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When I ask people how they feel about modernization efforts taking place within their companies, the responses I hear range from ecstatic enthusiasm to outright fear and panic.

For those who express trepidation, it’s typically centered on not knowing where to begin.

Why Is Modernization Met With Apprehension?

“To modernize, or not to modernize — that is the question,” said some CIO in her/his best Shakespearian accent.

Terrible literary jokes aside, when the question of whether or not to modernize comes up within corporate IT departments, the resistance usually comes down to this: The easiest thing for us to do is to continue to use our existing systems.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of people who are very enthusiastic about the future and the use of modern tools. They understand the value true modernization can deliver, both today and for years to come. On the flip side, I’ve also spoken with many CIOs and business unit leaders who simply could not wrap their minds around the paradigm shift.

For example, I recently accompanied my sales team on a meeting with a CIO who was tasked with leading his company’s IT modernization initiative. This CIO conceded that their infrastructure was 15 or 20 years behind where it should be. And he didn't want to just catch up — he wanted to “future-proof” his organization from an IT system's perspective so they didn’t have to go through this exercise again 10 to 15 years from now.

We discussed the scope of what he was looking to accomplish, and that transitioning from an on-premises environment to managing their content and core systems via the cloud would entail moving from 100 on-prem servers to zero. He looked at us and said, "This is Star Trek. I love what you're saying, but I'm going to need a few weeks to digest what you just told me — let alone to see if this is even a remote possibility for us."

This was in spite of the fact that the approach to modernization we discussed aligned perfectly with the goals of this IT department and of his organization. We ultimately closed the deal, and this company has been reaping the benefits of modernization ever since.

Related Article: Modernizing Legacy Tech: Big Bang or Piecemeal?

Where to Begin With Modernization and How to Get it Right

The path to IT modernization can be long and winding, but the first step has to begin with the systems that store business-critical content and data. Get that foundation right and the latter stages of the journey are achievable. Fail to lay this foundation and don’t be surprised when the whole digital transformation house comes crashing down around you.

Unfortunately, many enterprises that want to update their IT stack start in the wrong place. Below is a guide to help navigate your modernization journey:

  • Prepare: Every modernization campaign should have the “5 P's” as the backdrop (“proper preparation prevents poor performance”). Begin by defining the explicit business case(s) that led to the decision to modernize, as well as defining how content will be used and accessed moving forward. Identify, catalog and audit all legacy content repositories throughout the organization. You’ll also want to identify all current users and activities impacted by the proposed move. Then, map the structure of legacy content and identify future target locations (i.e., the new platforms or systems).
  • Migrate: Now comes the fun part — the migration! To help avoid migration bumps and hiccups, make sure to explicitly map and define where content will reside in the updated IT landscape. Another important step in this process is to identify which data will be migrated versus which data will be removed, archived or disposed of. This involves identifying the parameters for filtering content during the migration (active/inactive, valuable/no value, etc.). Also, begin the migration with a small batch of content and data so that you can test, evaluate, and (if necessary) make adjustments.
  • Evaluate: Test, then test more — then rinse and repeat. Evaluate the success (or failure) of your content migration initiative. Was content indexed and categorized as you intended? Are users able to access and find the content they’re looking for? Are security controls, workflows and information governance protocols established and enforced according to regulatory and compliance requirements? Can new content be integrated into existing workflows and applications? Has content that has been deemed of no value been disposed of? Once these questions have been answered, the time has likely come to dispose of those legacy systems.

The concept of modernization can be overwhelming, but it’s not as difficult or complex as you might think. Take a low-risk approach that enables you to migrate content and data from old systems at a pace and manner that best fits the specific needs of your organization, and avoid the often painful “rip-and-replace” alternative. When you lay this foundation, you can create and nurture an environment for your business to thrive and succeed.

Related Article: Let's Lead the Information Industry Out of the Darkness