Understanding the Business Value of Legacy Data, Part 2

In the first article in this series, I introduced the importance of clear thinking about legacy data when installing a product data management (PDM) system. I spent time recently talking to Todd Cummings, VP of Technology, about his nearly 20 years of experience helping companies of all sizes install and use Synergis Adept. One of the first things he told me was “If you haven’t worn that gift tie for several years, then it’s time to donate it to the Salvation Army.” Apply the idea to legacy data, Todd said, not as a hard-and-fast rule but “as more of a healthy challenge: don’t assume legacy data should automatically be put into the PDM/EDM system.”

It is all about the business value of the information. Todd advises clients to make business value the lens through which they review legacy data. If data created 10 years ago is still accessed by your field engineers and support team, it stays in.  When it comes to some projects—not all data is valuable. Every business is different.

Todd uses three keys to explain the business value of legacy data: Time + Energy + Perspective = Business Value. A body of data that makes the cut in one viewpoint might be left behind in another. There are no clear answers, only decisions based on taking the time to think it through. As Todd says, “Don’t assume all data is valuable. There are business drivers; there is an impact and a cost to bringing data into your PDM.”

Let’s look at each key separately.


Products and infrastructure have a lifecycle; the data behind them does as well. To analyze your legacy data through the lens of time is to review how often various bits of information are retrieved for use.

There is a bit of forensic science to reviewing the time value of data; you have to figure out whose hands have been on the data, and when. Did that last hospital project include your best thinking on a modular room? There is no doubt it will become a reference model, so keep the data on the room, but archive the building. Is there a strong likelihood an auditor will want the data? Then make sure it is accessible until it expires according to data retention guidelines to which you are subject.

Different departments have differing needs for engineering data; Todd says it never ceases to amaze him how each department is unaware of how other departments are using the exact same data. This is because in each department, people are focused on their own area of expertise. When all departments understand how data is leveraged, that 360 degree world view provides the clearest perspective on the business value of data. For example, there might be 25 important data types in a company, but engineering only needs seven. “Take the spreadsheets, the core access databases, and the word documents. Sift through them and reconcile the master data,” Todd suggests. This sifting process is also important to the second key, Energy.


Some of your legacy data may be useful, but the energy it takes to make it work in the PDM might be more bother and cost than it is worth. For example, an engineering firm has 100 employees and drawings going back 20 years which they may or may not still use. However, people in adjacent departments routinely leverage that data and often make changes. Those who created it in the beginning are often unaware of changes downstream, changes in format as well as content. You can’t put this kind of bifurcated information into a new PDM until you clean it up or it results in duplicate data.

There is an energy expense to cleaning up sloppy data. There is the labor of employees or consultants, the computational time to do an automated conversion (if possible), the comparison of parent and child versions, etc. The de-duplication process alone can be a time-consuming and tedious. Says Todd,” Every company has a vast sea of data. One successful strategy is to put energy into defining the structure of the data and how the system will automate processes such as workflow and data access. Once these processes are in place, then you can import your legacy data archive as it is needed – and clean it up along the way.

Using this strategy you expend the energy you need when you need it and when it’s most valuable. “Data transformation and cleanup can be expensive,” notes Todd. “It helps to decide the energy value up front.”


Todd Cummings says the toughest situations for uploading legacy data into a PDM is when there is no single source of truth throughout the enterprise. “When there is no single source of truth, or even a connected mesh of the truth from multiple integrated business systems, it’s like the story of three witnesses at a car wreck: When an officer interviews each witness, all the stories are a bit different.”

Here are some typical institutional perspectives that add complexity to evaluating the same set of data:

  • Engineers develop a concept of a new machine to solve a well-known problem, defining characteristics and tolerances and attributes;
  • Designers render that design in CAD—maybe adding a few changes for aesthetics or function so they are able to reuse existing geometry that matches the spec;
  • Manufacturing tries to build the product without replacing current lines to avoid more cost and materials
  • Marketing is concerned about instructions and labeling and packaging; sales is worried about the deadline.
  • Quality assurance has to make sure what is built matches the original designs.

So every department’s perspective is different, and not necessarily always in sync with others. As Todd says, “All the reasons people use the data are true, just worldviews are different. Without a system to foster accurate data and collaboration, little stovepipes of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets spring up to describe how each department sees the world. There is always the original story, the idea and the intent of the product. Then over time, more valid ways of looking at the same data emerge.”


Deciding what information goes into a new PDM can be a eye-opening and transformational process for a company. Stratas of data get uncovered and re-evaluated with fresh eyes. As each department contributes, everyone gains a more holistic appreciation for the ways in which everyone in the enterprise relies on the same data. Not only does your enterprise data get   organized in the PDM, but your team members gain from a deeper understanding of how their roles are interconnected with their colleagues in different departments.

We will close this series of articles on legacy data in the near future with a cautionary tale on what happens when top management doesn’t buy into the process or fully appreciate the recommendations of their consultants.


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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