INTERNAL MANAGEMENT OF EXTERNAL DATA CONVERSION
In the planning of many AM/FM projects, insufficient attention is given to the administrative functions involved in
internal management of external data conversion activities. This is the major cause of problems in data conversion.
This presentation will outline the six critical administrative functions of implementation, from source record analysis
through loading of specification compliant data sets. The importance of these functions increases exponentially with
the size of the project and the aggressiveness of the project schedule. A model to manage these critical activities,
based on an actual case study, will be described in detail.
A CRITICAL ROLE
Finally, the pilot is over, bugs have been spotted and eliminated, and the full-scale project is about to get
started. When the decision is made to have the data base created by outside vendors, it is called conversion but it is
in reality the implementation of the project. This phase is the most costly and project schedule adherence is
primarily dependent on smooth performance by the conversion vendor.
Because conversion is a technical production operation, an analogy to a manufacturing process is appropriate:
- Planning prescribes the output of the finished product at a certain rate.
- Shipment of raw material must be carefully planned to arrive at the required time and place.
- The process needs to be monitored throughout, and the products checked for quality at the end of the production
The same elements need be present for data conversion to deliver the correct product, on time, and at the agreed
The conversion vendor's performance is as dependent on the client's actions as it is on its own capabilities.
Conversion vendor costs are directly related to the establishment of a smooth, continuous flow of work through the
various stages of their operation, and elimination of quality problems or causes of non-conformance. Conversion is
very labor intensive and is customized for each project. People are trained to the requirements of the specification
and usually stay with the project throughout its term. Consequently, the costs are relatively fixed for these vendors,
regardless of the rate of production. For vendors to maintain the delivery schedule and to carefully manage their
people resources (costs), clear specifications are required, prompt answers to problems must be given, and a steady
flow of source documents (raw material) must be maintained.
CONVERSION OPERATIONS MANAGEMENT
There are several functions that are required for the effective management of the conversion process. It is the
pacing factor in the system implementation with other elements such as training, internal public relations, and
hardware and software installations geared to the delivery of the data base product.
The functions described apply to all AM/FM/GIS projects, regardless of size or scope. Size and schedule may dictate
the use of more than one conversion vendor, but the functions will be the same for all. The client can perform these
functions internally but in many cases, especially with large-scale projects, manpower will not be available for what
will be temporary positions and these duties can be performed by an outside agency. In any case, they will need to be
done. How well they are done will greatly impact the success of the entire project.
There are six main elements in managing the conversion process. They are:
Source Collection Teams
Problem Solution (the "Help Desk")
If conversion operation is to be managed by internal staff, this group should be established as part of the Project
Team, with individuals named and assigned to the functions for the life of the project. If contracted, it should be
assured that these functions are included and that adequate staffing with the necessary experience is included.
Whether internal staff performs these tasks or they are contracted, several basic preparations are necessary,
well in advance of the start of the conversion process.
• Finalize vendor selection.
• Finalize the conversion specification.
• Establish delivery schedule based on the vendor build-up rate and overall capacity.
• If more than one vendor is involved, determine proportion of work to each. (Note: this can be influenced by
the commitment to schedule made by the vendors.)
The primary function of this element is to ensure that conversion is performed to the appropriate specification for
the current system design and according to any regional source records variations. Activities include:
• Conduct initial records center audits to determine conformance or deviation from "standard" records batch
• Assigns Specification Versions and Instructions on variances to each batch according to any specific regional
• Analyze recommended system program changes for the effect on the operation of the system and/or the effect on
conversion schedule or cost. Make recommendations to Project Management.
• Monitor any Quality assurance problems for potential changes to specifications or system requirements.
It should be obvious that a clear and precise definition of what is to be delivered in the database is a requirement
of any data conversion operation. Everything follows from this precise listing of what is to be produced. As in a
manufactured product, content and dimensions specifications are what describe the finished product.
In large utilities, source records are not always consistent in format or content. In these cases, different
versions of the conversion specifications may be required to clearly establish the use of the source data that is
required to populate the target data base. The responsibility of Specification Management is to establish and provide
precise and clear instructions through specification versions describing exactly what is required of the conversion
In extreme cases, some of the data required for the functionality of the system is simply not available in some
areas of the client's region. In these cases the Specifications Management group will bring these issues to Project
Management for resolution. Compromises in the functionality of the system, field surveys to determine the missing
data, provisions for omitting those data elements or exclusions for part of the system in those areas may be
This group will resolve differences between the conversion specification and the source records in these ways:
Audit of records by Region
When it is suspected that source record formats might be different in various regions of the company, it will be
necessary to do a pre-conversion audit. Based on the original specification upon which the system was designed and
the "standard" source record formats used in the pilot, suspect areas will be visited and the records compared to
Results of the Audit
If all data required is available but perhaps from different documents, Instructions to the vendors must be
modified to advise and authorize capture of the information from different formats. If data is missing however,
Project Management must determine the action to be taken before conversion of that area can begin. In many cases this
will require a separate specification version number to apply to the source records of the associated areas.
