Steve Peters
Steve Peters 28 April 2016
Categories Technology

De-risking Digital System Migration

The role of digital systems (platforms & CMS) is becoming increasingly important to all types of organisation, those operating in B2C and B2B sectors alike. This is part of the reason why ‘digital transformation’ is such a hot topic at the moment as more and more businesses realise that their current solution isn’t up to the job in their quest to keep up with consumer/customer expectation and business needs.

There can be several triggers that force a business to re-platform or overhaul a digital system, from out-of date, inadequate legacy systems to simply a change of agency that highlights the longer term effect a new platform or CMS can deliver in improving efficiencies (and profitability) across the business as a whole.

But regardless of trigger and need, the point is that migrating a digital system can be fraught with risk and seem an ominous (and very expensive) task – eating into time as well as money. 

But based on our experience helping some of the UK’s most admired businesses and brands move their business through periods of significant digital change, we know introducing new digital systems can open up possibilities never thought possible and can future proof a business in a world where change is the only constant.

Having now helped more than five businesses through this process (learning as we go of course!), we have created a 10-step framework that’s proven to de-risk the migration of digital systems and support the transformation of a business into the digital age.  

  1. Collect problems from across the business

The reality is, rolling out a process of improvement or replacement will have an impact on every department across the business so it’s advisable to use this opportunity to come back to your business plan and revisit your overall vision statement, objectives and goals. Then seek out the problems a new digital system needs to solve for all departments within the business; empowering those leading these areas will help to make the process leaner and less wasteful.

Running a platform change process in isolation risks a lack of commercial performance, the ability for the business to adapt and – crucially – inhibits marketing effectiveness.

  1. Create a forum to drive through change

Creating business-wide clarity is great in principle, but in practice is more difficult than it sounds.  Successful case studies on digital system migration have tended to combat this issue by creating a new steering group made up from a mix of people and skills; bringing lean, agile teams together to solve problems and empower them to make decisions.

In addition, in our experience, organisations that introduce an outside perspective to a process like this see the greatest impact (and we’re not just saying this because often it has been us!).

Agencies, or new advisers, tend to bring new energy, experience, ideas and enthusiasm to the process and internal politics, siloed thinking and historical processes don’t hamper them.

The below model gives some structure to the process, looking at the various research inputs that fuel the strategy, before then looking at what impact it will have on four major areas of your business:

  • Your technology platforms and digital systems
  • The performance of your organisation (either commercially or in the reduction of inefficiencies etc).
  • The skills your people have today and if this needs to change, looking too at the processes they run
  • Promotion – how these changes affect how we talk about and market the business to all stakeholders


  1. Benchmark performance

Be selective from the abundance of data that businesses can now measure. Spend time upfront to understand the things that are most important. Go back into the four ‘p’s above and think about the things you NEED to know under each business area.

For instance, a large B2B organisation might want to understand the role platforms and promotions play in assisting their resellers to make a sale. Under ‘people’ it might be a case of benchmarking staff retention or satisfaction scores. Or taking a snapshot of the time it takes the marketing team to get a new promotion live, including DM, SEO, PPC and eCRM activities, looking at how you would like to see this process refined.

Then importantly cascade these measures from day one to those who have the responsibility to make this happen.

  1. Make the right platform choice

This is often a daunting task – where do you start?

The important this for us is that once you have your objectives and KPIS the role of platforms become clearer and can help inform your choice from the plethora of technology providers out there.  Our best advice is to seek advice from the agency supporting the migration, or invite a shortlisted group, for example Sitecore, Adobe and Acquia, to demonstrate their products.

  1. Consider free versus licensed products

Often clients can be torn between spending money on a licensed product

versus taking a free or cheap-to- use framework. Sitecore versus Umbraco is a match we’ve seen a great deal over the years (Umbraco being a free-to- use system with a similar code framework, but without any of the advanced features around personalisation and data management).

It can be tempting to go with the cheap alternatives on the first view, but the decision needs to shift away from one of ‘cost’ and towards ‘value’. If you were to spend £100k on a licensed product and it would enable you to deliver personalised experiences that would drive an extra £1m revenue above your baseline earnings over two years, you’d buy it right?

