Smith & Williamson, an independently owned professional and financial services group has implemented a SQL Server data warehouse to move off a core legacy system it has run since the 1980s.

The 1980s database survived the millennium bug and has been enhanced with a Windows front end but, since its core code is Cobol-based, creating reports took too long.

If a user needed data, the IT department would need to write and test a Cobol program. Time to delivery could take several weeks.

The company has now copied the legacy data into SQL Server 2014.

After extracting the data into the SQL Server data warehouse, the business can now access data far quicker using an OLAP cube in Excel.

The firm is also looking to offer Microsoft PowerBI for analytics in the future.

The renewal programme began after the company hired Mark Prior as the its IT head in April 2015. Prior’s remit was to modernise the IT landscape at Smith & Williamson.

The company chose the WhereScape Red data warehouse application to automate the design, implementation and operation of the SQL Server data warehouse, which allowed it to migrate reporting workloads off the legacy Cobol platform.

David Rutherford, head of application and data architecture, said: “From a data management perspective we were very keen to decouple data from our legacy system. It used to be very slow to extract data from the legacy systems.”

The first deliverable from the programme was the extraction of the data from the legacy systems. “This is a quick deliverable for business users,” Rutherford said.

He said WhereScape enabled Smith & Williamson to pull data out of the legacy system and make a direct copy of the table in the SQL Server data warehouse.

Since the legacy system was designed decades ago, it used lots of abbreviations for database entries, which was normal practice at the time. Now that the data is in SQL Server, Rutherford said the company plans to clean up the data. “We will need to put proper field names and add meaningful words to flags in the legacy system.”

This process will enable Smith & Williamson to create a data model of the databases in the Cobol system. Rutherford said: “This exercise now gives us an understanding of the tables and enables us to dig under the skin of the legacy system.” Knowing the structure of the legacy database will allow Smith & Williamson to replace legacy functionality to modern software packages over time.

Along with giving business users the ability to access the data to run their own reports, Rutherford said that by exposing data, people in the business are able to identify data quality issues. This is usually much harder if the data is hidden in transaction processing systems.

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