What is the most efficient way to eliminate data that is no longer required for business purposes? And what is the best method for archiving the data that the business doesn’t need to access regularly? These are difficult questions for any company to answer.
When science giant Bayer Corporation, a longtime SAP customer, decided to upgrade its SAP ERP software in North America, the business had to decide the best way to archive its legacy data and decommission the old systems to ensure that system users’ needs would still be met.
System decommissioning and archiving are parts of the ERP migration process that often get lost in the shadow of a new system deployment — when most people involved in the implementation focus on the potential benefits that the new environment will bring. However, Bill Murdoch, IT Business Solutions Consultant at Bayer Business and Technology Services, points out the risk of keeping an old system alive.
“Many companies lock down the old system, but users can still access it and change historical data,” Murdoch says. “For example, they could enter information into the old database, which could create problems going forward.”
But decommissioning an older ERP system isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. IT teams must consider regulatory compliance issues when taking a system offline. In the US, IRS guidelines stipulate that data must be kept as long as it may be material to the business, and records must be able to be read by computers, not just people. From a business perspective, companies need to determine what historical data it will retain and destroy, and any data it chooses to remove has to be eliminated in a systematic, documented process.
So, while most people on the Business and Technology Services team at Bayer were looking forward — focusing on the new solutions during the SAP ERP upgrade — some team members were dutifully looking backward at old data, asking users about its possible uses, and considering how the organization would handle archiving and decommissioning. They determined that the business could use the SAP NetWeaver Information Lifecycle Management (SAP NetWeaver ILM) application for storing data from the system being decommissioned, as well as for archiving data in the new live system.
But before that could happen, the team had some key decisions to make.
Predicting the Future, Documenting the Past
“Many companies lock down the old system, but users can still access it and change historical data. For example, they could enter information into the old database, which could create problems going forward.”
— Bill Murdoch, IT Business Solutions Consultant at Bayer Business and Technology Services
The first step the team took in decommissioning its previous SAP environment was to meet with each Bayer business unit and determine what data it might need down the road. And according to Murdoch, the answer from business users was often, “All of it.”
“We asked users to project what they would be doing down the road, and it’s hard to predict the future,” he says. “So we worked with them to gather requirements and determine what they really needed from the old system, and we formulated user acceptance tests to help confirm we were meeting their requirements.”
During those meetings, system users learned exactly what would be decommissioned and how that would impact their individual business. The team left each meeting with an exhaustive list of what users required access to and at what level. In some cases, the team had to distinguish user needs from wants.
“Users didn’t actually need access to the old system,” Murdoch explains. “They just needed to realize the data would still be available to them in the new environment in other ways. For example, static data from a report that a user might need in the future could be saved into a repository.”
From there, the archiving and decommissioning strategy using SAP NetWeaver ILM could be fine tuned based on the business needs. Fortunately, the US system was not the first to go into the repository, and the team was able to base its strategy on existing analysis, planning, and user acceptance testing documentation from the prior Bayer AG decommissioning of a five-country system.
After migrating the data to SAP NetWeaver ILM, the team went back to the business users to confirm they could access the data they requested. “For instance, we asked them how many invoices they had originally, and then showed what we archived to prove the numbers matched,” Murdoch says. “If they didn’t match, we looked into why and fixed it. Quite often, it was simply retrieval selection criteria.”
Validating that the data was still available, just in a different place, helped put users’ minds at ease and made them feel more comfortable with the new environment. Murdoch says it also gave the IT team a chance to show users how to access the archived data and how long it might take. For compressed data that users only need to access from the archive a couple times a year, the response time is slower than in a live system. And setting that expectation with users early on avoids a lot of issues down the road.
Setting “Useful Life” Guidelines
One word that business users don’t like to hear when it comes to data is “destruction.” For the most part, Murdoch says, users want to save all data, just in case they need it at some point in the future. But digital storage and archiving is not infinite or free. Data’s useful life expires at some point, and companies set policies to outline how long to store non-essential data — and when to destroy it.
“The belief that data should be kept ‘as long as there is a business need’ is not specific enough,” Murdoch says. “So companies have to set very clear policies and then should live by those policies.” He says it’s best to wait five quarters from when a system goes to “non-productive” status before beginning to archive and delete any data. More extensive user acceptance testing may be required if multiple countries and languages are involved.
SAP NetWeaver ILM has helped Bayer manage its internal policies and procedures by automating the process of data destruction based on the company’s policies. If data is designated as reaching the end of its useful life on a certain date, the application can delete it from the archive, minimizing risk.
“Our role is not to interpret the policies, but to help the business adhere to them based on the requirements given to us,” says Tom Ginocchi, BBS Manager within Bayer Business and Technology Services. “But when we start asking the business units questions about how they want to act on those policies, they become much more aware of them. It forces them to look at the policies to determine how long to hold data.”
Benefits of a Single Repository
Bayer first considered SAP NetWeaver ILM as a way to reduce hardware costs during archiving, but when the business began looking at the solution as a repository for its live data, a new set of benefits emerged.
Ginocchi says that one of the major advantages to using SAP NetWeaver ILM is that it can serve as an archiving system for decommissioned systems as well as live systems across a range of businesses, business locations, and data types, including non-SAP data.
“There are hidden benefits from the aggregation of data once you get started down that road,” says Ginocchi. “We’re not there yet, but we hope to archive non-SAP data and even do some non-SAP database decommissioning with SAP NetWeaver ILM as the warehouse.”
And while that initiative will require some tough questions, Bayer’s experience has shown that asking those questions is what brings the biggest benefits.