  1. Prove a positive impact BEFORE you do anything

Once a system choice has been made it can be tempting to ignore the now ‘old’ and unloved system and want to replace it as quickly as possible with the shiny new one. But you’re not in crisis mode.

As much as the system is being replaced for the myriad of reasons you highlighted in your research, it still (usually) drives a successful organisation. This is about measured moves.

The days of ‘big bang’ launches where businesses reveal a completely new experience overnight will be fewer and fewer as time passes. Prioritise where the business needs the most support, or where the problems are the most obvious (and would drive the most value once fixed) and start there.

And there are a number of methods you can use to prove a result before you push the experience live including tree testing, rapid prototyping, and A/B testing.

  1. Replace the most valuable parts first

The digital estate that you want to replace will have had years of investment in both time and cost terms. Expecting to replace years of work in a short-term project isn’t really feasible. Moreover changing everything all at once is laden with risk – especially where key revenue streams are involved.

One approach that we have had success with in moving large existing systems, or collections of websites is a migration method known as ‘Application Strangulation’. It effectively means you keep the majority of your old business systems in place, only replacing the parts you need to as you go. We have implemented this approach on a number of clients including Hillarys Blinds, and in particular the Oxfam Website re-platform into Sitecore.

  1. Quality for the long term

Platforms and CMS products are just tools. They enable a business to do lots of new things, but often they are quite dumb out of the box. It takes your digital partner (or internal development team) to bring these tools to life, and build the technical infrastructure you need for the long-term.

Your choice of development team then is really critical. Consider this: If you were getting a 30ft tree removed from your garden, would you rather employ a tree surgeon using a hand-saw or a handy man using a chain saw? Or if you had to race against either Lewis Hamilton in a Ford Fiesta or a newly qualified driver in a F1 car – which would you choose?

The best tools need to be used by the right people. The same applies to software engineering.

It’s our opinion that if development teams don’t value and apply software engineering practices – things like Lean development principals, test driven development, value-driven decision making, unit testing and automation – then there is a risk they are compromising the long-term adaptability of the solutions they make.

  1. De-couple your systems where you can

We advocate that systems are not too closely integrated – utilizing multiple vendor toolsets allow businesses to select the ‘best tools for the job’ and swap systems in and out as new improved products come on the market.

We also believe in building small to build big.

As the number of consuming applications increases, the service can be scaled in isolation without the need to scale the website. This also allows consuming applications to be delivered by different vendors if required. Take for example our work with Oxfam that included the integration of more than 30 different toolsets – from payment providers (Barclays SmartPay), search tools (Adobe Search and Promote) and resource libraries (iLibrary), to campaigning tools (Engaging Networks), CRM systems (Ascent) and e-commerce providers (MS Commerce).

  1. Think products not projects

Thinking in terms of projects limits your ability to think about the long-term value of the systems you build. Projects have fixed scope, fixed timeframes and fixed budgets. But the reality of the modern digital business is that nothing is absolute. Technology, device adoption and changes in human behaviour mean that nothing is best of breed for long.

But the good news is that if you think in terms of products that live and breathe and change direction and grow, you will spend less money over time. Products have roadmaps and strategies that continually look at how systems can drive even more value into organisations, getting faster to change and staying cost-effective to run.

Finally don’t forget SEO, which should be factored in at the very earliest stages. Lifting and shifting ‘everything’ over to the new system is never the right thing to do, nor is assuming that ‘long tail’ content that gets few views isn’t valuable. Building SEO requirements into the new system from the start is a must.

So as we see a genuine shift in the role of digital platforms in today’s businesses, and digital transformation become a board-level imperative, making the transition between digital systems becomes ever more critical.

Those who get it right can reap the rewards from day one, and will continue to evolve their capabilities without the need to ever re-platform again. Those who cut corners or who perhaps look at ‘cost’ over ‘value’ might find themselves back to square one in three years’ time.

More detailed thinking on the subject can be accessed in our latest whitepaper, but here are what we think are the key factors in de-risking digital system migration.

Request a copy of the whitepaper here  or visit 

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