Is Technical Debt a Ticking Time Bomb for Your Company?
While debt can be a useful tool for funding your organization (Green House Data is in fact currently leveraging debt as part of our expansion plans), you need to have a payment plan and carefully manage your debt in order to continue solvency. No business owner who wants to succeed would ignore debt and just hope it sorts itself out, or pay only the minimum required to avoid bankruptcy.
Technical debt shouldn’t be ignored, either. The term refers to the practice of putting off critical infrastructure or software upgrades. Out of date systems pile up — whether it’s your overall systems architecture, an aging switch that can’t handle new network speeds, or an application that only runs on 32-bit servers — and become a mess of band-aided solutions that are ready to fall apart at any moment.
Executives should take technical debt seriously. When your CTO or IT Manager tells you they need to focus budget and staff on reducing technical debt, it’s time to listen.
Technical Debt is Real Debt
I know. You might need to go into actual debt in order to avoid technical debt. Business executives outside the IT department often focus on the bottom line dollar signs. But “Are we on schedule for the new software release?” will quickly turn into “The rollout was a mess and our customers are furious!” if you continue to ignore technical debt.
Usually technical debt is discussed in the software development world. It refers to caving into the pressure to just get a product out the door rather than crafting strong code. Eventually the codebase itself is too messy for developers to reach their goals without spending significant time and resources on band-aid solutions in order to get the new features working.
But technical debt can extend throughout your IT operations to hardware, network design, and other software, too.
Technical debt is not an IT problem, it is a business problem. Much like cloud computing is more about a business paradigm than a technology shift, addressing technical debt requires smart business practices on the part of your leadership. It isn’t about anyone being at fault or costing you money. IT services are a core piece of your operations. Ignore them at your peril.
Your engineers and admins will be increasingly frustrated if you force them to stopgap solutions instead of granting some budget and time to upgrade critical systems and pay down technical debt.
Make a Payment Plan for Technical Debt
You can start to catch future technical debt early. It is rare that a system will suddenly fail or a vendor will cease to support a specific architecture at the drop of a hat.
For example, Windows Server 2008 is facing an End of Life date of January 14, 2020. After this date, the OS will cease to be supported with new patches, leaving a critical security hole. Similarly, Microsoft is phasing out 32-bit architectures — as is Apple for iOS, and even distributions of Linux. That means 32-bit software may not work in the future.
While the thought of upgrading to new software might sound painful, or dedicating a valuable engineer to cleaning up old code for a few weeks might delay your new software features, or the expense of buying new servers means you can’t afford a company outing this quarter…it’s all still better than losing customers due to technical problems. Cutting corners on updates only leads to increased costs that may not be directly tangible, but still have a more dramatic effect on your bottom line than springing for the updates.
Start planning for your technical debt today. Have software developers and engineers highlight messy code that could become a problem later. Instruct managers to document processes that may need to change. Allow your technical staff to have a voice at planning meetings, so they can describe what critical issues may need to be addressed before a business objective can be completed successfully.