What you REALLY need to know about your historical data when changing Records Management Systems.
“We’re not happy with our current software, but we can’t switch because we’ll lose all our data.” If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Many agencies feel trapped by their software vendors. Even if they’re not holding your data hostage, it’s a non-starter to think about moving on without that valuable history. I mean, what good is intel if you can’t access it, right?
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if you’re reading this article, that you’re looking to upgrade your software but you’re not sure what to do about the years of data you’ve entered into your current system. I get it. When my agency switched to EFORCE®, that was our primary concern. We’d been with our previous vendor for more than 30 years, but we had issues with their software that they weren’t willing to resolve, and it was time to move on. We had to get something figured out.
So, here’s my thoughts on the issue; both as a LEO who actively participated in my agency switching software providers, and now working with EFORCE® and seeing the technical side of that process. I’m going to offer a no BS point of view that will hopefully save you time, headache and money.
Understand the Whole Issue
There are definitely benefits to importing the data from your old software into your new software. On paper, without the benefit on peeking behind the curtain into the “deep end of the pool”, it seems like a simple and convenient solution. But to make an informed decision about doing a data conversion, you need to understand the issues with converting data from one system to another. There are some BIG drawbacks that most companies aren’t going to discuss with you until it’s too late. Here the main problems you will run into:
Data Type Inconsistencies:
Little differences with how your old and new vendors record the same information can lead to big issues. This can manifest in lots of different ways, but the long and short of is this: Different companies store and reference data in different ways, which means converting information from one system to another doesn’t always work the way it needs to. Either you end up missing information, or with info that has nowhere to go. This takes time to rectify and is in some cases impossible.
Bad Source Data
Simply put, if you have duplicate name entries, and other such problems with the data in your old system, do you really want to introduce those issues into your new system? If you haven’t already cleaned up that data, are you going to dedicate the time and money to fixing it now?
Cost of a Quality Conversion
For all the reasons we just listed, this process is EXTREMELY time consuming, which equals a high price tag. This process isn’t worth doing if it’s not done right, and that doesn’t come cheap. A typical conversion usually needs to be worked and re-worked several times to get it right, and this can take anywhere from 6 months to a year. That adds up fast
So what does this mean? Am I SOL when it comes to accessing my old data?
Of course not. But I want you to understand that when a vendor tells you that they’ll do a data conversion for you, it’s much more complicated than importing a spreadsheet. If they tell you otherwise, they’re lying to you. It doesn’t matter which software you’re trying to merge; a data conversion is like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. If you beat it enough times, it will fit, but it’s not going to be easy or pretty.
If I’m being honest, I don’t think a data conversion is worth what you will pay for it. Will EFORCE® do a data conversion for you? ABSOLUTELY we will, but from experience I can tell you; for you to get your data to where you’re happy with it, it’s not going to be cheap, and it’s going to take some time.
What’s the best course of action?
There are other options that are typically MUCH cheaper than a data conversion:
There are just some cases that have to be maintained. Capital cases, Sexual Assaults, etc. all necessitate active access to the records, especially the evidence. Manually entering these cases into your new system is often the quickest, and most accurate way to get the information you need. In the case of EFORCE®, we’ve got some great ways to make sure that doing this doesn’t cause issues with your state reporting (NIBRS, etc.).
View Only Access Licenses
Most software vendors will concede that you own the data, and they’ll happily provide it to you in a GIANT spreadsheet. Data in this format is pretty much worthless because of the time it takes to wade through it to find what you’re after. Almost every vendor will happily sell you a limited access license to their software for the purpose of accessing your old information. The cost on this is usually cheaper than paying for a data conversion.
Most software will let you “print” case information out in digital format (such as PDF, etc.). This option is certainly better than losing your information, but it can be time consuming to search through. With some careful cataloguing, you can pretty cheaply make this data available to your agency through your computer network.
If I don’t do a data conversion, aren’t I going to miss that data?
What did my agency do? We chose to pay for the Limited Use Access to our old software. Was it a perfect solution? I wish I could say that it was. I would have much rather had all of my data at my fingertips in my new EFORCE® System, but it was the most cost-effective way to easily access our old info. When we first went live with EFORCE®, we manually entered all of the cases we were actively working, as well as our capital, sex assault, etc. cases that we needed, and off we went to work. In the beginning, records was busy pulling data from the old system. After about six months, the only reason we looked at that system was for open records requests and court. Our “frequent fliers” had all been pretty much entered into EFORCE®, and I really never looked back.
I guess what I’m saying is that I was, as I’m sure you are too, very concerned about losing access to my historical data. But the reality was that by the time a data conversion would have been complete, we were already past the need to access that information regularly. It was still there if we needed, and we did occasionally, but I’m glad that we did not pay for a data conversion.
We’d love to talk more with you and your agency about your options in switching to EFORCE®, and how we can make that a smooth transition. Feel free to give us a call at 888-570-4943, x.3 or send us an email to [email protected].