We are talking to Alexander and Guido about the formation of DX, what makes data migrations so special now and the future.
Alexander: “Data eXcellence was formed to tackle complex IT issues in a professional manner. Since 2004, the focus has been exclusively on data migration and we’ve been independent since 2009. The ‘Excellence’ in Data Excellence stands for professional, scalable, repeatable and ever better.”
Guido: “We are passionate about complex IT issues for which few standards or standard solutions are available. And a passion to do that in a limited time. We’re not interested in exorbitant architectures that then take an enormous amount of time to be effective. At DX, we provide data migration solutions that will benefit the customer in the short term - within 12 months.”
At DX, we provide data migration solutions that will benefit the customer in the short term - within 12 months.
Why focus on data migration?
Alexander: “We put our focus on data migration when it became clear that there wasn’t a single party offering professional data migration. In practice, we could see a strong demand for this service. Many projects went wrong on this point or caused reputational damage. The need for data migration services was not yet recognised by customers themselves. Data migration was not standard in their project approach or was merely an afterthought. A system development method in which data migration is fully integrated did not exist then and still does not. In the beginning, this meant a lot of pioneering work for us: data migration requires a different approach and solution than developing a system.”
Earlier, you mentioned ‘repeatable’. How does this help a customer?
Guido: “Customers asked for predictability within the data migration process. That in turn requires a repeatable process on our end. We have developed benchmarks which can be used to predict project properties: where will you be at in 3 months, in 6 months, etc.? What people to bring in and how many? What is a proper budget estimate? Our benchmarks are reliable because we always perform the migrations based on the same process. That makes repeatability important to customers.
Customers also demand security, verifiability. If, for example, it turns out that one contract hasn’t migrated properly, you must be able to find out what exactly happened when doing a retrospective audit. This prompted us to develop a repeatable and scalable data migration solution. A solution that offers maximum controllability by external parties at the same time.”
How important is domain knowledge when performing a data migration?
Guido: Very important, absolutely necessary! You need to understand how a mortgage process works when you migrate a mortgage system. You need to understand how payment transactions are processed when you migrate a payment system. If you don’t understand it, it’s impossible to ask the right questions and thus transfer the right data in the right way so that the target system can work with it.”
Alexander adds: “Migrations are so complex - it’s imperative to actually understand the domain. It’s on that basis that we offer the customer certainty and also our guarantee. We take responsibility and often carry out projects at a fixed price. You can only do that if you’re completely comfortable with the domain.”
What are the critical times data in migration?
Guido: “Going live does, of course, remain an exciting moment. All the tests and checks do provide a lot of confidence, but going live always remains exciting.”
Alexander: “The migration strategy is an important aspect. Most customers who work with us for the first time want to migrate in phases. First 10 customers, then the next 100 or 1000. Or they want a particular industry or product first. Migrating in phases reduces the risk of going live, or so they expect. However, all the tests we carry out create so much confidence that in the end, about 95% of all projects are migrated in one go, or one big bang as we say.”
95% of all projects are migrated in one big bang.
What innovations are you working on?
Guido: “We’re continuously innovating our migration factory. Our customer migrations are running in this highly-secured environment. We use an extensive tool set and include tools for data quality, data profiling and migration rules. These are advanced tools that we innovate and manage ourselves. We evaluate each project and implement the improvements in the migration factory.”
Alexander: “A textbook example of a recent innovation is the automated creation of migration rules. By applying machine learning, we’re successful in several specific domains. This changes the role of the migration designer: more checks, fewer basic manual tasks and a stronger focus on formulating the complex migration rules.”
Guido: “We are, however, cautious about introducing innovations to the migration factory. The customer interest, the certainty and the predictability that we offer are paramount.”
Companies in the financial world are mainly aiming for agile and devops. Does this affect migrations?
Alexander: “Agile and migration are at odds: working with agile in a system development process continues to change the data model - which, of course, clashes with the preparation of the data migration. Shooting at a moving target is difficult. In general, we only come into action once the data model has sufficiently stabilised.
If you look at devops/continuous delivery, we witness an evolution in data models in which small data migrations are necessary as well. With many customers, we can see there’s still room for improvement in terms of testing this. This could be in the form of using control frameworks or reconciliation.”
What are the technical challenges in a migration?
Alexander: “Technical challenges often lie in migrating one large volume, for example contracts or transactions, in a single weekend. Or the migration of a credit card system during which no downtime is permitted. These are the types of challenges our architects revel in. So far, we’ve brought every challenge to a successful end.”
Can you tell us something about the role of an architect?
Guido: “As a migration architect, you work on several projects simultaneously. Duties range from consultancy in determining the migration strategy, determining the solution architecture and solving the more difficult technical challenges. Quite a varied and challenging job.”
Another important role in a migration is that of designer. Can you tell us something about that role?
Alexander: “A migration designer is primarily a domain specialist, for example, in mortgages, insurance or pensions. Our designers have often worked in that domain as a product specialist, functional manager, product owner or similar roles. This in-depth domain knowledge is the cornerstone of a successful migration. You really need to understand the domain to be able to ask the right questions. We have full knowledge of no fewer than 6 financial domains.”
Guido: “As a migration designer, you combine domain knowledge with a passion for data. You really have to enjoy understanding how it all works under the bonnet. As a designer, you need to be curious, good at solving puzzles and strong in communication.”
What does the future of DX look like?
Alexander: “In recent years, we have grown to more than 60 migration specialists. With these specialists, we offer repeatable and scalable data migration solutions in the Netherlands and some European countries. The growth of the company is not an objective in its own right. We do want to become the best data migration specialist in Europe and we will need to grow further to achieve this.”
Guido: "We also want to become knowledge leaders in the field of data migrations. Knowledge leadership is not something you can claim, it is something other people think of you. That’s why we share a lot of knowledge: articles, interviews, presentations at conferences and workshops. Which is why we invest a lot in the development of our field and technology. This way, we contribute to excellent data migrations!”
Thank you for this interview!