Don’t fear legacy data migration to Salesforce

As a Salesforce Developer currently embedded at a software company in the professional services industry, I’ve worked on wide-ranging projects that impact everyday business value. One of the most critical projects I’ve focused on recently involves migrating legacy data from an existing system over to Salesforce.

Migrating legacy data is necessary for a number of reasons

It helps you to collate all your customer information in one place to get a 360 view of the customer. It can also make it easier to integrate that data into other business units (e.g. marketing campaigns) or innovation projects (e.g. machine learning). But it’s not a simple task.

At my current engagement, I’m helping them migrate data from their legacy system to a new Salesforce environment. It’s a massive challenge to understand how the legacy technology works and to incorporate its logic into the new Salesforce platform. I’ve learned a lot throughout this entire process, but here are three insights that are critical to a successful legacy data migration project.

Have the right conversations with the right people 

The first thing to do is to make sure that you fully understand the project requirements. What are the goals and objectives? 

Make sure that you don’t underestimate the complexity of the project. Your number one priority should be to talk to subject matter experts who know the ins and outs of the legacy platform so you can get a sense of the true scope of the work.

The second (and harder) task is to ensure that you understand the legacy data: What is the nature of the data and why is it this way or that way?

You need to understand the legacy data 100% in order to be able to migrate it correctly into the new Salesforce platform. You must take the time to go through the fields one-by-one with analysts and business people who know the territory.

Here are some best practice questions to ask to make sure you don’t get surprised by an unknown during your migration: 

  • Is the data clean and high-quality?
  • What dependencies does your data have?
  • Do legacy accounts already exist in the new platform?
  • Are you migrating entirely historical data or a mixture of historical and new? 
  • Are there any duplicate data?
  • Are there any discrepancies in the data (changes to contracts/pricing/terms, number formats, capitalizations etc. from one dataset to another)

It’s important to not just engage technical people but also the business people in that particular domain. They are the ones that truly understand not only the data but also the final use cases. 

The most common source of problems in data migrations is the failure to engage the subject matter experts early on in the project. 

Identify the right integration methodology and tools 

Migrating data to Salesforce can be tricky: There are resource usage limits, latency considerations, and custom code in Salesforce that sets a limit on bulk loads. With these limitations, taking a single-upload approach to transferring your data is not possible. You’ll have to do it in smaller, more manageable migration waves.

As such, it’s important that you have the right tool for the job. There are a few reasons for this. When you’re migrating multiple waves you are going to want to avoid doing it manually. You’re going to need to be able to automate key aspects of the process so you can repeat it for each wave. 

Third-party tools mean that you can move data into and out of Salesforce without lots of code or data engineering. This is going to save you substantial amounts of time and energy.

Data integration is critical to managing your database and ensuring that the integrated data conforms to the required standards to be interoperable with the rest of your business. Using data integration tools can help alert you to any discrepancies or errors within your records.

For my current project, I have been using Mulesoft, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2018 so it has been purposefully built to integrate seamlessly with the platform.  

However, every tool is only as good as the person using it. This is why you still need a subject matter expert from the legacy platform to be involved in the integration so that the right policies and alerts can be put in place. Once you’ve confirmed they work well, you can automate and scale.

Keep security top-of-mind

Security should always be a priority, especially if the data you’re migrating contains PII (Personally identifiable information) or has to do with customers or employees. 

Similarly, we must consider that the security controls and policies you established for your legacy on-prem environment will have to change in the cloud, where everything is implemented as code, distributed, and highly integrated. 

You will need a data security plan and roadmap that outlines the key considerations:

  • Regulatory and compliance requirements
    Ensure you understand your exact compliance requirements (e.g. GDPR, HIPAA, etc.) and watch for any regional considerations if moving data to a different country or state.
  • Access control and identity management
    Your plan should detail different levels of security for different kinds of data, depending on the sensitivity. Personnel should have access to the data on an as-needed basis controlled through proper identity management. 
  • Encryption
    When migrating to the cloud, your data needs to be encrypted both at-rest and in-transit.
  • Cloud governance
    Be prepared to restructure your governance workflows for the cloud, where they will be much more agile, integrated and continuous. 
  • Centralized monitoring
    Security tools operating both on-prem and in the cloud should be centralized to make it easier for your security team to get an overview of the project’s security status.
  • Backups
    You will want to create backups of the data that you are migrating to protect against information loss or file damage. 

Using an automated Salesforce migration tool, such as Mulesoft, is very helpful because they manage many of these security aspects for you. 

Final thoughts

Data migration is not an easy task and there are lots of potential pitfalls. But if you speak to the right people to grasp the proper scope of the project, make sure you have the right approach and tools, and look after security as a priority, you will be setting yourself up for success.

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