Moving to a new app? Mind the data trap

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for
software that will improve your life in some way. It might help you communicate
more effectively and more widely or simply get you through the work week more

You frequently alight on something new, play with it for a
bit, then decide that it’s not for you. Probably because the user interface is
too clunky or maybe it’s missing some favourite features of an otherwise
inadequate existing system.

The search goes on. And you put up with the restrictions of
what you’ve got.

When you find the right product, you then have a bunch of
decisions to make, not least of which is “how easy will it be to

If you’re talking about a move from one screencasting tool
to another, for example, the move is relatively straightforward. Your old
screencasts will still work, so introducing the new tool is largely a matter of
learning how to use it. And, if others are to use it, to boil the instructions
down to the essentials, in order to cut down the ’time to value’. They can
always pick up on the finer points as they go along.

If you’re talking about a system that requires you to move
legacy information into it in order for it to become useful, then you have to
seriously consider whether the promised benefits are worth the effort. The
effort, of course, will vary according to the export/import capabilities of the
software. Some software vendors make a point of being able to import their
competitors’ data, in which case you could be in luck. However, if your
existing vendor is a smaller player, you may be denied this, unless it provides
a standards-based export mechanism.

As an example, I’ve just spent many hours looking at
Microsoft’s OneNote.
It held out the promise of organising my life and the information in it. But,
for this promise to be fulfilled, I had to a) learn how to use it and, b) move
enough of my life into it to keep the Tebbo show on the road. a) took a few
hours, but b) took many times that. The time consumed was my own. It wasn’t the
sort of thing I would have done on the company shilling, in case it was wasted.

After many years of using organisers of various kinds –
ideas processors, outliners, mind mappers, databases and others, such as Lotus Agenda (1992) and Octave’s
Web (1989) – I was
reacquainted with OneNote on a recent visit to Microsoft. It was incidental to
the briefing, but it will become more ubiquitous with the arrival of Office 2010. Perhaps I’d
dismissed it before because of its simple notebook-like interface. Or maybe I
didn’t like the ’container’ approach to content elements. Whatever the reason,
ignore it I did.

Yet, it does what so much of the other software fails to do:
it provides useful capabilities using a familiar metaphor. Everyone can
understand notebooks, sections and pages. And, on those pages: text; drawings; images
and hyperlinks. Getting stuff in and out is simple, in the main, but if it
isn’t then add-ons and third party tools are available to help. It has some
shortcomings but, for me, the important thing is that it held out sufficient
promise that I gave up a huge chunk of weekend and holiday time to get my data
in. (Context: I already use Office Pro.)

Moving to new software is never easy but learning to use it
is often the easiest bit. The hardest bit is if you have to move heaps of
legacy data across. You can consider yourself successful if the systems and
people around you don’t notice the change.

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