Technical debt — are companies taking out the software development equivalent of payday loans

It’s a bit like the software development equivalent of a payday loan. When an organisation chooses an easy and less optimal software solution, it incurs what has become known as technical debt — its value equates to the cost of any additional re-work required to software to bring it up to scratch.

Just like monetary debt, technical debt can accumulate something analogous to interest — the cost of the re-work rises, compounding over time, just like compound interest.

It’s a significant issue too. At least it’s a significant issue among 84% of organisations, according to research by technology services provider Claranet.

The survey questioned 100 IT decision-makers from UK-based businesses with more than 1,000 employees.

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Despite widespread recognition of technical debt challenges, the survey found:

  • more than eight in ten respondents (84) do not have an active reduction programme in place
  • and close to a fifth (19%) want to reduce their legacy technology but do not have a clear plan of action on how to do this.

You can sense the frustration. 48% said their non-technical colleagues do not understand the financial impact that technical debt can have on the organisation, with 45% reporting that they only have a rudimentary understanding of the concept.

Technical debt can limit an organisations ability to respond quickly to customer demand with new software feature releases.

“Part of the solution to this problem is to create a quality-focused culture,” said Alex McLoughlin, Head of Solution Design at Claranet. Explaining further, he said: “There’s a clear need to raise awareness in this area and to also encourage closer collaboration between technical teams working in Development, Operations and Security, and to state the business case for non-technical colleagues.”

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He continued: “Limiting technical debt is all about maintaining the quality of your code. Poor quality can lead to systems that are difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to change and potentially less secure. That’s not a position any business wants to find itself in, especially when fast, iterative improvements are often needed to serve customers most effectively.

“With many companies now working to a complex Hybrid Cloud strategy and starting to benefit from an Infrastructure as Code approach, the issue of technical debt goes beyond the development team.

He concluded: “Adopting a philosophy like DevSecOps, and taking an ‘as-code’ approach to security and infrastructure, can help unite teams around a common purpose of maintaining quality systems. Do it right and businesses will be in a better position to quickly adapt to market conditions, stay secure, and build a stronger competitive advantage.”

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Michael Baxter

.Michael Baxter is a tech, economic and investment journalist. He has written four books, including iDisrupted and Living in the age of the jerk. He is the editor of and the host of the ESG...

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