How to Climb the Technical Debt Mountain
October 5, 2021
At a glance
- An impediment to growth: One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is technical debt and its impact on the bottom line, efficiency and productivity.
- Tackle debt before it snowballs: IT leaders must take a measured approach to eliminating technical debt in order to scale and grow sustainably.
- Next steps: Aprio can provide the unbiased, third-party expertise you need to identify technical debt challenges and develop tactical strategies to address them.
The full story:
For many organizations, there is a symbiotic relationship between technology and growth.
As companies expand their services, add on more staff and increase their revenue and profitability, they often make more investments in technology to help support the growth of their business. But over time, some technology investments can actually become more of a burden than a benefit.
Why? The reason is technical debt.
What is technical debt?
Put simply, technical debt is what accrues when a company selects digital solutions that do not fit into its big-picture, long-term digital strategy. The technology world is ever evolving and moves rapidly, and many companies do not invest in refreshing their tech solutions in a timely way.
This often leads to additional work, or rework, that accumulates over time and creates many barriers to growth, since technology solutions don’t align with where the company wants to go over the long term. Many companies that struggle with technical debt deal with breakdowns in processes and communication, which ultimately result in customer complaints, service failures and more. Overall, technical debt costs companies valuable time, resources, loyalty and trust.
How does technical debt affect a business’s bottom line?
Recent studies show that technical debt is a major issue in IT management — not only from a reputational standpoint, but from a cost perspective. According to a survey report developed by OutSystems, seven in 10 IT leaders say technical debt fundamentally limits their ability to innovate, while 61% say that it is a drag on company performance. What’s more, businesses devote 28% of their IT budgets to addressing technical debt, compared to the 33% they devote to innovation, according to the same report.
In other words: companies are spending more time and money on fixing the issues caused by the wrong tech solutions than they are on developing new solutions that will generate growth for the business.
Aside from the huge cost implications, technical debt is also a time suck for valuable and talented IT staff members. The accumulation of technical debt means staff focuses most of their time on patching old problems and troubleshooting persistent issues, which can lead to frustration, disillusionment and burnout.
And now, as companies deal with the ramifications of a tight labor market and the pressure to compete for the best IT talent, technical debt will become even more of a barrier to entry. It could also slow down, or halt, digital transformation in an age where innovation and efficiency are the utmost priorities.
What can businesses do to eliminate technical debt?
Unfortunately, reducing or eliminating technical debt altogether is not as simple as letting go of legacy, problematic systems or processes. After all, finding short-term solutions to long-term needs is what creates technical debt in the first place.
First and foremost, you should enlist the help of an expert technologist or technology team that can help you develop a comprehensive strategy for trimming technical debt and finding better, more sustainable solutions.
You should also address some of the core, foundational issues in your organization that triggered your technical debt challenges. Respondents to OutSystems’s survey cited some of the following as the biggest triggers of technical debt:
- Turnover within IT, software development and internal technology teams
- Technical challenges in serving new markets or segments
- Governance and regulatory defects due to new regulations
- Incorrect architectural decisions
Solutions may include:
- Leverage more cloud technology for scalability
- Build in more technology refresh cycles
- Create a more holistic digital strategy
Of course, these lists are far from exhaustive, and your organization could face an entirely different set of technical debt challenges. Regardless of what your unique issues may be, the main benefit of working with an expert team to eliminate technical debt is they can provide an unbiased, outside perspective on your situation and help you prioritize the top challenges you face so you can develop realistic solutions to resolve them.
The bottom line
If you’re staring at a mountain of technical debt and feeling daunted wondering how you’re going to tackle it all, pause and take a step back. Aprio’s Digital Transformation and Cybersecurity Advisory team can support you in developing an action plan that allows you to eliminate technical debt in a measured, realistic and cost-effective manner.
Click here to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our team today.
 “The Growing Threat of Technical Debt,” OutSystems, 2021, accessed September 1, 2021.
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About the Author
Jeff Kramer is Aprio's Executive Vice President of Digital Transformation Advisory and Cybersecurity | Specializing in providing managed IT solutions and advisory services to small, medium and large businesses in manufacturing, consumer products and insurance. In an evolving world, Jeff is there to provide ever-adapting solutions to meet any client needs.