Best kept telecom secret

There are few subjects in IT circles that cause such an extreme reaction as data migration. Surveys show that data migration is pretty much universally loathed. Most of us are aware of migrations that haven't been delivered on time or to budget. It's also fairly well recognized that migrations usually fail because of well-documented reasons that as an industry we keep repeating.


The good news for both the IT department, and the business as a whole, is that data migration is coming out of the IT shadows and is increasingly finding itself on center stage.


Business managers in some of the world's largest telcos are starting to recognize the key role data migration can play in making their businesses more competitive. In response, large SIs and vendors such as Accenture, IBM and Tech Mahindra have been quietly investing in both people and processes to create best practice. Awareness is growing and "˜migration' is being whispered in many circles as "˜the next big thing.'


There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that the motivation for data migrations has fundamentally changed. Historically, migrations were due to issues such as re-platforming applications to decrease costs and increase efficiency. Today, the motivation for migrations is increasingly due to revenue drivers. This change signals a shift in responsibility for migrations from IT to business - a fundamental, far-reaching change of huge significance.


Business drivers are increasingly stimulating a new wave of application and data migration. Just as we expect a responsible and well-run business to take close control of its resources, ensuring better control of its customer data is a key part of good management.


Data migration presents an opportunity to actually improve the quality, quantity and storage of customer data. It should deliver a tangibly improved customer experience, which means that the business gains extra traction over and above non-disruption of business functions. In short, we should be seeing positive change from our migrations.


Industry analyst Teresa Cottam notes that the lack of business awareness about migrations stems from the fact that they are a relatively new phenomenon.


"Telecoms IT systems were traditionally built to last. They were implemented tactically as required, and this strategy consistently countered an attempt to plan an overall architecture. Very little thought was given to the fact that eventually systems would need to be retired or replaced," she notes. "The result is that IT systems are impeding business development at a time when competition is increasing.


The business has to take control and ensure that the IT infrastructure is designed to deliver against the business's specific requirements."

There are sound financial and business reasons why this should be the case. Delivering a migration on time or early provides a direct route for the business to new revenues, and enables cost savings from switching off legacy applications. If you deliver a migration six months late, then you will never be able to recoup the lost revenues and it will adversely affect your competitive position.


On the other hand, successful migrations are very often achieved at vast expense. The proportion of the project spent on migration can be huge. For example, one telco that is not untypical spent 60% of a recent application renewal project on data migration. Another spent $26 million to move around 1 million customers over 18 months.


While every environment is unique, only about 20% is actually different - meaning, 80% of the issues are common to all environments. That commonality points to an opportunity for automation, which allows the business to benefit from previously-developed technology and hard-won experience.


Johny Morris comments that reduced cycle times for migration are important, but predictability is key. "CEOs realize that being excellent in customer service is a critical success factor. This is what they want IT to deliver. They want migrations and application renewal projects to be aligned to business and customer needs, but they need them to be delivered as scheduled to ensure better business planning."


"Poor data migration compromises your ROI. For businesses that frequently need to migrate systems - which will include most telecoms operators - showing you have good control of your ROI and that you are able to bring new products online regularly and predictably is vital to maintaining your share holder value," he adds.


The business benefits of a better migration include increased revenues due to the ability to launch and support new services more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost, as well as reduced costs resulting from overall lower cost of migrating data and the ability to remove duplicated or expensive-to-maintain legacy solutions and data.


Another benefit is better business planning, since the business can plan new product launches based on the knowledge that they will not be held up by data migrations. This is important because project delays mean that lost revenues may never be recouped.


It also Increases shareholder value, as a service provider that can reliably deliver migration projects is demonstrating both good corporate governance and the ability to respond to change.


Tony Sceales is CEO of Celona