Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 1

When a company invests in a new product data management (PDM) system like Synergis Adept, one of the first agenda items is (or should be) to decide what to do with legacy data (product/project information created in the past and not in active current use). When engineering information is first created it is always of high value. But over time, value diminishes. The rate of value decay varies by company. So, how important is it to make older engineering data a part of the new PDM?

Some companies want to sidestep the question. On one hand, some will think the best choice is to only use the new PDM system with current projects. On the other hand, some will think the way forward is to put everything into the PDM. Both of these choices are based on overly simplistic assumptions about the value of data.

Leaving out all legacy data makes implementation easier. It is the fast way to get people up to speed and comfortable with the software. But it assumes older data is of little value or ignores the time and energy it will take to retrieve the data when needed. Pulling in all legacy data en masse also makes assumptions about consistency, adherence to standards, and the continuing business value of the information.

Todd Cummings has been helping engineering companies deploy PDM systems for 20 years. As Vice President of Technology for Synergis Software, he has seen companies make wise decisions about legacy data, and companies try to avoid thinking about it. Ten years ago Todd generally advised companies to bring in all the data. But today he looks back on that choice as “a very utopian worldview.” For one thing, the volume of legacy data in electronic form is much larger today than it was a decade ago. For another, he has gained an appreciation for understanding the business value of legacy data.

Todd now believes in thinking things through carefully. “Don’t assume legacy data should go in,” he says. “The reality of legacy business data is all about time, energy, and focus.” When a company installs a PDM system, Todd believes there should be clear thinking about the business value of older information. It starts from knowing how various departments depend on the information. “Defining business value transcends the judgments of a particular department,” says Todd. “It is not only about the needs of engineering, or design, or manufacturing. Sales, marketing, or service support might need data long after engineering if finished with it. There may be legal reasons for keeping the data accessible.”

“The general idea among clients today is still an assumption that it is best to bring everything in,” says Todd. “We take the opposite view to help the customer prove the null hypothesis; nothing comes in until you prove the need.”

Proving the need is crucial, Todd says, as it guides the discussion toward a focus on the three keys to understanding legacy data: Time, Energy, and Focus. In an upcoming article for the Synergis Blog, I’ll share guidelines to using these keys, so any company can successfully evaluate what legacy data to bring into a new PDM installation.


Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. More information is available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.

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