Remediating technical debt: How to ensure your technology investments are fit for purpose

Ever found yourself trawling the internet, researching, seeking, trying to find that magical technical solution that will solve your problem?

If you had the time or the resources maybe you could build it yourself. Maybe if you combined that tool with that other system you could get halfway near what you wanted to do. Perhaps you have enough budget to get 70 percent of the way there, and next year you can invest a little more to bring it up to full functionality. Or maybe another department is chewing your ear off trying to get you to install ‘this great app’ for CMS, procurement or email management, with no regard for integration or existing infrastructure.

IT departments are constantly being asked to improve the range and quality of services they deliver. Be it new technologies arising, the need for businesses to diversify their service offerings, or mergers and acquisitions, IT is under constant pressure to update, change, accommodate and modernise. This pressure, however, often leaves little room for considering existing infrastructure. As a result, projects and programmes can be rushed into the production environment carrying a number of known defects.

All too many businesses find themselves buying and deploying technical solutions that are not fit for purpose. Each tool may seem like a small addition and the known defects easily worked around, however as these add up they are likely to demand significant manual work now, and remediation in the future. As partially effective tool stacks upon incomplete system, the cost to the business is likely to be large. With an app here and a change there businesses are piling up technical debt.

This does not indicate incompetence or even bad intention of the part of IT departments. In most cases, the known defects are intended to be ‘tidied up’ later. However, in reality, ongoing pressure means that focus quickly shifts to new projects and defects are left behind.

>See also: CIOs left in the dark about technology spending outside of IT

Cloud technology is a relatively recent development that has exacerbated the problem of technical debt. The cloud has made IT purchases appear simple and attainable for anyone with access to the company credit card. Vendors are expanding their marketing techniques, going direct to business users to create demand, rather than the old tactics of banging on the door of the IT department.

As a result, businesses are potentially able to procure services without fully assessing their compatibility with current IT infrastructure. Ironically, many businesses actually take on the risk of these imperfect fits because they are concerned that the cost of being left behind exceeds the cost of forging ahead.

The root of this problem – and the issue that businesses need to begin addressing with urgency – is the fact that each imperfect fit is considered as an isolated project without the accumulated risk being assessed. This is at odds with reality. Much like in a game of Tetris, as imperfect fit falls on upon imperfect fit, the risk piles up and the potential cost to the business grows ever larger. Businesses need to maintain awareness of this fact. Once technical debt has accumulated this poses a serious risk that may even culminate in a technical outage.

Often, at this point, we see the remediation work, that once seemed so simple, fall to the bottom of businesses’ priority lists. Instead, they focus on new solutions, which are heralded as the answer to growing inefficiency issues. Unfortunately, though, many businesses have years of technical debt to address, which has compounded into a mass of infrastructures and under-utilised licenses. To remedy the situation, they cannot simply rely on shaky back-filling or papering over the cracks with new solutions.

So what is the right course of action?

To prevent the build up of technical debt, businesses must ensure that each new purchase or implementation is assessed by someone who has visibility of the entire IT landscape and understands the concepts and process associated with the testing total cost of ownership (TTCO). The fact that purchasing is now easier, thanks to developments in cloud technology, is no excuse for businesses to compromise when it comes to decision making.

For those businesses that are already finding themselves undermined by technical debt, employing a strong methodological framework that will support a thorough audit and assessment – such as TTCO – is the key to defining, quantifying and reducing the risk.

Ultimately, businesses must face technical debt square on – even if that means sorting through a labyrinth of past purchases – to bring IT back under control. 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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Technical debt