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HR data migration checklist and tips for implementation success

Data migration and conversion are critical aspects of an HR system implementation project. Learn important tips you can use to create success.

Migrating your data from your existing HR system or systems to your new HR system is an important undertaking that can make or break your implementation.

You need to consider a number of factors when planning for your data migration, including data conversion, skillsets required, schedule and cost. With the right team and proper planning, you can execute data migration with minimal downtime and few or no issues. However, poorly executed data migration has noteworthy costs.

You will hear the terms data migration and data conversion used often, and sometimes interchangeably. However, the two are distinct concepts. Data migration is the movement of data from one system to another. Assuming your old system and new system have the exact same fields, you could simply migrate your data. However, HR data migration is rarely this simple. Most often, you'll need to convert or transform HR data to meet your new system's requirements. For example, you may have a field that allows 50 characters in your current system but only 40 characters in the new one.

The following HR data migration checklist can help you ensure your project is a success.

Create a proactive plan

You will want to start planning early if you want your data migration to be successful. This helps get everyone on the same page, and helps them understand the schedule, key milestones and data sources.

Data migration templates

Your vendor or implementation partner will likely have templates for you to use for the data upload into your new HR system. It's important to get these in the planning phase so that estimates and data conversion scripts can be built with the proper format right from the start.

Start planning early if you want your data migration to be successful.

Identify your data sources

Take a broad view and identify all of the data sources you can migrate to the new HR system. If you already have an HR system, that will be an obvious data source, but there may be others that less obvious, such as spreadsheets.

Decide how many years of data to migrate

If you have been using the same HR system for many years, you may have 20 years or more of employees' history. You have to decide how much of that data is important to you going forward. For example, is it important to know that an employee got a raise 15 years ago or that they worked in a department that no longer exists? Consider the additional effort that may be required to convert the data, such as the need to set up the organizational structure that existed in the past so that an employee can be assigned to it.

Decide on employee data to include

Will you include terminated employees? While it might be ideal to have all your data migrated to the new HR system, the effort and cost may outweigh the benefit. For some, a minimum of one year's worth of employee data is sufficient since there may be tax-related reporting that must be completed after go-live.

Decide where non-migrated data will be stored

If you decide you won't migrate all your data, you will likely need a repository to store your data for future reference. When planning for your repository, you will want to consider the cost involved in implementing data storage software, ongoing maintenance and maintaining permissions. Depending on the cost, it may be beneficial to migrate all of the data.

Decide on the HR data migration team

Your team will be most successful if you have people with the right skillsets. For example, you will likely need someone to manage the migration process, someone to extract the data and convert it, people to provide input on the data that is being converted, and possibly another person to upload the data to the new HR system.

Decide on team roles

What role will HR, IT, the vendor and the implementation partner play? Identify all these roles early on, and create a clear line of responsibility and accountability to ensure there is no confusion.

Decide on team responsibilities

You will also want to establish a responsibility matrix, and anticipate challenges so you can mitigate them proactively.

Start with understanding who will migrate and convert the data from each data source. If you have multiple data sources, you will likely need multiple people to extract, convert and upload the data into your new HR system. There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. First, it can be a significant effort to set up a process to extract and convert the data so that it can be uploaded.
  2. The final migration for go-live often happens over a short period of time, such as a weekend. Because of this, relying on a person or two may introduce significant risk in the process.

Resolve data issues

As you migrate from one HR system to another, you'll find differences in the way data can be stored. For example, this can be a difference in data type, where one system only accepts numbers whereas the other accepts alphanumeric data. Also, if you are migrating data from multiple sources, you will want to address situations where similar data is stored in each system but uses different naming conventions. A common example are status denotations such as "FT" and "full-time."

Perform mock migrations

Mock migrations are common but should not be taken lightly, since there is significant effort involved. The mock migrations provide you with an opportunity to test your data conversions before the final upload at go-live. It's also an opportunity to determine how long the data extraction, conversion and upload takes so that you can plan accordingly.

Impact on system interfaces and other systems

If your current HR system has system interfaces to other systems in HR, payroll, IT or another group within your organization, you want to ensure that the migrated data continues to meet their needs. For example, if your payroll team is expecting a cost center to be included in the employee data, you will want to ensure the cost center is still available in the new HR system so that the data can be passed to payroll in the system interface.

Communicate your cutover schedule

When moving from one HR system to another, there is often the need to freeze the data in the current system so that it can be exported, converted and imported into the new system. During this time, the system may be unavailable to all employees in the organization, including HR and payroll. To avoid surprises, you will want to frequently communicate your cutover schedule and make sure that everyone understands what impact it may have on them so they can prepare.

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