TOT 010:

Is Your Technical Debt Bill Due?

John Barker
Sept 24, 2023
Read Time: 5 Minutes

Technical debt that in recent times has been more associated with software development.  I reject that narrow definition.  Technical debt is a term that can apply to all technology within your company.  Technical debt is the compromise you’ve made with your technology now.  Compromises now will lead to problems down the road.  This stems from two key constraints: time and money.

You want to get a product to market fast, so you cut some corners early on for a speedy launch.  The program breaks under heavy load using outdated coding techniques. Your funding is tight now, so you try to squeeze a few more years out of that aging hardware.  Your team experiences costly and regular downtime. The debt and interest will continue to mount and the cost to resolve it continues to grow.

In 2019 I was doing a volunteer project for a local chamber of commerce.  I was doing some research when I found some very basic errors with a prominent resource.  These are classified as entry level technical and security risks. I secured a meeting a with the senior leaders and technical team.  It did not go well.

I had an hour-long meeting.  Technical strategy principles were nonexistent.  New project designs were from 10 years in the past.  Automated processes we take for granted where still paper and pencil.  I discovered that the hardware equipment was supported even after the manufacturer stopped.  By years.  The technical team loved more support tickets.  More support tickets were better.  They said it demonstrated their worth.

The team said it wasn’t worth their time to even ask about upgrading anything.  Their primary goal was to leave the office by 5.  This was said out loud.

I was livid.
This situation was a lost cause.
You want to avoid this situation.
Here’s a few consequences and how to manage your technical debt.

The Silent Consequences

1. Performance Bottlenecks
Technical debt can manifest in various ways. One of the most noticeable is a decline in website performance. As your site gets bigger and more people visit it, old parts slow it down. Slow loading, unresponsive pages, and frequent crashes happen. Core software that is no longer supported will break.
Aging hosting platforms with outdated hardware performance.  Database servers that have not been managed all lead to less optimal performances.

  1. Security Vulnerabilities
    In the era of cyber threats, security should be a paramount concern for your online presence. Technical debt often leaves doors open for cybercriminals. Hackers can take advantage of outdated plugins, unpatched software, and poorly written code. The result? Data breaches can cause significant legal and financial problems.
    Users will begin to find their own workarounds if you don’t spend resources on technology.  We call this shadow IT.  You will have a lack of company control over the tech you use.  You will have no idea if your data and environment are secure.

  1. User Experience Erosion
    User experience is the cornerstone of your company’s success. When technical debt accumulates, it can erode the user experience, driving visitors away. Users will leave if your site has slow load times, broken functionality, or lacks innovative features. This can result in a drop in engagement, conversions, and revenue.
    Your complaints from both customers and internal staff will rise.  Trusted employees that are frustrated with their working environments will leave.  Customers will go to a competitor.
    Years ago, I had a relationship with Dell computers.  The computers were reliable.  The process of ordering them was frustrating.  Frustrated Dell sales reps would cycle in and out every few months.  I would call to place and order and most times the reps would have to wait on their tech tools to process.  This experience was disappointing for one of the largest tech providers in the country.

How to Manage Your Technical Debt
It’s crucial to explore strategies for effective management. Here are some steps you can take to address and reduce your technical debt:


1. Regular Audits
Start by conducting regular audits of your technology assets. Identify areas where technical debt might be lurking. Audits include code, evaluating the performance of third-party integrations, and hardware lifecycle support.  By pinpointing the problem areas, you can develop a targeted plan for improvement.

  1. Prioritization
    All technical debt is not created equal. Some issues may have a more significant impact on your business than others. Rank addressing the most critical problems first. When making decisions, think about security risks, user experience improvements, and revenue impact.
    You have budget resources, time and money.  Only a set number of staff to tackle certain projects at a time.  Ignore trivial updates.  Put in pre-planned updates for hardware replacement.  Manufacturers only support computers for 5 years.  Plan on equipment replacements on that cycle.  Squeeze as much juice of out the equipment. Don’t stretch too far opening yourself up to consequences.

  1. Agile Project Management
    To avoid technical debt, use agile management from the start. To follow best practices, break projects into smaller chunks.  This makes items more manageable focuses on continuous improvement,
    Start your changes early.  If a vendor is dropping support for a code base that is core to your company don’t wait for the deadline to start.  Start as soon as the announcement is made.  You will make a mistake the longer you wait to decide and act.

  1. Expert Help
    Technical debt can become overwhelming, and it’s beneficial to seek expert help. Hiring experienced technology consultants can provide valuable insights. They provide guidance in tackling complex issues.  An experienced technology consultant can develop a strategy that aligns to your business. You will leave with a prioritized plan of action of what to tackle first.
    In today’s fast-paced technical landscape, businesses strive to stay ahead of the curve. Every business is striving to stand out in the crowded online marketplace.  Managing your technical debt is not a good practice – it’s a necessity. Neglecting it can lead to performance bottlenecks, security vulnerabilities, and a deterioration of the user experience. To stay competitive and ensure your digital ventures thrive, it’s essential to take a proactive approach to identify, rank, and address technical debt. Remember, like any debt, the longer you wait, the more it will cost you in the end.
    Is your technical debt bill due? Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start addressing it today to secure a brighter, more profitable future.

That’s all for this week.

See you next Sunday.

John

Whenever you’re ready, there is one way I can help you:
I can help if you need help whipping your technology back into shape, looking to improve your cybersecurity, or just need someone to look over shoulder.
Click the above link, send me some details about your business, and schedule a zoom meeting.
Simple as that.

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John Barker

John Barker

John has over 25 years of technology experience and earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management & MBA.  He also holds CISSP and PMP certifications.

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