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6-week migration game plan: Moving on IBM FileNet’s legacy solution

This case study presents some practical approaches and observations that allowed Hyland’s Managed Services to migrate this client from their IBM FileNet solution.

FileNet, a company started in the late 1980s, was one of the first image management vendors offering the earliest document scanning and image viewing solutions.

With the introduction of optical storage in the early 1990s, FileNet was able to offer a cost-effective solution for storing large (for that time) amounts of images.

During the economic boom of the late 1990s, many businesses invested in FileNet for a variety of different scanning and storage requirements.

FileNet was acquired by IBM in 2006. Since the acquisition, many FileNet customers have become concerned about IBM’s investment in new innovation, support, and FileNet’s strategic direction under IBM’s leadership.

Satisfied with their initial investment in FileNet, customers have often chosen to avoid upgrades.

The reasoning behind this involves their satisfaction with the status quo, the time or expense of software upgrades or lack of new value or innovation in recent releases.

Unfortunately, this has left many FileNet customers using unsupported versions or paying for expensive extended support.

Significant risks to continued operation of older FileNet technology include:

  • Expensive and ineffective IBM support for older software and hardware
  • Stability of older software, server hardware and storage systems
  • Legacy storage systems are unable to keep up with the volume, performance and high availability requirements
  • Inability to upgrade operating systems running FileNet to more modern versions, potentially exposing the application to security-related threats without the ability to install upgrades and patches
  • Lack of internal support knowledge for FileNet itself but also the other technologies it relies on (e.g., relational database software, legacy operating systems)
  • Browser compatibility issues due to reliance on older solutions that can delay PC upgrades and support for modern browsers
  • User dissatisfaction with performance and capabilities of the old solutions, particularly for newer employees
  • Lack of integration capabilities with modern systems

To address these risks, Hyland’s Managed Services noticed an acceleration of clients looking at technologies to replace their old FileNet implementations.

Clients looking to migrate can take advantage of newer technologies, including:

  • Content services platform: Modern content services platforms deliver native cloud support, low-code tools, better extensibility and capabilities that go well beyond scanned image storage
  • Modern document capture technologies: Intelligent capture solutions provide automated document classification and data extraction while supporting distributed capture requirements
  • More robust and industry standard PDF file formats: Most FileNet systems are based on TIFF formats that are not easily viewable in-browser
  • Modern browser-based interfaces: Built to improve performance and user experience
  • Significant updates in document storage technologies: Including cost efficiencies over optical disc or other older storage technologies
  • Cloud vendor options: Modern systems leverage leading cloud infrastructure providers (e.g., Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure) to provide an efficient, cost-effective replacement to internal data centers

Over the past several years, Hyland’s Managed Services has worked with many FileNet customers that have chosen to migrate from legacy implementations.

With their deep migration expertise, Hyland’s Managed Services have been able to rapidly migrate FileNet implementations to a modern content services platform.

Bringing both products and consulting experience to the project, Hyland’s Managed Services was able to migrate the client’s FileNet implementation to a modern ECM system in six weeks.

Determine user interface, content and security models

The first part of the project was to analyze how the client was currently using FileNet. For many clients, given the age of the FileNet system, the IT staff has inherited ownership of the system and might not know of all the different uses and document types.

For this client, the focus was on HR and tracking of employee and applicant documents.

Leveraging an Agile methodology, Managed Services was able to quickly demonstrate to the client how the new interface would work with their current documents migrated from FileNet, as well as highlight key features that would provide an improved customer experience and additional user capabilities.

As a first phase of the project, the client prioritized moving existing functionality, content model and security to the new ECM system and interface.

This approach allowed the team to postpone the analysis of other ECM processes and capabilities until a later phase to more quickly retire the FileNet system.

Managed Services best practices: The phased approach

To quickly move from a legacy FileNet system, target a first phase that prioritizes moving existing capabilities, and postpone additional business process automation or other enhancements to later phases.

Begin FileNet extraction early

One of the major challenges with any FileNet migration, particularly for a system that still leverages optical discs, is the extraction of the documents from the optical discs/jukeboxes.

Multiple factors can influence how quickly FileNet documents can be accessed, including:

  • Size, age and maintenance of FileNet’s relational database: Legacy databases that have been poorly maintained cannot always be accessed in a batch mode as efficiently as required for a bulk migration.
  • Daily usage clash: Most production clients want to minimize existing system conflict and work to avoid scheduling migrations when performance (or any system interruption) would impact current FileNet users.
  • Old hardware and software: Many legacy FileNet implementations run on hardware and operating systems that are extremely slow by today’s standards.
  • Legacy storage: Often, old optical disc hardware (drives) have become unreliable and jukeboxes only have one or two drives that still work to even support the migration.

Managed Services best practices: Two-step migration

To quickly move from a legacy FileNet system, execute a two-step migration approach that gradually dumps the FileNet content to a temporary storage area over time. This avoids conflicts with existing FileNet production use.

