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Technical Debt: A Cost You Can Plan For, Manage and Resolve

Steve Denby

Head of Sales Enablement

Technical debt isn’t necessarily a problem unless you don’t know how to manage it. If you don’t and you procrastinate too long, it accumulates more and more interest – becoming harder, more time-consuming and increasingly more expensive to resolve.

Put simply, we are talking about the debt incurred when technology investment is delayed with an ‘it will do for now’ attitude. When it won’t do for later, it invariably creates a challenge that needs putting right at some future point, sometimes at great cost. The more instances of this a business has, the more debt it owns.

Often, the creation of technical debt is a short-term strategy. It is created intentionally if the speed at which a business needs to get something to market outweighs the importance of getting it 100 percent right. This short-term focus drives a low cost ‘bolt-on’ mind set, which eventually ties the business up in high-support and maintenance costs, with a complex array of systems which aren’t designed to fit together.

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." – Theodore Roosevelt

We don’t want to be too critical about bootstrapped IT though. Many of the businesses that create technical debt as part of a short-term fix, to complete tasks quickly, on limited funds, are the ones who grasp new opportunities as they become available.

The plan in these instances is to get the product/service or solution to market; then in less busy times, improve and fine tune the original technology; transitioning to a more suitable solution. Long term, this is a costlier method, but when you are entering a market, or you don’t yet know what your final product or service will look like, it sometimes feels like the only way forward and can still offer ROI.

The intention is always to go back and tidy up later, but this rarely happens due to the speed that demands are placed on technology departments to continually deliver new solutions.. Everything needs to be completed at pace.

For some businesses, so many levels of debt accumulate from different projects, it becomes too complex or expensive to fix inhouse without disruption to the business. Something you clearly want to consider when making these strategic decisions.

Unintentional technical debt is a different story. It arises from ill-thought-out implementation and ‘Shadow IT’, driven by limited innovation or a lack of communication between different business functions. It usually becomes far bigger a future problem than planned technical debt, as there is less transparency or awareness of its existence. It’s a poor foundation you are unknowingly building your house on and, because it’s a slowly creeping problem, by the time you identify it’s there, it may be too late to transform your way out of it.

If you do have technical debt, the most important thing is that you are aware of it (and any critical dates it needs to be resolved by). If you feel it cannot be resolved internally, you should approach a provider who can help manage the debt and limit the interest which continues to incur, without impacting your critical business functions. A great provider will work strategically, and to your budget, and has achieved this with similar businesses many times before.

At Node4, not only are we experienced in helping businesses to shed their technical debt, we also have the portfolio and services gateway to help our customers avoid incurring anymore. This means that they can adapt and develop at the speed that is necessary to remain at the top of their game without creating tech that they know will have to be revisited at great financial cost and hassle later on; continually looking forward and not forever looking back.

Taking control of your current systems and thinking innovatively about how your business can leverage emerging technology is the ‘Doing the Right Thing’ moment that leads to success and gaining that competitive edge in your market.