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To Convert or Not to Convert? That is the question.

Jan 25, 2012

Is there ever a reason to keep an old legacy system or a data archive you’ve acquired through a merger around long-term?

Could there ever be value in maintaining the legacy hardware and software for research from an old system … for the next 10 years?

The surprising answer is probably “yes,” there are times when it makes sense to keep the old system around for the long term; however, it’s important to identify early in the process whether it makes more sense to keep an old system or archive than it does to convert the information today. How do you go about doing so?

In my opinion, there are really only a couple of reasons why you might decide not to convert the legacy data to your current, go-forward platform – or a research system that is designed to handle the import, archive, and research of huge quantities of legacy data. Those reasons are cost and convenience.


Cost can be the determining factor when you have a small amount of data to convert. It’s fairly common for most people to not think about the time and effort that goes into the setup and data mapping processes, which could be about the same degree of effort for a small amount of data as it is for a large amount. Conversions require a unique skillset and experience, and just because the amount of data is small doesn’t mean the install, setup, conversion, data mapping, or uploading process will be a small task. The reality is, you have the same number of reports or document types to be mapped and imported regardless of the amount of data.

Since it takes the same amount of time to set up a conversion system for a small amount of data as it does for a large amount, it is likely that you would get more efficiency from the conversion system if you have one large block of data to convert versus several small conversions. If the amount of data is too small, the time requirements could possibly make it too expensive to convert the data. The cost to maintain the existing research configuration should also be considered when determining if retention is a more financially feasible solution over converting the data.

On the other end of the scale, it may make more sense to keep the acquired system around when there is a large archive system in place that’s built on newer technology than your current go-forward platform – especially if the acquired system may not yet be fully depreciated. In this instance, it’s worth taking a look to see if you should “upgrade” your current system with the acquired platform or just leave both systems in place. We have seen cases where there were 80 or more different access points or system APIs coming into the acquired archive, all of which were newer than the acquiring bank’s systems. In this case, it may be more convenient to leave both systems in place and not retrain your entire organization on the new system.

However, the last thing your IT staff wants to do is maintain an already dated system for another 10 years! They don’t want the hassle of trying to keep the hardware up and running for a system that may be rarely accessed. And you can guarantee that at some point during that 10 years (average amount of time to retain a check archive) two things will happen:

1) Your hardware will fail. And it will fail at the most inopportune time, like during tax season or when you are working a large subpoena request involving one of your most valued clients. And when you go to repair the old system, you might not be able to find more of those old drives you need to get you back up and running, or you might discover that the controller card you need isn’t made any longer. That’s when you also learn that you can’t put the 10-year-old software on a new machine or on a new version of Windows. It’s just not that easy.   

2) If you are going through the expense of paying system maintenance on the acquired system, the software vendor will require you to upgrade to the latest version of their system. Most companies are not going to support a version of the software that’s two or more releases behind. And when they do, you must also buy new hardware to support the new software and latest release of an application you are only using for research.


There are times when your old system may have a viewer application built onto the DVD or CD which houses the data. In this case (and since CD and DVD readers aren’t going away anytime soon), it would be more convenient to just use what you have. I would, however, recommend making copies (at least two) of the data for long-term storage, so you are not relying solely on the CDs.

The bottom line is that it’s best for most legacy data to be archived into one system. Whether it’s your go-forward system or one that’s built for long-term archive and research of legacy data, having everything in the proper place makes the total cost of ownership much lower; improves your security, audit, and compliance; enhances your overall IT management strategy; and improves customer service. Sometimes the “cost” of not doing something ends up being more expensive than the “price” of doing it right the first time.

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