By Blake Becker
In an effort to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of technology, nearly every nonprofit organization and higher education institution has undertaken or will need to undertake a data migration process. These migrations are designed to transfer your unique data to a new, more efficient system, and can be conducted with several priorities in mind. Whether you’re looking to move on from a soon-to-be-retired system or simply seeking an updated refresh for your data and processes, migrating to Salesforce opens up a world of possibilities for any forward-thinking organization. But does the way you conduct that migration matter?
I met with two industry-leading authorities here at Cloud for Good, Director of Professional Services Laura Maker and Technical Architect Kestryl Lowrey, to dive deep into this matter and gain a greater understanding of the ins and outs of a Salesforce data migration. Continue on below for the full interview with Laura Maker and Kestryl Lowrey and ready yourself for invaluable insight to help guide your migration process.
Broadly speaking, how would you describe a CRM data migration?
Laura Maker (LM): A data migration is the process of converting data from one system, which is being retired, to a new system. The purpose of doing so is to retain institutional knowledge from the old system and establish that information within the new system.
Kestryl Lowrey (KL): Data migrations can also be used to populate a new system with data from an old system that isn’t being retired. This is especially true in cases where the new system will be integrated with the old system. For example, implementing Salesforce as a CRM, migrating data in from Banner, and updating via a scheduled integration.
What common CRMs do organizations and institutions migrate from, and onto Salesforce, and why?
LM: We see many nonprofit organizations migrate from Raiser’s Edge, Luminate CRM, and NGO Connect to the Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), largely for fundraising purposes. They typically find that these systems don’t allow the flexibility necessary to design their own business processes. NPSP provides the features, functionality, and frequent updates that many organizations require. Not to mention a higher availability of integrations and more accessible reporting and data visualizations. In the case of schools and universities, we see organizations migrating onto the Salesforce Education Data Architecture (EDA) in order to reduce the number of disparate siloed systems on their campuses. EDA can act as a hub of information that brings together student success, marketing, advising, and development all on one single platform.
KL: It’s worth noting that Salesforce is often an addition to the higher education institution’s landscape, as opposed to a full replacement of a tool that already exists. This is why data migrations often do not assume the retirement of the source system. For both the higher ed and nonprofit spaces, the wide availability of intelligent integrations, accessible reporting systems, and intuitive data visualizations set NPSP and EDA a step above CRMs like Raiser’s Edge, Luminate CRM, and NGO Connect.
What are some things to keep in mind when considering a data migration?
LM: Data migration is one of the most critical aspects of any software implementation. It can also be one of the most technically complex aspects of an implementation. Thoroughly understanding the source system and understanding the business processes that will be built around the new system is absolutely imperative. A quality data migration partner will help you determine how your legacy data can best fit into the new system. You must also test your data migration extensively before going live. Make sure you work with a partner that offers iterative loads of test data well in advance of your go-live.
KL: Think about what data you really need in Salesforce. Data migrations are a great time to “clean house” and improve your data quality. Do you really need that task history from 15 years ago? Is it valuable to know which emails a constituent received from your organization in 2014? Use your migration as an opportunity to think about your data archiving strategy and choose a partner that can guide you in data management best practices. Poor planning in a data migration can result in delays to your go-live date, decreased user adoption, and unreliable data. Make sure you’ve thought through every step of your migration process and test against a full sandbox environment, ideally one with a replicable data migration tool so that you can validate your results. This can help identify if any automation or validation rules in your system will cause issues when it’s time for the production migration, or if you have any risks of encounter API limits or other governor limits on the platform.
What makes Cloud for Good’s approach to data migration special?
LM: The iterative approach that Kestryl touched on is an essential aspect of the Cloud for Good implementation process, and that includes the data migration element of implementations. We use ETL (extract, transform, load) tools to support all data migrations. By using this ETL tool, we are able to load test data within every sprint, which means that our clients get to see their actual data during every step of the process. We understand that getting data migration right is a top priority, so we’ve built a rigorous process for testing, validating results with the client, and making changes until perfected. This ensures that there are no surprises when it comes time to go live.
KL: To Laura’s point, our iterative data migration approach is supported by scripting data migrations in our ETL tool. Instead of manually performing migration steps for each test run, we are able to execute the scripted transformation and load (along with any new additions within that sprint), so that we always have a full picture of the outcome without having to manually repeat the migration effort. This reduces the risk of human error during the production migration because it’s running scripts that have all been tested and validated already.
LM: We also have a thorough approach to understanding the “why” behind our client’s data. We understand that our role is to design a new system that fits the organization’s actual needs, not just recreating the old system on a new platform. To that end, we conduct a thorough functional discovery process to intimately understand how your data will be utilized, and we migrate the data based on that understanding.
How do Cloud for Good Data Migration Accelerators improve the client experience?
KL: Our accelerators grew out of our deep knowledge and experience working within legacy systems like Raiser’s Edge, Efforts to Outcomes, Luminate CRM, and several others. We know the strengths and pitfalls of these systems on both technical and functional levels. Our accelerators help to guide decisions on what data should be migrated and how to map into Salesforce in order to support your business process following best practices.
LM: Cloud for Good accelerators also allows us to get a step ahead when migrating from those legacy systems. We have a wealth of experience with many legacy systems. Our accelerators have data transformations baked in so that we have a clear starting point for your migration and can customize your migration as needed throughout the process.
What are some key perspectives or points of view to keep in mind that could aid a successful migration?
KL: Use this moment as an opportunity to clean and standardize your data. Make sure that your new system has validation in place after migration to keep things clean and standardized. Also, you should engage your end-users in the validating of test data. This will help with the long-term adoption and confidence in the new system.
LM: Really think about the functional use of your data and how you’ll make decisions based on that data. Be thoughtful about how much data should be brought over into the new system and base your migration around informing your organizations’ processes. Remember that migrating data has a cost, so leave behind low-quality data, such as contact records without viable email addresses, donor records for those that haven’t made a gift in the past 5 years, etc. Finally, invest time and focus on validating your test migration well in advance of go-live.
How can you measure the success of a data migration?
LM: By measuring the effectiveness of the users within the system. Can they complete their workflow in the new system with the data on hand?
KL: Also ask yourself if the record count of data created aligns with what is expected from the source. And, of course, if the go-live occurs on time and as scheduled.
There are many factors to consider before you move forward a data migration to the Salesforce platform, but when considered carefully, and executed thoughtfully, a successful Salesforce data migration can provide long-lasting benefits for your organization and its unique mission. Following a successful migration, your higher education institution or nonprofit organization will be empowered to deliver on its goals and drive more value to your constituents. Cloud for Good is proud to provide our experience and expertise to shepherd your migration journey and ensure your long-term success.