Technical Debt – Why it’s important to pay it off
With costs rising across the board, many business leaders are taking time to look critically at their business operations and identify any areas for cost cutting and efficiency building. One area that is vital to analyse is whether or not you are in technical debt – and how it might be putting your business at risk.
What is technical debt?
When speed or economy is the top priority for implementing or maintaining an IT system, shortcuts are often taken and a suboptimal tech infrastructure can be the result. The debt, then, is the time and resource that will need to be invested in order to rectify the issues caused by technology that is a poor fit for the company.
Opting for the faster or cheaper choice can be tempting in the short term; you may get the benefit much more quickly than if you had gone for a more complex or expensive investment. However, short term gains can quickly be overtaken by the disadvantages that ill-suited tech has on your company’s business performance – productivity degradation, increased risk of downtime, and lost competitive edge.
For instance, when lockdowns were announced in March 2020, and everyone who was not a key worker was required to work from home, it was vital that businesses set up the IT infrastructure for remote working as soon as possible. However, because of the time constraints, many businesses ended up with clunky workarounds that did what was needed in the moment, but now are proving to be a poor fit for the business long-term.
Another example is choosing to minimise outlay and customise an old system when new features or tools are needed, instead of investing a new one. This allows you to carry on operating with minimal disruption caused by the implementation process, but over time you can end up with a system so over-customised that updating it is a far larger investment than opting for a new system would have been in the first instance.
Left unresolved, you accrue more “interest” – that is, as your technology ages, more resource is needed to keep it running, which, when the tech itself is not the perfect fit anyway, is a bit like throwing good money after bad. As the costs to maintain outdated tech can soon outstrip the investment of new IT solutions, technical debt can become a black hole in your business that sucks in resources and hampers your business’ growth.
What are the risks of technical debt?
Quick workarounds and customisations can make renewing your systems difficult, as it can mean you need to take a “rip and replace” approach, which means a big disruption and a long implementation period.
This often results in systems being kept and continually customised whenever an issue occurs, meaning the system itself is often in use for far longer than it should be. As it ages, its performance diminishes, tasks take longer, and your business suffers as a result.
Decreased productivity and agility
Technology that has been implemented or customised in a hurry or at a low cost often has issues with integration, or doesn’t work as smoothly as solutions that require larger initial investments. This transfers to your team, who are likely to end up spending inordinate amounts of time battling with the technology, contacting IT support, and inputting data into multiple systems, instead of focussing their energies on adding value to your business.
Agility also suffers, as scalability, flexibility, and seamless integrations deteriorate when in technical debt. Workarounds and complex coding make reacting to market trends and opportunities, and using data to make smarter decisions, incredibly difficult.
Increased support costs
When the tech in your business doesn’t work as well as it should, support costs can mount. When dealing with customised systems and coding that is either overly complex or not as exact as it should be, it follows that your team will be in contact with IT support a lot, and your IT department will be spending large amounts of time fixing issues and building in more workarounds to keep everything afloat.
As systems age and developers discontinue support, you’re missing out on security updates and patches to combat the ever-evolving security threats that place your company’s systems at risk. This leads to a host of problems, from viruses and data loss to leaks and hacks. All of these things can contribute to your business’s critical systems suffering downtime while your IT partner tries to recover your data and remove the threat.
With security risks come dangers to your compliancy with different legislation, including GDPR rules. If your system suffers a leak, the personal data of your clients and staff can fall into the wrong hands, and you will be liable for the lapse in data security.
How to pay off your technical debt
While the risks are alarming, it’s important to resist the urge to tackle everything all at once. Be strategic about how you approach fixing the problems within your IT architecture and and see it as a long term investment rather than a quick fix.
Review the situation.
Speak to your IT team and find out exactly what the issues are and what kind of problems they are causing.
Look at the issues and work out how much “interest” each problem is costing. Prioritise the easiest and biggest impact jobs first, and push low impact, complex jobs to the bottom of the list.
Make a plan of action.
Does your technical debt repayment require a complete overhaul of your main management systems? Or is it more appropriate for your business to make improvements gradually over time? Make sure you conduct thorough research regarding what’s available and what could work best for your team, as well as looking carefully at the cost comparisons over a number of years in relation to what you’re paying now to maintain your current system.
The changes you consider through analysing your technical debt are potentially revolutionary for your business, so it’s important to choose the right solutions that will remove your debt and drive your business forward. Getting advice from IT specialists is a smart way to go, and can reveal new options for you that bring business building benefits.
At TSG, we’re experts in helping businesses select the right tech stack for them, helping them to eliminate Technical debt and build an IT ecosystem that enhances their business. Get in touch today to see how our team can help you.