Five Data Conversion Tips

Five Ways to Keep Data Conversion Costs Down

An association recently was looking to switch databases. The organization had selected a new vendor, and was about to begin implementation when it discovered that the vendor had assumed the association would manage the entire data conversion process. The association had assumed data conversion was included in the implementation fee, and was surprised to learn that the vendor wanted an additional $20,000 to perform the data conversion.

Data conversion is one of the key phases of the move to a new database. It also can be one of the most expensive, and can lead to unexpected costs. Here are key principles to keep in mind when planning for your data conversion:

  1. Data conversion is very expensive and labor intensive. Therefore, convert as little as possible.This is a great time to do spring cleaning. For example, if member demographic data that was considered important three years ago is no longer important or up to date, this is a great opportunity to clean up the database by not converting this data to the new system. Typically you’ll want to convert names (company and individual), key demographic data and critical participation data, but beyond that, consider the other data carefully before converting it.
  2. Clean your data before you convert it. Unless you’ve been diligent about keeping your data clean in your legacy system, chances are there are a lot of duplicate data in your database. Use the data conversion process as an opportunity to de-dupe data before you convert it into the new database. In addition, update bad e-mail addresses, bad physical addresses, or other data first and then convert to the new system. Don’t start with bad data in a new database or users will immediately become suspicious of the new system.
  3. For financial records, convert only open invoices. For most systems, the most difficult part of the data conversion are financial records because there are so many “set up” details required. For example, if you have a product sale in your legacy database that you want to convert to the new database, you’ll have to set up the product (which typically includes setting up financial accounts), then pricing and possibly even inventory. Unless the invoice is open (i.e., unpaid), convert invoice information as “static” data. For example, rather than capturing event registration data for last year’s annual meeting in the financial module, create a note or demographic field that indicates the individual attended the meeting.
  4. Use manual data entry for small data sets. Follow my rule of 100 or 1,000. If you have fewer than 100 records to convert for a given subset of data (e.g., committees), it is typically easier to rekey this data after the new database is set up, rather than to convert the data into the new system using a script. On the other hand, if you have more than 1,000 records of a given subset of data, it is typically less painful to write a conversion script, rather than keying the data by hand.
  5. Keep your legacy data available. Regardless of which data you convert, you’ll want to keep a copy of your legacy system available for reference, should it be needed. But limit access to the legacy system to just one or a few staff; otherwise staff will have a tendency to use the legacy system as a shadow database.

For most database conversions, data conversion is a complicated process. Following these guidelines will ensure the process is manageable and not so messy.

This article originally appeared in the October 21, 2009, issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.


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