Software Change Management Migrations Are Not Impossible
May 7, 2012 Dan Burger
Tossing out enterprise grade software–even if it is inadequate or too damn expensive–is never a decision to be taken lightly. Good decision making depends on good information gathering and solid planning. In IBM i shops where application development has been a vital function for many years, change management software has been essential to the creation of quality industrial-strength code. But like any other software, software change management tools are not always a good fit or automatically conducive to a pleasant vendor/customer relationship.
A term you don’t hear a lot about outside of personal conversations is company lockdown or sometimes called vendor lockdown. It describes a condition that inhibits or prevents customers from replacing one brand of software for another. Many times a software company makes a conscious effort at locking down its customers, but end users have contributed to this situation as well. By consistently relying on short-term fixes rather long-term strategies, companies end up with increasingly complex software leading to increasingly complex problems. Eventually the organization finds itself between a rock and hard place with third-party software development being the rock and rising maintenance costs being the hard place.
In the April 23 issue of The Four Hundred, I wrote about the turmoil in the Oracle JD Edwards customer base that stems from customer complaints about high software maintenance costs and diminished product development. As I said in that report, the JDE situation is unique only in the fact that it involves a very large IBM i installed base, which gives it high visibility. Many software vendors are taking heat for reasons pertaining to increasing costs, decreasing support, and stagnating product functionality. In some cases, this also rubs up against the move to latest Power Systems servers, which can propel software licensing costs, or operating system upgrades, which can bring an end user program conversion dilemmas.
Last week I had a look at a white paper just released by Synergivity Software, the U.S. distributor for IBM i change management tools developed by Midrange Dynamics. The title of this report is A Guide to Successful Change Management Transition.
Change management software in the IBM i community has been a competitive field over the years. Companies such as Rocket Aldon, MKS, and SoftLanding Systems have the most customers in the United States, while European-based Arcad Software, Trader’s, and Midrange Dynamics are edging their way into the U.S. market.
There was a time, not that many years ago, when most IBM i shops that implemented change management software used it solely within their RPG application development efforts and sometimes mixed in COBOL or Java. As application development requirements expanded, the change management software vendors incorporated more capabilities into their products. They took different paths to progress. And for the most part, organizations stayed loyal to the vendors and the vendors stayed loyal to their customers.
How much of that has changed? And how often might companies have wished to migrate from one change management system to another, but believed the degree of difficulty was more trouble than it was worth?
“One of the reasons we’ve come out with this white paper is that we’re saying it’s not that complex to migrate from one change management system to another if you follow a particular type of process and if you keep certain things in mind,” says Marty Kilgallen, one of the founders of Synergivity.
Prior to Synergivity, Kilgallen worked in the SCM trenches with Arcad and SoftLanding, before that latter company was purchased by UNICOM Systems.
Although it’s easy to assume the obstacles are too great, Kilgallen says some folks think the wall is higher than it really is. (Both Synergivity and Midrange Dynamics have a vested interest in showing that migration and SCM system is easier than you might think, of course.) For instance, he says it’s often thought that all the historical information in the SCM has to be moved in a migration; that’s not the case.
“We are suggesting that each company protect its information and archive it in its choice of methods, such as creating a separate database or backup files,” he says. “We are not suggesting you put all the past history into the new change management system. We are suggesting companies have that history locatable as referential information–if you need it, you can get it. But the only thing you need to migrate is your application definitions, and that is a very simple migration, if you follow a plan.”
Advice for formulating a plan is the basis of the Synergivity white paper. The main topics include: determining source and object archiving; balancing work in progress on the existing system with the transition to the new system; a review of software license agreements; accounting for historical information relative to auditing and reporting requirements; and determining whether data migration is necessary or even desirable.
This is not a check list or a road map for how all successful SCM migrations are achieved, but it’s a valuable tool that highlights the factors that lead to success and the potential gotchas along the way.
As you would expect, there are variables involved. One that Kilgallen noted was that migrations involve running the old and new systems in parallel before pulling the plug on the old system. Knowing when to move the work in progress from the old to the new is a variable. He estimates almost all transitions can be completed within three to six months, and most often the progression includes beginning new change management on the new system, while continuing work in progress on the old system.
The white paper also includes a business impact analysis guideline, which deals with the awareness of organizational performance ramifications and the need for various departments within the organization that need to be in the loop about a migration.
Although there’s been little evidence that SCM replacements have occurred at a greater rate than in the past, that shouldn’t be used as an indicator that customer satisfaction is at an all time high. This is a time of change in IT, and an increase in software migrations would not be surprising. For some companies, software evaluation is routine and alternatives are always being considered. At least in theory, that keeps the pressure on vendors to develop better products and provide better service or face the prospect of losing customers.
SCM software is a lot like ERP suites in that regard. It may be difficult to migrate, but it’s not impossible and with a good plan it can be accomplished. The satisfaction of getting out from between the rock and the hard place is great. The business reasons for doing it are even greater.
“Maybe a company can grin and bear it,” Kilgallen said in regard to working with underachieving products, below average service, and overpriced maintenance contracts. “But only up to the point where it can’t do the job anymore or the software has been pieced together with workarounds that increase the business risk when it comes time to make future upgrades.”
The Guide to Successful Change Management Transition white paper is primarily the work of Paul Rogers, a change management consultant who has worked with Synergivity Software and Midrange Dynamics. Rogers is also a regional sales manager at iTech Solutions Group.
The report is available by emailing email@example.com and requesting the white paper.