Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reforging Data Models: Preventing The Loss Of Information Assets During Salesforce Communities Migrations

Every single day, more and more companies move to Salesforce Communities from a vast array of other solutions. These solutions vary immensely in aesthetics, price, and popularity, but most significantly, in terms of impact on a smooth transition from system to system, they vary in the data models they employ.

Data, the technological equivalent of gold, includes every piece of information that a company needs in order to conduct its business, things as disparate as a simple client billing address to predictions on what a customer will be inclined to purchase a year from now. It is a tangible and invaluable asset, and all of it is structured and managed by a data model. Customers spend billions of dollars each year on solutions to data management, and without a robust and flexible data model, company productivity can be greatly diminished with a negative impact on the all important bottom line.

Once a company decides to move away from their current system and adopt Salesforce, a technical conundrum is presented which must be addressed with the utmost care. If the data model from the old system is not adequately rebuilt to fit the Salesforce platform, data will inevitably be lost.

Successfully undergoing any significant structural change requires reforging the entire framework - the data model which provides essential form and functionality for the company’s data.

Imagine that a client walks into an office with twenty-seven gorgeous diamond and gold engagement rings. The client requires that the rings be transformed into a single diamond and gold bracelet. It is very important that the amount of the gold and diamonds is preserved after the transformation, as any loss in amount is a direct loss in value. The fundamental components that hold the actual value of the jewelry, the gold and the diamonds, will remain the same, but they must be restructured in such a way to fit the shape of the bracelet, without any loss of value.

With specialized tools, a jeweler can reshape the malleable gold and incorporate the diamonds to create the bracelet that the client requires, with no loss and quite possibly an enhancement to the original value of the rings.

During migrations, Rightpoint examines the source system at a pure data level to comprehensively understand the structure of the source data model. Once a calculated approach is finalized, custom-built tools are leveraged to ensure that the best possible restructuring of data models and preservation of data is achieved. The client’s original data are thus transformed into the equivalent of a single, more tightly integrated piece of jewelry with enhanced aesthetics and increased value.

A recent client that was looking to move to Salesforce had built an immensely rich information base in a customer community on a product called Jive. Customers depended on the data that the client had grown and nurtured for several years to self-solve their problems every day from within this community. It was of utmost importance this wealth of information persisted after the migration to the Salesforce Community Cloud.

However, the Jive data model was extremely disparate from that of Salesforce Communities. Jive had complicated, infinite nesting for replies, whereas Salesforce enforces clean single-depth replies. Jive content is sourced with verbose HTML tags; Salesforce expects clean text. Even the fundamental containers to store data are vastly different. Jive has redundant and overlapping types such as 'content,' 'discussions,' 'blogs,' 'questions,' 'files,' 'documents,' and 'attachments,' while Salesforce has posts, questions, and files.

To prevent any asset loss, dozens of custom Python scripts that implemented a few APIs were custom developed to specifically focus on and gracefully restructure each individual conflict of data model.


One of dozens of custom scripts developed for a migration.

All of the noise such as HTML tags was filtered, leaving only the pure data content to reside in Salesforce. The redundant containers from Jive were all individually processed and reforged to the structure of a Salesforce post. Gigabytes of binary content such as images, product patches, and instruction manuals were gathered, processed, and re-uploaded to their new home on Salesforce.

The fact that there will almost inevitably be a new, different data model to handle during a customer communities migration cannot be avoided. However, by truly understanding the customer's needs while gaining an intimate understanding of the source product and its data model, our team can mitigate the risk of confounding the clarity or losing the value of the client’s data due to structural differences behind the data. Companies spend immense resources growing and nurturing their data, and preventing any loss of meaning behind company data is a vital challenge for which Rightpoint and Salesforce are uniquely qualified to forge elegant and efficient solutions.