Lessons from Informatica’s Own Cloud Modernization Journey

What’s it like to move your teams away from a favorite, rock-solid on-premises tool and start using something new in the cloud? It’s not always easy to embrace the new, even though that move may come with considerable advantages. As I recently wrote in a post about lessons in leading digital transformation, a lot of a CIO’s work is leading people through change. Cloud modernization might take people out of their comfort zone, but you absolutely have to do it.

We recently went through a cloud modernization experience of our own at Informatica. In our case, we moved from Informatica PowerCenter – which for years has been the gold standard for data integration – to our cloud-native Intelligent Data Management Cloud platform using Informatica’s cloud native data integration service.

Many of our customers are preparing similar migrations as they modernize in the cloud. In making our own move, we worked closely with the R&D and Informatica Professional Services (IPS) teams to give them our unvarnished take on the process. We knew we had an opportunity as “Customer Zero” to uncover any issues and help IPS as they developed tools and a framework for customer modernization. The good news for PowerCenter customers is that we’ve broken the ground and fine-tuned the process with IPS so that anyone coming after us will have a much smoother experience. We have since operationalized this methodology, which we refer to as the Migration Factory. Just as in a modern assembly line, our migration approach follows a well-documented set of repeatable steps that are automated.

Here are some highlights of our journey, along with lessons learned that range from the tactical to the big picture. I hope they are useful for you as you plan your own modernization journey.

Why Modernize

Moving from one product to another is not something you undertake lightly, especially when that product is as beloved as PowerCenter. Honestly, some of our developers don’t want to give it up. But from a CIO perspective, the decision to modernize is really about keeping your platform modern. We want to be nimble enough in IT to adapt to what the business wants to do as its needs change. That’s much harder to do if you stay on an older on-premises product.

And if you look at our cloud data integration products (which are delivered on Informatica’s Intelligent Data Management Cloud), there are a host of compelling reasons to move. There’s a more modern platform with advanced integration capabilities to support today’s integration workloads across ETL, ELT, application integration, and data engineering tasks, along with best-in-class security with required cloud certifications, greater elasticity, and access to more products. At this point in our business transformation to subscription and cloud, almost all of our on-prem applications have been retired and replaced with modern cloud applications. As we’ve deployed these new applications, we’ve deployed Informatica’s cloud integration products to connect them. Over the years this has given us a very broad deployment of our new products but some legacy integration using PowerCenter still remained. It was time. We had a business need and we wanted to experience all aspects of a pilot offering that we were starting to talk to some leading customers about: a managed program to help them migrate from PowerCenter to our cloud data integration products on the Intelligent Data Management Cloud (IDMC).

Moving from PowerCenter to Informatica Cloud Data Integration means that we’ll have much better performance, because our IDMC platform is closer to our data in the cloud. Informatica’s future roadmap and R&D effort are all focused on investing in IDMC. There are more capabilities coming onto the platform all the time. And there’s less to worry about on the admin side—because upgrades are taken care of. Even on a basic connectivity level, you’re going to have more modern connectors available to you on IDMC than on PowerCenter.

Modernizing just made sense, whether we were looking at it from the perspective of business needs, all the way down to the very tactical consideration that we don’t want to be figuring out our connectors manually.

Phases of the Migration – What the PowerCenter-to-Cloud Journey Looks Like

What can you expect as you go through the migration process? Our migration was a little unusual, in that we frequently stopped to give feedback to IPS or put the project on pause while they helped external customers. Even though our migration wasn’t exactly typical, we went through four main phases of migration that generally map to what our customers can expect. 

Phase One: Assess. The first phase is pretty simple. You have to understand your current state—and this is true of any cloud modernization or migration initiative. When you’re modernizing from PowerCenter you first want to understand what you have in PowerCenter in the first place. Oftentimes, customers have thousands of assets developed over 10 to 20 years. The Migration Factory includes an assessment tool that helped us assess our environment and determined that we had roughly 2,000 mappings. The assessment tool’s output is a detailed readout of the PowerCenter repository that breaks down all metadata across mappings, sessions, workflows, number of connections, configuration properties, and fine-grained details. This allows IPS to not only accurately identify the composition of our environment but also calculate with accuracy the effort involved and capacity requirements as we move the workloads to Cloud Data Integration.

