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Data Conversion aka "The Black Hole"

Written by Jeff Stouse.

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When a new client decides to switch from one practice management program to another I am frequently asked "How much will it cost to move my data from my current program to this new one?"

They ask this with a straight face. They mean well. They really want to know how much it will cost.

But...

They didn't provide me with any information as to what the task may require, so, I ask them: "If you were a moving company, one which specializes in moving whole households from one coast to the other, or any town in between, and somebody came up to you and asked "How much to move my family?" - What would you say?

About that time we come to an understanding that I will need more information in order to be able to move the data. When moving data from one program (or two, or more) to a new practice management program, there is a lot to understand before an accurate forecast of how much time and effort will be needed can be provided. In essence the provider moving the data needs to know:

  • Exactly what fields, and what records need to be moved
  • Those fields (above) then have to be "mapped" to new records and new fields, some of which may require customization (read: creation) before the conversion may occur, so the customization of the new fields and records in the new program must first be finalized before the exact effort will be known
  • In some instances, moving the data from one program to another may require data "cleaning" - where the data stored in the original program must first be cleaned up; i.e., a telephone number field in the origination program may contain data besides an actual telephone number ("ext," or "work," or "cell") that has to be stripped out before the data  can be converted. This is often a task that only someone who works with the data can perform. Not "cleaning" the data may result in records being rejected during the conversion process, which, if not fixed, would lead to data loss (or at the least, a much slower and more costly conversion.)
So, remember that asking a consultant to provide an estimate on converting data without providing the proper details will most likely result in an answer similar to "I can't tell you how much- I don't have enough information." If you do get a number, without the details, it will probably be very large. Be prepared to help with the conversion, or pay for the privilege of having the consultant take the time to make the changes and attempts to convert the data without the necessary guidance. A consultant with a plan on converting the data, and who is given the necessary information concerning the data to be moved (and its destination) will often be more successful, and less expensive and time-consuming.