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How end users can make or break an agency migration

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"Migration" and "modernization" are hot topics in government today. Whether it's a discussion about the proposed $3.1 billion IT Modernization Fund, the need to align with the cloud-first policy or an expanding realization that legacy IT just doesn't cut it, more and more agencies are carefully studying the ins and outs of migrating to modern platforms.

And although modernized infrastructure leads to a more productive and efficient government, migrations can be time-consuming and risky endeavors that require an abundance of forethought to safely navigate. Every turn brings the possibility of an unseen complication or setback that could push projects past deadlines and over budget.

By now, agencies have developed a fairly solid understanding of the technical factors that can cause a migration meltdown, and a number of solutions can help in that regard. There is a factor to migrations, however, that often goes overlooked but is absolutely critical: the human element.

When undertaking a major migration effort, federal IT managers face pressures from every angle. The technology itself is under scrutiny from agency CIOs. The financial aspects are similarly parsed -- not just over raw dollar amounts, but also opportunity costs. There are the ubiquitous security concerns -- how can the agency migrate without putting data at risk of loss or compromise? And how will the new system be hardened and secured once the migration is finalized?

Those are all very visible driving concerns for a migration. Less considered, but no less important, is how end-user buy-in will ultimately affect the staying power of a migration. After all, we are all end users, and it is up to us whether a new technology is successfully adopted or left neglected and unused.

To ensure that their migration effort does not wind up in the latter category, agency IT managers must factor end users into migration plans from the beginning. Thankfully, that is not hard to do because the first step of securing end-user buy-in should also be one of the first steps in developing a migration plan: analyzing mission impact.

To fully understand how a planned migration will affect daily operations, agencies should engage end users by asking questions about what content they are using, how often and for what purposes, in addition to asking about any special considerations that might come into play such as classification levels and compliance controls.

Those questions are vital to understanding how any planned or unplanned downtime during the migration will affect agency continuity.

The feedback also provides the foundation for a comprehensive map of how employees are currently using agency systems. End users are never a monolithic block, and agencies need to understand how their usage patterns overlap and diverge. In any migration, there will be a contingency of end users who eagerly await change, a chunk who are averse to change for any reason and a wide swath who fall somewhere in the middle.

The challenge in constructing a successful plan hinges on building in the flexibility needed to cover every user. Otherwise, agencies will be stuck with either too narrow a plan that applies to only a select minority or too broad a plan that blankets the entire agency under a one-size-fits-all approach. Neither extreme tends to be successful.

By following these steps, agencies will have all the fundamentals they need to humanize the migration. It all starts with gaining visibility over the hidden factor of a migration -- people.

About the Author

Adam Levithan is director of product management at Metalogix.

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