Preparing for Next-Gen Apps: Clean up Your Data

June 25, 2009

A new generation of apps is coming, a generation that will make today’s middle-aged apps look as dated and primitive as the old Dun & Bradstreet software.

I remember the last time this happened; it was 1990. The big deals in enterprise applications were ASK and the aforementioned D&B and SSA. I worked at one of the next-gen apps, QAD; nobody at our company back then had even heard of SAP or PeopleSoft.

At that time, how could a company sensibly prepare for the fact that they would soon replace their systems? It was pretty simple. Don’t buy the old-fashioned guys, because the useful life is too limited. (Basically, it’s the same reason you might not want to buy a new car in the last year of the model.)

But what else can you do? Well, as I said in the previous post, buy appropriate technologies: keep any new technology small and simple and don’t worry too much about your platform (which is dying, anyway).

Here’s another thing to do. Fix your data. When you look at any modern app, one thing strikes you immediately. They just won’t work on bad data. It isn’t just garbage-in, garbage-out. It’s really more like the catalytic converters, which would turn into sludge the second exhaust from lead-based gasoline hit their poor little crystals.

But can’t you wait until you get a next-gen app, when all your data will be nice and new and clean, just like the app? Well, no. Because one of the things you’re going to want to do (and can do, because next-gen apps worry about conversion) is use your old data in the new app. And if your old data is, well, what most people’s old data looks like, you will muck up that old app.

In a way, what will happen to data when modern apps come in is what happened to the pioneer’s farmhouses after they got modern plumbing. Before, real cleanliness was something only rich people could achieve and then only at fabulous expense. After, real cleanliness was simply expected of anybody who called themselves middle-class.

So, if you believe my analogy, how do you clean up your data if you don’t have running water? Well, a whole lot of it is attitude. If you want it clean, even if you’re poor, you can do a lot about making it clean and keeping it clean. [Please comment if you have a good suggestion.] And if you don’t really care–it’s not that you’re against cleanliness, mind you, it’s just that it’s a lot of work, and you’ve got other things to worry about, and besides, it’s pretty dark over in that corner, so who would notice–well, you’re in for a surprise when attitudes and technologies change.


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