Data conversions are a hot topic in the legal software markets today, largely in part to some recent mergers and shake ups to the industry. We’d like to take a moment to discuss some of the finer points and details of performing a data conversion from one piece of practice software to another.
First, let’s discuss what a data conversion is. Data conversion is a term used for moving data from one program to another. This process is normally complex and either requires the firm to sacrifice certain data or requires custom development to overcome limitations of either the old or the new software system. This article will aim to help resolve some of the confusion and complexity in effort to mitigate these sacrifices and investments when switching practice management products.
Understanding how to connect the old system with the new
There are some considerations to take into account before purchasing your new practice management software system. It is important to make sure your work flows and data points can be accommodated by the new system. For this, we would recommend working with a consultant to discuss the logistics such as:
- How will your firm’s most important tasks be performed
- Where in the new practice management system will the data will be stored
- Are there system limitations – which data can be moved from the old system and which ones cannot
Understanding the connection, or transfer capacity of the new system, and having a set of expectations will smooth the data migration process.
Knowing what information you can move
Once you have selected and purchased the new software product it will come time to scope the conversion. This is an intricate process of discovering the important data points and defining why it is important, as well as what the expectations of the data the firm has. It’s not enough to just map one field to another. Discuss, understand and design protocols and specifications of the actual data conversions.
For example, many times firms may keep duplicate or repetitive data in their systems to accommodate for minor differences between record types. Think of Social Security Numbers and Employer Identification Numbers as an example. Firms may keep a contact’s SSN in one specific custom field of their old system, and a company’s EIN in a totally different location. In the new system, it may be beneficial to create a Tax ID Number location that is capable of holding either form of this number. This is an example of consolidating like fields during the data migration.
Choosing to drop repetitive and less useful information also helps to cut down on clutter, increases usability and mitigates cost of the data migration. Think of a task record as an example. Some firms may configure task records that have a status and a progress field, however the values of each of these two fields mean the same thing to the firm. In this case, rather than consolidating, the firm may choose to simply not bring over the repetitive status or progress field.
Discussing the conversion scope
It is important to communicate and work with your consultants or vendors during a data conversion. Some of the suggestions they present may not be exactly the same as what your firm has been doing or has heard, but may in fact help to increase the value of your new product. It is always valuable to take outside perspective and insight to help better define operational processes.
The fact of the matter is a new product is new. Your firm will adapt to some new features, functions and benefits of the new software, and will set aside others. In order to get the most out of your investment, listening to, understanding, and evaluating the recommendations of your vendor or consultant are paramount.
Many times, firms enter a conversion consultation knowing their methods and practices are tried and true. Although this may be true in your old system, it may actually hurt your productivity and the value of your new product. Software is developed to perform a specific task and more often than not, software does what it is designed to do exceptionally. However, configuring and modifying your new software to bend to your old ways will inevitably rob you of that performance and reliability. In short, understand what the software is designed to do and how you should properly use it.
Making sure you understand your new tool
A rarely utilized service is data specific training after a conversion is completed. As mentioned in the earlier sections of this article, data may be consolidated, dropped and or moved to fit with the best practices of the new software. In the eyes of staff members who aren’t privy to the scoping and discussions, data is “lost” and “wrong”. This tends to lead to productivity loss, confusion and unnecessary friction within the firm’s operations.
To mitigate this friction, misunderstanding and potential loss of productivity you should invest in the training. This applies to the process of data migration in that your migration consultant is the best person to help firm members understand how this new system works and where they can find the data they need to perform their day to day tasks. A short demonstration of the new system after the data has been migrated with question and answer session will work wonders to help everyone become comfortable and productive with the new product.
Keep in mind these data conversion considerations and work with your consultant will help lower the cost of conversion and increase the value of the converted data and new workflows.