiny, resources and detailed planning is applied to the project. Often a pair of fresh eyes will identify overlooked opportunities and risks.

Have a plan B. How else can you deliver on your objectives? Develop a priority structure around the opportunities and risks offered by your migration—working out what is critical and what you can live without and build a skeleton plan around it.

Managing the process

Given a too high proportion of projects do not achieve what was set out to be delivered, it’s important that senior management – and the wider team – go in with eyes wide open to risks and how to mitigate them, as well as the many opportunities offered by an IT migration.

To manage any risk-related anxiety, there should also be a communications management plan that ensures key stakeholders and the project team are aware of the project status. The communication plan should also include an issue escalation plan, which would assist in the management of project issues discovered during the migration process.

To make the project a success, all teams should buy into the process and it must be socialised across the business. You might think this collaboration is easy to facilitate. It’s not.

Create a clear forum to encourage discussion. You could even co-locate people or teams together to increase integration. Because of the many hands required to see a migration project through, and its long timeframe and far-off ROI, you need champions from every part of the business.

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Operate and optimise

There will always be difficulties and pain points involved in the roll-out of the migration. You will need to make adjustments and revisions. It is at this point that the collaboration and feedback from the rest of the team is key. Listen to feedback and speak to people inside and outside your business to understand what needs to be fixed, what needs to be enhanced and how, and which transformations are working effectively.

During this process, don’t get too caught up in your timetable. One of our clients actually paused the roll-out of a migration due to a pain point they discovered. They then took the time to work with their supply partners and consultants to revise the plan and the subsequent benefit was an accelerated rollout. Make sure you’re taking the time to get it right and you will reap the benefit.

Not a necessary evil

IT migration shouldn’t be viewed as a necessary evil, instead a fantastic opportunity to boost innovation and efficiency. It’s a moment that allows a CIO or IT team to take a step back and think about business goals, and how technology will help the business get there faster. These steps – to a structured and well-thought out IT migration – will help to unlock the innovation and efficiency that this process can offer.

Written by Rob Orr, Executive Director at Virgin Media Business
Written by Rob Orr, Executive Director at Virgin Media Business

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