Phase Two: Clean Up. You want the new system to be clean and running as efficiently as possible. Inevitably, there’s stuff you don’t need. It could be an old job that you needed two years ago that you’ve stopped running. But the code is still there. Why move it if you don’t need it? Anything you move needs testing and validating. You can actually modernize faster if you spend time on clean up first. Instead of moving all 2,000 of our PowerCenter mappings, we were able to get rid of about 800. That left 1,200 that still needed to be migrated.

Phase Three: Convert. This is where you get into the intelligent automation that Informatica is known for. Our R&D has developed an intelligent Converter as part of the Migration Factory that converts the vast majority of your mappings automatically. Of course, there are always a few outliers. Maybe you have some FTP site you’re grabbing data from and that connection needs to be created manually in IDMC. In most cases, these exceptions will come down to a few oddball systems. We found we were able to convert more than 90% of our mappings, sessions, and SQL using the Converter. For the configurations, overrides, and scheduler level details, Informatica also includes robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities as part of the conversion process.

Phase Four: Test and Validate. After migration, you need to make sure everything’s working properly. We broke this into multiple stages, or sprints, by line of business. The idea is to get the folks who know the data lined up to do the validation and the testing when the conversion is done. Again, we used Informatica tooling to help us in the validation phase. And we still had people from the business units review and confirm that everything was working as it should.

After everything has been tested and validated, you don’t want to turn off the old system right away, just in case you missed something. We’ll probably leave PowerCenter running for a month or so before turning it off for good. That will be when the project is finally complete.

Lessons Learned

Our modernization went smoothly. We still learned a few lessons along the way that might help you as you contemplate a similar project.

Coordinate with Your Business Units: Even with a tool like the Migration Factory, you still need to test and validate your data. And for that, you need your business units involved. As you plan your project schedule, you need to coordinate closely with line of business stakeholders. It may sound obvious, but you don’t want to have the test and validate phase hit at a time when the line of business is heads down on something else. For instance, when you migrate Finance, you want to avoid the end of the quarter. And give yourself enough cushion so that even if the project slips by a couple weeks, you’re still clear of the quarter’s end. For Human Resources, you want to avoid when they’re handling annual performance reviews and raises. It’s common sense, but when you’re planning six months in advance, people can lose sight of these conflicts.

Another thing to make clear to stakeholders is that while you’re converting, validating, and testing, you have to pause development. During that time, you won’t make changes to reports. It might take a couple weeks to a month to get through those phases, so you need to set expectations with the business to make sure they’re on board.

We didn’t do an adequate job thinking about the end-user testing of end reports. The project team assumed this was an IT-centric project – it’s replacing infrastructure software after all! But please learn from our misstep and make sure your business users are ready to help with testing.

Train Your Teams: When you’re moving away from a familiar tool, you really need make sure you’re offering sufficient training on the new system so that the team is comfortable with the move. The developers want to hug PowerCenter. They love it. You have to empathetically tell them you get it, but they have to spend time on the new tool and get comfortable developing there. You want to stop the knee-jerk reaction of “Hey, I need a new X and I know how to do that really quickly in the old tool.” The good news is that the teams really like IDMC and find it easier to use. That ease-of-use is actually decreasing some of the load on admins because more people – not just admins – are able to work with it.

Commit to the New: As the management team, you have to be firm that anything new has to go into the new system. You have to say, “We’ll get you the training, Informatica offers great support, but anything new has to go into IDMC.” If we don’t have that mindset, we’ll never get off PowerCenter. Sure, you can migrate what you have. But unless you put up some gating, your people on the ground will want to use what they’re comfortable with. Once the decision is made, you can’t waffle on it.

Change is hard, and as a leader, you can make it less painful. I hope these best practices help you as you lead change at your organization.