It is important to get specification difference issues resolved and documented before any records are supplied to
Production Control is responsible for the overall direction of scheduling conversion operations to conform to basic
directions from Project Management.
• Assign work to the conversion vendor(s) per instructions from Project Management.
• Obtain delivery commitments from the conversion vendors and, with advice and approval of Project Management,
confirm or alter the master schedule of the vendor(s). (The objectives are to maintain the required delivery schedule
and to minimize the time between records "freeze" and receipt of the converted data.)
• Arrange for the Source Collection group to follow the priority sequences directed by Project Management.
• Maintain the program chosen for tracking the conversion process.
• Record conversion vendor adherence to schedule and monitor conversion vendor capacity for possible schedule
• Prepare period reports to Project Management on project progress and vendor performance with regard to the
schedule and quality adherence.
SOURCE COLLECTION TEAM(S)
In those instances where the client has sufficient manpower resources in the record centers and they can be depended
upon to strictly adhere to the implementation/conversion schedule, no outside help may be needed for gathering the
In many cases however, restructuring and existing workloads may not provide the resources to properly collect source
records. It is then necessary to designate special team(s) to do this task. The composition of a team, the number of
teams required, and the total area to be covered will be dependent on the size of the area and the schedule
The functions listed below apply to whomever is assigned this task.
• Visit the record centers in accordance with the schedule given by Production Control to gather the required
• Advise the Data Logistics section if outside sources of some of the data, for example, land base records, are
required, the details for each batch.
• Record each document in the batch serially, copy, include any list of outside records that are required, and
forward to the Data Logistics section.
(Note: a preliminary review should be made to ensure that the proper equipment for copying is available for use
by the team. If not, it may be necessary to equip them with whatever is required.)
Data Logistics is responsible for the movement of source record copies to the conversion vendor and receipt of their
• Arrange for the procurement of outside records, as required, in time for inclusion with the appropriate batch
of source records.
• Receive batches of source records from the Source Collection Team, audit for correctness and record that as a
milestone in the project tracking system. Combine with any outside records that are required.
• Verify that the Specification Version and any special instructions are identified to that batch.
• Dispatch to the conversion vendor in accordance with the schedule (and allocation if multiple vendors).
• Receive incoming deliverables from the conversion vendor(s), verify that they are complete, record as a
milestone in the tracking system and pass to the Quality Assurance section.
VENDOR SUPPORT ("HELP" DESK)
During the actual processing of the source records, the conversion vendor will have questions. In spite of the
records audit done initially, in a mass of records, some anomalies will always occur. These will range from simply
data elements that are missing to discoveries which could require substantial system programming changes. This section
is the single point of contact for all questions from the conversion vendor.
• Receive and resolve instances of missing data.
• Receive and get resolutions for all conversion exceptions which are requests to deviate from the given
• Receive and refer to Specification Management all vendor requests which would involve system programming
• Maintain a data base of all queries and their resolutions to enable quick response and preclude repetitive
research for common questions.
• Conduct continuous analysis of problems to detect trends which will indicate the potential need for system or
specification adjustments in case widespread or universal exceptions emerge during large scale conversion.
• Visit the conversion vendor to establish an understanding and familiarity with the vendor's systems and methods
and to establish rapport with their counterparts.
• Establish and operate a control system to ensure that all queries are answered completely and promptly. The
goal should be to reply within 48 hours.
This function is charged with the responsibility to measure the accuracy and completeness of the conversion vendor's
deliverables based on the applicable conversion specification and any exceptions that have been authorized.
• Perform mechanized validation checking to the extent that it is possible with special Quality Assurance
• Sample and visually check the data in accordance with the quality specifications acceptance criteria.
• Return for rework or resolve on site any discrepancies which fall below the specification requirements
• Record and report the Quality Assurance results.
• Maintain Quality Assurance results history of the conversion vendor(s).
• Certify acceptance of each batch for installation into the system. Record as a milestone event in the tracking
The functions described here are part of any conversion work, regardless of the size of the project. The target
database must be defined, the schedule must fit with the other events which will happen during project implementation,
someone must carefully gather all the appropriate source documents, control over the transfer of the records to the
conversion locations and receipt of the product is necessary, knowledgeable advice and answers must be given when
problems arise and, finally, the product data base must be tested to the specification. Always check that these
elements are included in the project planning.