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Content migration: what can be automated and what must be manual

Key Points:

  • Every migration is different. Sometimes automation makes sense, but it is usually a hybridtweet
  • Some potentially-overlooked migration activities must be manualtweet
  • One way to confirm whether automation is possible is to consider the potential steps of handling contenttweet
Website Migration Handbook
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Understandably, teams often focus on what tools can provide for migration. On the flip side, many teams are too knee-jerk about getting a legion of people to migrate content by hand. The decision of automation or not is probably a bit more subtle than immediately obvious (it's not an either/or, and there are degrees of involvement needed by people), but one that should be considered carefully. That said, let's assume you have a team and the tools to do a lot of automation in your migration. In order to make sure that you have a successful migration, make sure to consider the things that cannot be automated. Here's a quick table listing some items that could be automated and those that cannot:

When deciding on what to automate, not automate, or blend both, consider what can be automated and what cannot be.
Migration Activity
Can Be Automated?
Turning into valid XHTML Yes   Fairly trivial, but focus of some projects
Moving into new DB schema Yes   Focus of many Tool X to Tool Y discussions
Placing content based on rules Yes    
Stripping out extraneous page info Yes    
Transforming to use new CSS Yes    
Scraping out structure from HTML Yes   Systems Integrators often avoid
Dealing with links between content Yes    
Track Progress Yes    
Automatic tagging Yes   Depends on domain and training
Training/designing/configuring tools   No Automation isn't entirely free
QAing automation   No Probably not 100% but checking required
Dealing with unusual cases   No  
Defining new site vision   No No unifying vision might mean loss of focus
Editorial changes   No A lot of content will require editorial work
Internal communications   No How communicate about changes?
Product Management   No When issues raised, what will be fixed?
Training   No How train people for new system?
Defining team   No  
Defining site behavior   No Content won't be moved into vacuum
Content strategy   No  
ROT cleanup   No Analysis is aided by tools / decisions by ppl
Site governance   No  
Defining taxonomy, IA, etc   No Directly affects automation efforts

One of the best ways to get an early sense of where automation is possible is to look at the potential steps of handling content, in effect estimating the manual migration effort

Website Migration Handbook

First published 02 June 2010