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Escaping the technical debt trap

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John DuqueApplication Services Business Owner, North America
The road is curvy.

Technical debt isn’t necessarily something your organisation needs to avoid. Just like financial debt in your personal life can help you pay for important things like a house or college, your business might take on technical debt – for example, by using code development shortcuts or by delaying infrastructure updates – to quickly shut down an old data centre or to meet a project delivery deadline.

But it’s important to manage your technical debt and make sure it doesn’t hurt your business. You can do this by modernising your applications for the cloud. SoftwareOne has helped many organisations reduce their technical debt by guiding them on their cloud migration journey.

McKinsey defines technical debt as the "off-balance-sheet accumulation of all the technology work a company needs to do in the future," while the Agile Alliance describes it simply as "the friction in rolling out new features."

Updating applications and rolling out new features always takes time and effort. But it’s more difficult when previous teams have taken shortcuts or when previous old practices grow out of date. That’s where the friction comes in: it means you must now spend time and money solving problems caused by these past decisions. It’s paying interest on technical debt, rather than being able to invest in innovations that drive the business forward.

An Accenture survey found that 70% of C-suite executives believe that technical debt severely limits their IT function’s ability to innovate and 72% said it limits their ability to migrate to new technologies. CIOs surveyed by McKinsey said that 10–20% of their technology budgets for new tech instead winds up diverted to resolving technical debt issues.

There are many kinds of technical debt. It can be found in source code, infrastructure, systems architecture, data models for databases, processes and practices and in user experience as well. And it develops for many reasons. Maybe the teams building an app don’t fully understand the organisation’s overall business strategy, so make decisions based on wrong assumptions. Maybe management is pushing for strict project deadlines, leaving developers feeling like they have no choice but to let good practices slide. Debt can also be introduced when new technologies and systems are integrated into a company’s infrastructure, particularly during mergers and acquisitions. But debt also arises naturally, as old technologies and practices grow out of date.

How does technical debt impact your business?

Technical debt has many impacts, but the biggest is on innovation. The more time and effort your teams spend dealing with technical debt – old code that doesn’t meet modern best practices, poorly integrated infrastructure, misaligned architecture – the less they’re able to innovate to help the business grow.

It affects productivity too. When employees don’t have the functionality they need, it’s harder to work efficiently or keep up with the competition. Customers will also notice this, so customer satisfaction suffers.

Then there are other impacts. In a market already short of good developers, organisations that are struggling to innovate because of technical debt will have trouble recruiting and retaining new talent. This damages morale, too.

Businesses with high levels of technical debt will also find it harder to integrate new services and capabilities, or to free data from silos to draw out valuable insights for growth. Over the long term, technical debt can even increase the risk of system failures.

How can you manage technical debt?

Getting technical debt under control starts by raising awareness. When people in your organisation understand what technical debt is and how it can hurt the business, they can better focus on managing it.

Next, examine your current environment and identify which technical debt to tackle first. This means prioritising the processes that your organisation needs to innovate to achieve its business goals, then identifying the applications and technology that support those processes. Analyse these closely and create plans to remediate debt in these areas.

As you start paying off critical technical debt, watch out for new debt and adopt processes to prevent it. For example, be sure to analyse any new code to avoid introducing apps that don’t follow good practices.

How modernising for the cloud can help you repay debt?

You can reduce technical debt by moving applications to the cloud. But this doesn’t usually mean a simple lift and shift. For example, you might need to refactor some source code first to make sure apps use cloud-native services. Migrating to the cloud might also require you to change the compute engine for your app and embrace serverless technology, or to adopt a new API strategy to break open silos and make data available to every part of your organisation.

The cloud can make it easier to implement automation, DevOps, continuous delivery and other modern software engineering practices. But you need to migrate in a methodical way to optimize your outcomes.

SoftwareOne has helped many businesses reduce technical debt by moving to the cloud. We start by analysing your current business drivers and architecture to identify the gaps between the two. We also examine your application source code to discover lapses in best practices and areas that need updating.

Next, we can organise a workshop to understand where technical debt lies in your business processes. We’ll then use the 7 Rs framework to suggest the best options for your migration: relocate, rehost, replatform, refactor, relicense, retire, retain.

After this, we’ll define the best cloud architecture for your applications and develop a modernisation plan, complete with information about total cost of ownership and return on investment. Although a move to the cloud can reduce costs, remember that’s not the main goal here: the biggest benefit will come from reducing innovation friction so you can innovate faster and grow your business.

After modernising, testing and migrating your applications, we can provide ongoing support to ensure you control technical debt and stay fit for future business needs.

To learn more about SoftwareOne’s Application Modernisation Services, or to start a conversation about reducing your technical debt, get in touch with us today.

Technical debt does not need to be avoided, and it doesn’t spell the end for a company. Like regular debt, when managed it can open up avenues for investment for a business. SoftwareOne can help you manage and diminish your technical debt, preventing it from harming your business.

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Get cloud guidance from the pros. Contact us today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our cloud experts.


A man wearing a suit and a blue shirt.

John Duque
Application Services Business Owner, North America

Digital Transformation, Application Modernization