User buy-in and clear decisions key to OSS migration

By   |  May 22, 2009

User resistance to change remains one the major obstacles to overcome in any successful open source migration. This is according to Michael Bohn, Sun Microsystem’s senior consultant for office migration, who was speaking to the Gauteng Linux Users Group (GLUG) this week.

Hamburg-based Bohn was in South Africa to, among other things, meet with the South African government around its open source migration strategy.

He said that the reasons to migrate to OpenOffice.org were numerous and included significant cost savings, cross-platform support and open standards, helping organisations avoid being locked into proprietary solutions.

Bohn, who advises governments and companies around the world on open source migrations, said that one of the major obstacles to OSS migration was user resistance. “Migration is about people. You have to get buy-in from people or you will lose the project.”

He said that in addition to user buy-in there are also a number of other areas that need to be addressed in a successful migration. Converting documents and templates was just one of these. Migration also needs to plan for necessary changes in IT infrastructure, workflow conversion including macros, scripts and application integration. As part of the user buy-in employees also need to be trained and convinced of the benefits of converting to a new set of tools.

Conversion
Bohn said that another crucial part of migration to OpenOffice.org was having a solid understanding of the type of documents that would need to be catered for. The first step towards this, he said, was to understand the environment properly. This means doing a thorough sample of the full range of documents produced by an organisation. It is not valuable, he said, to assume that all documents were simple text documents. Interviewing key users and including all complex documents in the pre-migration sample, would benefit the final project enormously, said Bohn.

The other crucial thing to decide on, he said, was which documents actually need to be converted. Organisations don’t need to convert all documents to the new formats and can save themselves time and money by classifying their documents. Bohn suggested that organisations apply a classification list that looks like this: Discard, Archive, Convert and Read Only. The key element to this, he said, is to decide which documents actually need to be shared and edited in future as it is these that need to be converted. Other documents can be shared “passively” in fixed formats such as PDF. They could then still be circulated but not edited.

Bohn said that in his experience organisations assumed that all documents would have to be converted but the truth was usually that just a few key documents and templates needed converting.

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