System Conversion Best Practices

Is your business converting to a new information system? FinServ Consulting has successfully completed over 100 system integration projects for over 25 different clients in the financial services industry. FinServ Consulting has found that regardless of the size and complexity, the success or failure of any system conversion is dependent on managing the following 5 principles:

1.  Identify and Engage Stakeholders

A successful system conversion starts and ends with buy-in from all stakeholders. Everyone from the senior management down to the end users need to contribute time and effort to the project.

In order to identify the proper stakeholders, work with the PMO, or the Project Sponsor to determine the senior level stakeholders. Once these senior members are identified, engage senior management by forming a steering committee that meets on a recurring basis to discuss the strategy, budget, resourcing, and direction of the project.

The steering committee may identify the remaining stakeholders by assigning the most appropriate resources to the project. If these resources are not assigned, try to identify subject matter experts among the end users so as to involve the fewest number of resources possible. This group needs to be capable of explaining and testing every function of the legacy system.

Once the stakeholders have been identified and their roles within the project assigned, clearly communicate your expectations for each person. You should then form function-focused project teams and schedule weekly status calls with the project teams to give an overall update on the progress made in the week as well as highlight risks, issues, accomplishments, and upcoming milestones. The goal of the weekly status meetings and the steering committee is to keep the project scope and timeline on track.

2.  Prepare and Organize

A common mistake in any system conversion is to rush into the work. Many system conversions fail or go over budget due to poor project planning. Avoid this error by taking the time to organize and plan out the entire project before beginning any work. Create a detailed end-to-end project plan at the beginning of the project, and maintain this plan on a daily basis. When creating a project plan, it is best to start with the end state in mind by first outlining the major deliverables and milestones. After the key project dates are plotted, you can begin working backwards from those dates by inputting the tasks along the critical path to each milestone. It is also wise to structure your plan by grouping related tasks, deliverables, and milestones into natural project stages, such as the stages of the Systems Development Life Cycle (“SDLC”) model. Grouping work into the appropriate SDLC stages will help you stay organized and focused as the project progresses because each stage dictates your mindset and workload. Having a detailed project plan from the outset is crucial to the success of any system conversion. Budget time throughout the course of the project to maintain and update the project plan.

You should also budget ample time at the start of the engagement to set up your email, calendar, network folders, email distribution lists, method for issue tracking and resolution, and the communication plan. One of the most useful practices at the start of a project is to configure your email client application. Structuring email folders, creating email rules, and utilizing categories and search folders can make you more efficient and cut down on future stress.

3.  Establish Accountability

When defining the scope of the project, it is critical that every data element and functional requirement has a clear business owner and a defined purpose. The scope of the conversion should be limited to data elements that have business owners, so there is a contact person for any questions, specifications, related workflows, testing, and validation related to that data element. One useful tool for tracking and ensuring the ownership of each requirement is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (“RAM”). A RAM is a grid that lists the business requirements in the left column and the people/groups responsible for the requirements along the top. This tool allows you to easily see and record of how each requirement affects, relates to, or is used by each person/group involved in the project. In the final stages of testing, a RAM allows for the client to ensure that each requirement met the users’ needs and has been approved by the key stakeholders.

4.  Test Thoroughly

Testing is the most important phase of any system conversion or integration project. On a poorly managed project, testing can quickly become overwhelming and morph into a second development phase. The more tests that can be done, the better, but testing can be very time consuming and expensive. There are many different types of system testing, but let’s limit the focus to User Acceptance Testing (“UAT”), which we find to be the most underperformed, yet critical, type of testing. FinServ requires UAT for every system integration project we manage. Excluding the creation of your test plan, UAT really begins with writing test scripts. Test scripts are written based on the business requirements, and are meant to serve as an intuitive and easy to use guide to walk business users through all the system functionality and show the user possible ways to “break” the system. When actions cannot be performed as detailed in the test scripts, the testers will detail these as defects directly in the scripts. Defects will then be reviewed by the larger project team on a regular basis. All key stakeholders that are users or consumers of the system should be involved in UAT to ensure the required data and functionality works as expected.

5.  Create Documentation

One of the most disregarded aspects of any project is system documentation, however, it is often the cause of long term inefficiencies that directly impact operational costs. The process of documenting should be done before, during, and after the conversion project. Having accurate and abundant documentation is one of the best ways to ensure a high user adoption rate and to improve the user experience, not to mention it is imperative for knowledge transfer. System documentation is extremely valuable in the later stages of the project, and when future projects related to the system are undertaken.

Documentation isn’t limited to just the business side. The IT team should be documenting their processes as well. Proper documentation captures detail all the way down to the code level by including comments to explain the purpose of each line of code. If the development was done by any outside party, then your IT team should receive the proper technical documentation needed to take over the system. As an example, FinServ doesn’t conclude a system conversion project until we have delivered a Handover document to the client. The Handover document explains everything that the client needs to know to be completely self-sufficient with the system, and delivery of this document traditionally marks the end of a successful project.

These are just some of the many useful practices that, if followed, will help ensure a successful system conversion. FinServ Consulting has delivered many successful system conversion projects for our clients, and delivered on time and within budget.

To learn more about FinServ Consulting’s Office 365 and Systems Automation related services, please contact us at or (646) 603-3799.

About FinServ Consulting

FinServ Consulting is an independent experienced provider of business consulting, systems development and integration services to alternative asset managers, global banks and their service providers. Founded in 2005, FinServ delivers customized world-class business and IT consulting services for the front, middle and back office, providing managers with optimal and first-class operating environments to support all investment styles and future asset growth. The FinServ team brings a wealth of experience from working with the largest and most complex asset management firms and global banks in the world.

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