In my last post,  I reminded readers that, while MS Excel isn’t the worst tool to use to gather and manage some small amounts of data, it’s not necessarily a tool that makes data conversion into another tool a simple matter. That is true of the LIMS, ELNs and other systems in-use as well.

The systems we work with are complex. They have many tables and fields in them. When we get into the specialty modules, such as stability, drug metabolism, environmental, or the like, we add yet another complex series of data to the mix.

It’s Not Just About the Data
It’s not just the actual tables and fields, but the data in them is not necessarily the same. Status names in one system are not the same as status names in another. The list of statuses that samples or tests will go through is not the same. Thus, this is like one example of the complexity of the conversion.

Having just mentioned status changes, you now also must realize that it’s not merely an issue of converting the actual data, but the processes that manage that data are different, as well. A data conversion isn’t just about the actual data but also about understanding all the processes that manage that data. And, on two sides, the side of the older system that is being converted AND the new system to which it is being converted.

It’s Not Just About Using a Mapping Tool
Occasionally, one customer or another will excitedly tell me about their new mapping tool that will let them drag-and-drop table and field name for an easy conversion of data. Those who have tried it know it’s not that simple. Without the business analysis of the process and understanding of what exactly in in both sides of the data, this task cannot be finished AND, with all this information at-hand, still not trivial.

This is a similar issue to using a report writing tool – yes, it’s true that many of them allow drag-and-drop to create the basic report format but getting into the details of formatting and the actual data to be linked together and reported – that makes the task difficult.

Some Final Words and an Exception
Some readers have already suspected that converting data from their old system to a new one is not only a non-trivial task, but they might not be able to accomplish it. As I’ve mentioned, before, when we get to the more complex add-ons, such as stability modules, many customers do not find an entirely automated solution to these conversions, if they end up doing any conversion, at all (conversion of stability data from an old system to a new one is not that common).

There is one particular exception. When the system you want to replace is older, no longer being supported or close to not being supported, other products might target themselves to replace this product. These replacements might be from the very same software vendors but competitors sometimes see opportunities to replace an aging system, as well.

In some cases, an upgrade path is offered to these types of products. This often includes both a strategy for conversion as well as some tools to aid in the conversion. What I mean is that it’s not merely a matter of the conversion being possible but that the company offering the conversion has studied the conversion and done work to document that process and make it happen.

Whether these types of conversions are the best choice will depends on many factors, but one will be whether the new system appeals to the customer. If the customer looks at the new system being offered, thinks it looks fine, doesn’t want to do a big process of selecting a new product, then it might not be a bad choice, as long as the new choice offers appropriate support and all the other types of things the customer needs. While I’m not suggesting anyone just blindly accept one of these offers, I would suggest that they be at least seriously reviewed.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises