Debt: It’s a four-letter word with a huge impact. And in our technology-driven world, there’s more than one way to accrue it.
There’s financial debt and there’s technical debt — or tech debt. Whereas financial debt is the accumulation of money you’ve already spent, tech debt refers to the off-balance-sheet accumulation of money you’ll need to spend on IT work in the future.
Tech debt is the result of a range of practices. This can include:
- Making temporary IT fixes that inevitably become permanent
- Not updating solutions that eventually become outdated
- Favoring fast technology delivery over long-term benefits
- Implementing one-off solutions to meet business priorities
If your organization is hamstrung by tech debt, you’re not alone. According to the Insight-commissioned annual Foundry survey, tech debt ranks as the #3 challenge to digital transformation in 2023.1 In fact, 86% of organizations have been impacted by tech debt over the past 12 months.2
Here’s what that impact can look like:
- Reduced ROI for modernization
- Increased maintenance costs
- Decreased productivity
- Quality and reliability issues
- Lack of agility
In this blog, we’ll go over the five most common causes of tech debt that could be stifling innovation at your organization.
1. Rushed decision-making
Sometimes the drive to modernization is urgent. This often means that technology decisions are made with the short-term goal of solving that urgent need, leading to faster releases that could incur heavy penalties in the future. As an example, a technology feature that works for a small number of users might not work well once the feature gets wide acceptance and the user base grows.
In other words, deploying technology too quickly leaves your organization vulnerable to blind spots. When teams cut corners to expedite delivery on a project, this creates problems with your IT environment that must be fixed in the future, diverting attention and resources away from other strategic initiatives.
2. IT skill and resource gaps
It’s not just technology issues that can add to tech debt. It’s people issues, too. After all, what’s key to implementing the best technology solution for your organization? Having the right people to do it. When there’s skill or resource availability gaps in your organization, you’re more liable to adopt unnecessary tools, misallocate resources, and focus on short-term problems rather than long-term solutions.
3. Inflexible legacy architecture
Challenges lurking in the architecture of legacy IT systems can make integrating new products and capabilities difficult — and costly. Rushed decision-making often lands organizations in this situation. Legacy issues that can pose a challenge to innovation and generate tech debt include:
- Outdated hosting environments
- Inflexible software code
- Point-to-point integrations
- End-of-Support (EOS) or End-of-Life (EOL) technologies
- Poor data quality and access
- Time-consuming manual processes
4. Failure to implement DevSecOps
The key word for #4 on our list is properly. That’s because the reality is tech debt can happen with and without DevSecOps. In other words, the reason you have tech debt in a non-DevOps shop is not because you don't have DevOps, but because you are using old tech stacks that weren't architected properly, were implemented on technology that's no longer relevant or updated, were created with the wrong development paradigm, or many other reasons. DevSecOps accelerates the process of eliminating existing tech debt by accelerating the development process. However, if you are not careful about how you implement DevSecOps, you can accelerate new tech debt by way of poor technology decisions or the wrong development model. In effect, you have gone from something super old and crusty to something new and shiny that won't survive the test of time.
That said, because it is impossible to have perfect visibility when implementing DevSecOps, optimal decisions today can easily become suboptimal in the future due to changes to your environment, the business landscape, or even your consumers’ expectations. When past rational decisions become irrational with the current environment, this creates tech debt. A strong DevSecOps strategy relies on constantly re-evaluating the decisions you made in the past with the information you have now, as well as with your best predictions for the near and far future. This allows you to build a platform that provides your developers the velocity to create value, a secure-by-design system ready to adapt to future threats, a fiscally responsible way of operating, and the springboard for eradicating the tech debt in your environment.
A strong DevSecOps strategy accelerates your innovation-to-deployment timeline by bringing unification to siloed teams and processes. With DevSecOps, you can securely automate software testing as well as technical documentation in development workflows. If you’ve yet to implement DevSecOps, a lack of technical documentation and insufficient software testing — both easy ways to cut corners when up against a tight deadline or budget — could be sources of tech debt for your organization.
Tech debt should be accumulated and managed with the same level of intent as financial debt. Organizations, especially startups, often need to assume some financial debt in order to grow their business. The same principle goes for tech debt. Just as your organization can consciously take on financial debt, you could choose to strategically leverage some tech debt to gain market share. When this happens, it is important — and easier said than done — to actively manage that tech debt through regular technological payments so that it does not spiral out of control.
Tackling tech debt with Insight
Almost every organization has tech debt — what matters is knowing how to identify, measure, and manage it. At Insight, our experts can assess where your organization is being held back by tech debt and how to overcome it, so that you can spend more time thinking innovatively about the future.
For more information about how Insight can help your organization overcome tech debt, you can contact us here.
1 MarketPulse Research by Foundry Research Services. (February 2023). The Path to Digital Transformation: Where Leaders Stand in 2023. Slide 14. Commissioned by Insight.
2 MarketPulse Research by Foundry Research Services. (February 2023). The Path to Digital Transformation: Where Leaders Stand in 2023. Slide 16. Commissioned by Insight.