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Gartner: Take a parallel approach to migrate business intelligence reports

When migrating business intelligence (BI) reports from one BI software platform to another, it pays to take a parallel approach, according to Gartner.

When migrating to a new business intelligence (BI) software platform, companies are often tempted to simply transfer reports to the new system and flip the switch on the old one.

But for the most part, they should resist the temptation, according to Rita Sallam, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

"It may not be a bad strategy if you know you want to use your existing reports exactly as is, you're a small shop, or your reports are not mission critical," Sallam said. "But that's not usually the case."

A quick migration to a new BI system could result in wasted manpower transferring reports that either are no longer used or should be consolidated, Sallam said. Worse, reports could be lost if the transfer is done hastily, she said. A quick change to a new reporting system can also upset users used to their old ways.

Sallam therefore recommends that companies migrating to a new BI platform run the two in parallel in order to allow time for a "methodical" review of the organization's reports and reporting requirements and to allow users to make the shift gradually.

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"A quick migration will disrupt users, who can't always absorb changes quickly, and an unstable system can lose mission-critical reports and analysis," Sallam wrote in a recent report. "With the parallel approach, users have time to adjust to the new platform. Added flexibility, gradual changes, lower risk and lower long-term costs outweigh the higher short-term cost of the parallel approach."

In addition, Sallam recommends that organizations take a number of steps to make the transition as smooth as possible. First, and most importantly, they should conduct an audit of current reports. The goal of the audit will be to determine which reports are most critical to the business, which ones can be consolidated to make them more efficient, and which are no longer in use.

"When you migrate to a new platform, it's a great time to clean house," Sallam said, noting that the typical life expectancy of a report, before it needs to be modified, is six months. And the majority of reports at most organizations, she added, are outdated or not used.

As part of the audit, she said, organizations should survey users as to how often they access a given report; when the last time they accessed it was; what information they use from the report; is the information in the report timely and accurate; what decisions does the report help them make; can they find the same information in another report; and does the report lack important data.

With a successful report audit in hand, organizations can undertake Sallam's second recommended step: building and conveying a business case to management that takes into account a long migration period.

The business case should make clear that two sets of hardware – one each for the new and old BI platform – will be needed and for how long, and that metadata to support new reporting requirements may be needed, and it should spell out the benefits of running the two systems in parallel.

"The long migration will lose support if the costs and time to implement it catch sponsors and users by surprise," Sallam wrote. "They will not understand the reasons for the parallel option and will demand to have new functions immediately. Then problems with a fast changeover will arise to cause more dissatisfaction."

As for how long to run BI platforms in paralell, Sallam said there is no set timeframe, but "the process ideally shouldn't drag on for more that 6 months. At some point, IT will need to pull the plug."

Next, organizations should consult with companies of similar size and similar use cases that have already gone through a BI report migration to learn from their experiences.

Finally, companies should use the results of the audit and feedback from references to decide what to do with each report, Sallam said. Each report can be moved to one of three categories: those that will be moved as-is to the new system; those that can be simplified, consolidated or outright eliminated; and those that need to be improved or added to.

Of those, companies should pay attention to those reports needing improvement. The new BI system probably has more and better features than the old system, so companies should try to match shortcomings identified in the audit with the new system's capabilities. For example, a new dashboard may consolidate several reports, while making it easier for users to consume the information, Sallam wrote.

"A lot of times users get used to the shortcomings and build reports around them," Sallam said. "[A migration] is a great opportunity to leverage new functionality to address some issues users have with the report."

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