This blog post is an excerpt from our White Paper, Guide to Successful MES Replacement, Migration Strategies Explained. To access the white paper in its entirety, go here.

Guide to Successful MES Replacement. Migration Strategies Explained.

Guide to Successful MES Replacement

Why replace a working MES with a new MES? There are many reasons, and they must be sound and significant for most companies to take on such a major endeavor. Industry 4.0 and an array of emerging digital technologies make the prospect of upgrading your MES attractive—taking advantage of new technologies; reducing a ‘hodgepodge’ of applications for a centrally-managed, cohesive application framework; and addressing hardware/software end of life issues with no migration path.

Yet, since the MES manages revenue-producing activities, there is risk associated with migrating the data and processes from an old system to a new MES. It’s crucial to the success of the migration to get all of the affected departments committed and engaged. That begins with creating a strategy that matches the organization’s character.

Migration Strategies Overview

Migration strategies are driven primarily by three factors:

  1. Time: the time it takes from project start to finish, including pre-migration, migration and post-migration phases.
  2. Risk: the amount of risk and risk exposure (probability X cost).
  3. Cost: the cost involved in planning and execution of the selected strategy, including opportunity costs (downtime, team member’s time away from primary job, etc).

These factors must be weighted and analyzed as compared with possible migration strategy alternatives. The weighting depends on the interdependence of the applications (how many interfaces are there between applications and other systems); the level of automation that the MES is responsible for, and lastly the downtime impact that it costs the business for each unit of time that the MES is unavailable. This is reflected in the table below.

Migration Strategy: Types of Deployments

There are three basic types of MES deployments to consider:

  1. The Big Bang. This is a clean sweep approach—the old MES is gone, and a new MES takes its place. This strategy is the most disruptive, but the most direct in effect. There’s no legacy to deal with, no duplicate systems to manage. Many digital transformation projects use the Big Bang approach.
  2. Phased Introduction. This uses a gradual phase-in of the new MES, either by functional business area (packaging, production, inspection), by manufacturing unit (area, step or per equipment); by MES function (resource, labor, equipment management, recipe management) or by Lot.
  3. Parallel Systems. The Old and the New MES are used side-by-side until enough confidence and capability is built in the New MES that the Old can be ‘unplugged.’

Migration Strategies Comparison: Which is Right for You?

Each migration case is unique. Your environment and conditions will help to determine the appropriate migration path. In this table below, we compare the three primary modes, Big Bang, Phased Introduction and Parallel Systems, contrasted by the IT perspectives of Risk, Migration Execution Time and Cost (Effort) in order to guide your choice of deployment. 

The Summary:

Big Bang: Highest risk, shortest migration time and lowest cost

Phased Introduction: The most ‘balanced’ migration strategy from a cost/risk perspective

Parallel Systems: Lowest risk but highest cost strategy

Migration Planning

Regardless of the migration strategy, the responsible team must carry out certain steps for the migration to be successful. It’s first assumed that a vision with clear, measurable priorities are in place. This ‘reference roadmap’ is the starting point for all phases of the technical migration.

The planning should include the following phases:

  • Migration Definition including scope, targets and strategy
  • Migration Preparation includes all activities that must be carried out to enable migration
  • Migration Execution entails how the strategy will be done
  • Migration Closure includes post-migration close down activities

When a multi-site deployment is needed, ideally it’s sound to target a common landscape at the end of the migration, bearing in mind:

  • Each as-is system landscape is different, and so the migration procedure needs to be tailored per-site. As much as possible, maintain what has been developed for one site and re-use for the other sites to retain continuity and standardization of practices, methodology and architecture.
  • The to-be system landscape will likely not be 100% identical site to site. This reflects the specifics of each business and their business processes.

A migration project provides the opportunity to harmonize business processes in addition to IT applications. In the end, you should decide what level of harmonization you’d like to achieve, balancing the agility and flexibility of the individual sites and the corporate need for cost reductions when aligning the systems landscape.

Migration Planning/Definition

This phase is the most important, as it lays the groundwork for all subsequent work. There are three sequences:

  1. Capturing the As-Is System Landscape: all relevant manufacturing applications that are used, their areas of responsibility and interdependencies
  2. Defining the To-Be System Landscape: which applications are targeted for replacement; defining the level of harmonization between new and old applications
  3. Determining the Migration Strategy Definition: how the as-is system will be migrated to the to-be system; considering the migration strategies (big bang, phased or parallel); creating a list of applications to be modified; and applications/utilities that must be developed to enable the migration, along with a list of tasks that must be done (backups, data loading, etc.) for completion

Migration Planning/Preparation

This phase includes the execution of all necessary tasks to enable the migration execution. The activity list includes tasks that can be carried out in parallel, and those that depend on a sequence of events to occur. These activities include:

  1. Systems Setup: this is the infrastructure phase: procuring the hardware/software as well as starting the MES modeling, customization, training, systems integration and application migration activities. 
  2. Integrated testing and validation
  3. Migration rehearsal: proof of concept validation and team familiarization with the new applications/MES

Migration Planning/Execution

This phase includes the execution of all of the activities to carry out the ‘live’ migration. It assumes that the necessary downtime for changeover has been agreed with production. This phase includes:

  1. Roll out and go-live: carrying out the defined sequence steps for roll out and determining when go-live will occur
  2. Monitoring: looking for errors, ensuring that IT and operations are on standby to quickly address problems.
  3. Phase-in/Phase-out: which manufacturing processes are enabled, and retiring the old MES system.
  4. Switch off: for a Parallel strategy, when the old MES is retired and the new MES turned on.
  5. Retirement of migration applications and utilities: the shutdown and removal of middleware, routing and synchronization layers that were introduced to facilitate the migration.

Migration Planning/Closure

The Migration Closure phase consists of all of the activities necessary to properly close down the migration project. It may include activities to activate new functionality from the new MES system. Closure activities include:

  1. Archiving data from the old MES: short and long-term strategies and technology needed for archiving critical MES data
  2. Activating new MES functionality: since most MES migrations target a one to one replacement, this phase allows new functionality to be commissioned
  3. Decommissioning of unnecessary hardware/software: this applies not only to hardware/software related to the old MES, but any application/utility required by the migration.


MES Migration is not for the faint-of-heart. Deep collaboration among all stakeholders is paramount to successfully executing a MES migration. It’s a deliberate, time-consuming activity that’s necessary for most companies to embrace the promises that Industry 4.0 brings of digitization, efficiencies and optimization. However, once done, your ability to compete effectively and profitably can be achieved by easily adapting your operations to changes in demand, opportunity or requirements, anywhere and at any time.