How to pay off your technical debt -- and why you should
Financial management is crucial as personal and business expenditures grow. Understanding where efficiency can be boosted and where costs can be cut is vital for a positive business cash flow. Something which may be overlooked is your technical debt.
Here we explore how to know whether you are facing technical debt, how it might be harming your business, and how to get out of it.
Understanding what technical debt is
When you choose technology that’s convenient for short-term outcomes, you accumulate technical debt, incurring additional resources and time needed to rectify issues caused by choosing technology which isn’t effective for your business.
By choosing cheaper and faster options, you could actually be harming your investments. Poorly chosen IT systems can lead to suboptimal performance and infrastructure, which leads to problems further down the line. While in the short term you may avoid lengthy and complex set-up times, ill-suited technology could put your company at risk of increased downtime, a weakened competitive edge, and reduced productivity.
An example of a sudden change which led to technical debt was the shift to remote working over the last three years. With 59 percent of workers preferring to work in a hybrid model, it is more important than ever to have efficient IT systems and management which can accommodate this evolution in working patterns.
However, due to the speed of these work changes and unsuitable IT preparations for remote working, many companies found they had to create workarounds strategies in order to complete work. These quick changes, while appropriate for the time, are now harming your company’s progression and proving themselves as ill-fitting strategies for long-term business.
Equally, choosing to alter old technology when investing in new systems would be a beneficial move -- it could actually be causing you technical debt.
By over-customizing old systems, you could be spending a larger amount of time updating than if you invested in technology fit for purpose. This will ultimately leave you accumulating more time and money debt to maintain old technology. And as such, this technical debt drains your company’s time, money, and resources unnecessarily.
What problems are you risking with technical debt?
- Reduced performance
Updating and customizing old technology can lead to long implementation periods and therefore, large disruption times. Adopting a rip-and-replace method can make renewing systems difficult. The performance of your technology diminishes with each change made. This also means that when a system issue occurs, it takes longer to troubleshoot and resolve than it originally did.
- Productivity loss
Attempting to implement technology quickly or at a low cost can lead to oversights. You may be using multiple methods to accomplish tasks that new technology could streamline into one system. Your flexibility and scalability are also compromised when in technical debt. Not only does update time make expansion difficult but keeping ahead of market trends through complex data coding also becomes increasingly more difficult to accomplish with outdated technology. Your workers are losing time inputting data into multiple entry points and contacting IT support, rather than accomplishing their work.
- The cost of IT support
Dealing with tech issues can mount rising costs, overtime, and resources. When your systems aren’t working as they should, your team must spend more time contacting IT support and your IT department must make temporary fixes to keep up the workflow of your business. Businesses can experience a total of 14 hours downtime annually. This will result in rising costs for your company as more issues arise.
- Reduces security
From data loss and leaks to viruses and hacking, keeping outdated technology could pose security and productivity concerns for your company. Aged systems will receive updates, patches, and developer support less frequently than new systems. This will result in a host of problems for your business to have to combat, all of which add to tech downtime lengths as your IT department attempts to combat the issues.
This can also lead to risks such as your company’s compliance with GDPR regulations. Data confidentiality is important for all companies, and as such, it must remain a priority. System leaks, including personal data on staff and clients, can make your company liable and threaten your business’ reputation.
Correcting your technical debt
Technical debt should be viewed in the same way any monetary debt would be. It is an issue which is solved in the long-term rather than the immediate future. While the threats described above can be worrying, understanding that you need to take a strategic approach is important. Technical debt accumulates through the speed-based decision, and so correcting this issue involves long-term strategies.
Understand your position
Working alongside your IT department or outsourced support to discover the issues underlining your IT performance is the first step in solving technical debt.
Create a plan
After establishing the issues, prioritize which are causing your company the most problems in relation to time, security, and productivity. Would it be beneficial to work gradually and add systems such as Microsoft 365 into your current tech packages? Would this streamline work, or do you need to completely overhaul your main management system?
By establishing what needs to be corrected, how you are going to correct these, and ordering these jobs from most to least important, you can create a plan to tackle the immediate issues while attempting to create minimal disruption.
Understand what is on offer and how this can be customized to your company and its progression. Finding services which provide technical support and regularly update systems could be beneficial in solving your technical debt. Understand how your team works, what would be best for the work you produce, and what is available.
Remember, this is not a quick fix. Instead, this could take a number of years to rectify, but the time and money investment will be worthwhile to see productivity increase. Throughout the adjustments, whether they are large changes or small, make sure you are conducting thorough research into management systems. Repeatedly analyze what is working for you and what isn’t and adjust as necessary.
Barry O’Donnell is Chief Technology Officer at TSG.