Due to these risks with retrieval as part of a migration, Managed Services typically recommends a “two-step” migration approach. For this approach:

  • Documents and their metadata are extracted from FileNet and placed in a temporary storage area defined by the client. Documents are usually extracted in nightly “non-production” runs that focus on retrieving all images from each disc, one at a time, to reduce conflict with FileNet users.
  • Documents are imported into the new ECM system, generally once all of the FileNet extracts are complete.

The above two-step approach allows the FileNet export to proceed in parallel with the new ECM system set-up, configuration and testing.

It also guarantees that each image will only need to be extracted from FileNet one time and still allow for multiple iterations of migrations to the new ECM system if necessary.

For clients considering moving into the cloud, most vendors provide a hardware device for storing the documents and their metadata to allow the extracted content to be shipped to the cloud vendor and downloaded to cloud storage, eliminating the need to push the content to the cloud over an internet connection.

For example, Amazon provides a petabyte-scale hardware solution known as Snowball for bulk data transfer to AWS.

Remove, stash or archive stale documents

After 15 to 20 (or more) years of usage, many times different business processes or document types were added to the system only to be discontinued at a later time. Clients have a few options when looking at old, discontinued document types:

  1. Remove these documents from the migration jobs and essentially delete them.
  2. Move these documents to a temporary “archive” location and determine whether to delete or retain after the FileNet migration.
  3. Analyze how the documents were used to build new interfaces/ use cases. This can be as simple as importing them into the new system as a “legacy archive” document type, where they will be available if needed but will not clutter the user experience.

Rather than research why old document types once existed, this client decided to move all old document types to a “legacy archive” portion of the new ECM system.

Managed Services best practices: Ditch stale docs

To quickly move from a legacy FileNet system, don’t waste too much time on document types that have not been utilized in quite some time. Consider either removing these documents from the migration, stashing them for later analysis, or moving them to an archive area of the new ECM system.

Update multi-page TIFF to single-document PDF

One legacy component of older image management systems was the reliance on TIFF (tagged image file format) as a means of storage and viewing.

Modern ECM systems have moved to the PDF (portable document format) as a standard for document viewing. PDF has several advantages over TIFF including:

  • TIFF (and FileNet’s proprietary version of TIFF) would require special viewing applications and annotation capabilities. As an industry standard, many browsers, web applications and frameworks support PDF documents natively (e.g., Gmail, PDF.js). In addition, PDF has a standard for annotations, XFDF
  • Legacy systems, including FileNet, stored TIFFs as separate, single-page files that the viewer interface had to stitch together, making viewing slow (e.g., flipping between page views) and printing difficult. Multi-page PDF documents have performance as well as printing advantages. Modern ECM systems typically expect all pages of a document to be stored as a single file
  • ECM vendors have found that converting Word, Excel and other common types of files directly to PDF has size and font advantages not found in TIFF
  • PDF can support both image and text formats and allow for OCR results to be embedded behind the image. Many modern scanning systems can “read” the text in a document after it has been scanned. They store this text in the PDF file in addition to the original image, and users can look at either (or both) versions. Text PDF documents allow text searching capabilities
  • PDF is supported on virtually every modern computing device, both desktop and mobile

For our client, Hyland’s Managed Services was able to use our OpenMigrate offering’s capabilities to convert multiple TIFF images to single document PDF files as part of the migration.

Managed Services best practices: Convert to PDF

To quickly move from a legacy FileNet system, convert all TIFF images to PDF documents.

Aim for initial “out of the box” modern ecm implementation

When many clients were first implementing FileNet, one of the major customizations was to create a custom search and retrieval interface with integration into existing systems.

With modern ECM systems built to provide user customizations via configuration, a recommended first step would be to leverage the existing configurations as much as possible to avoid costly and time-consuming customizations and integrations. 

For our client, the ability to configure HPI without any customizations dramatically accelerated the approval of the interface and reduced the cost of implementation. 

Regarding integrations into other systems, HPI was able to tie into an existing database rather than have to build new integrations.

Managed Services best practices: OOTB interface

To quickly move from a legacy FileNet system, start with a simple, configured interface rather than adding custom development.

5 best practices for the FileNet migration

Our client was quickly able to migrate from a legacy FileNet system in six weeks by leveraging the following best practices:

  • Target a first phase that moves existing capabilities and postpone additional business process automation or other enhancements to later phases
  • Execute a two-step migration approach that gradually dumps the FileNet content to a temporary storage area over time. This avoids conflicts with existing FileNet production use
  • Don’t waste too much time on document types that, while having documents, have not been utilized in quite some time. Consider either removing these documents from the migration, stashing them for later analysis or moving them to an archive area of the new ECM system
  • Convert all TIFF images to PDF documents
  • Start with a simple, configured interface rather than adding custom development