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Why addressing technical debt is important for businesses

Why addressing technical debt is important for businesses


Rupert Colbourne, CTO at Orbus Software, details the important concept of technical debt and its critical impact on an organization's agility and innovation. Based on industry insights, Rupert offers actionable strategies to overcome and alleviate this pressing challenge.

As the tax deadline passes, there's another threat that many organizations would like to bury their heads in and die: technical debt. Technical debt is the investment required to fix problems in legacy software, a long-standing issue that limits agility and incurs significant costs. The rush to move to the cloud during the pandemic and the continued emphasis on release speed have greatly contributed to the problem.

Increased technical debt is inevitable. However, if left unchecked, change efforts can be hampered. Maintaining legacy software can be costly, reduce agility, and stifle innovation. The situation is even worse in regulated industries, where outdated systems and inflexible software are common.

Technical debt headache

Gartner Opens in a new window defines technical debt as “the unpaid amount that an organization must spend to pay for digital technology in order to continue operating.”

According to McKinsey, 40% of the IT balance sheetOpens in new window is allocated to technical debt, and 30% of CIOs say more than 20% of their new product budgets are spent solving problems caused by technical debt. I admit that I am.

It is important to maintain the level. If your debt is too high, you will need a large budget to solve the problem. Conversely, eradicating technical debt can leave your organization slow to respond to the market. Therefore, organizations need to find the sweet spot that intersects with strategic software and application modernization.

IT teams should focus on ensuring that existing software and systems are resilient, secure, and future-proof. Technical debt can cause many problems, including software vulnerabilities, and lead to cybersecurity failures. A prime example of not knowing what will happen is the Southwest Airlines meltdown, which resulted in the cancellation of more than 13,000 flights during the peak holiday season.

There is no doubt that CIOs need to take action to ease their burden. Otherwise, you will struggle to modernize your operations or invest in new technology. Below are some steps to address the growing problem.

1. Track and monitor technical debt

Many organizations are unaware of their technical debt, so understanding the magnitude of the problem is paramount. Companies should establish parameters for acceptable levels so that they can strive to ensure that their debt remains within agreed boundaries. To do this, you need to use specific tools to categorize and track them. Companies understand their risks and can manage them by measuring and monitoring their technical debt ratios to keep them within acceptable limits.

Developers can use code inspection analyzers to scan and report potential technical debts discovered. It is then tracked, prioritized, and remediated as part of a continuous lifecycle to ensure secure and scalable software. For example, if a bank is implementing fraud detection functionality that requires software to be shipped quickly, developers may be rushing to meet deadlines. Gate-check monitoring ensures that quality is not compromised by poor design or implementation decisions. Investing in monitoring tools may have an initial cost, but it will pay off.

2. Define the architecture

Creating an organizational architecture provides a framework for managing, supporting, and securing your technology. Examples include enterprise architecture for aligning business goals with IT, technology architecture for designing IT infrastructure including cloud service applications, and integration architecture for developing robust applications with interoperability in mind. and so on. If the new solution does not support that approach, you should not proceed. Over time, the framework can evolve to support the changing needs of your business. Following a consistent architecture reduces the amount of debt you incur and accelerates the pace of development.

3. Adopt the cloud and update legacy software

One way to help build resilience is to move legacy software to the cloud. This makes it easier to pay off technical debt incurred over time. Additionally, it can be maintained using modern software development approaches.

Southwest Airlines' failure to modernize its crew scheduling software led to the aforementioned disruption, which resulted in a record $140 million fine. Since then, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have announced they will modernize their operations and move to the cloud.

Learn more: Technical debt: How to tame the sleeping giant of your DevOps team

4. Treat technical debt as a business risk

Technical debt is often seen only as an IT problem. But it's an organization-wide issue. Consider the example of Southwest Airlines, where technical debt affected all stakeholders. By viewing this as a risk, companies understand the problem and the potential consequences of not addressing it. This brought the issue to the attention of leadership, making it easier to secure funding and resources to reduce exposure.

As outlined, visualizing and tracking technical debt makes it easier for everyone to understand the scale of the problem and its impact on the organization. Understanding the interest costs in specific business areas creates a culture of shared responsibility and keeps it firmly on leadership's radar.

5. Automated software testing is a must

For decades, software development has focused on releasing the minimum viable product. But the obsession with speed is driving up levels of technical debt. To curb this, IT departments need to focus more on quality. AI-powered test automation helps you identify, predict, and fix problems before releasing software. Continuously monitoring applications in production improves quality and prevents updates from causing problems.

For example, when a bank releases a new mobile app for its customers, automated tests can be used to check the code and the overall experience for different types of users. AI testing solutions continually look for and fix bugs to ensure a high-quality experience. This minimizes the risk of customer churn due to pushing apps or defective software updates.

Expand the mountain of debt

Modernizing systems and applications is a priority for businesses, regardless of industry. However, reducing the burden of technical debt is essential to long-term success. By following the steps outlined here, organizations can tackle the problem head-on and strive to build an agile and resilient enterprise.

How does your organization handle technical debt? Share your insights with us on FacebookOpens in a new window, XOpens in a new window, and LinkedInOpens in a new window. We look forward to hearing from you!

Image source: Shutterstock

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