What Is “Technical Debt” And Why Is It As Important As Financial Debt?

We all know what financial debt entails – if you don’t pay your credit card off on time and are just paying the interest, you’re going to have ongoing debt.

Technical debt can be just as dangerous to an organization as financial debt and possibly even more so. Technical debt happens when you make a technology-related decision that seems easy or cost-effective in order to save money or time today. The reality is that you’re going to have to pay for that decision later on down the road.

Members of our team at Silent IT talked recently about the concept of shadow IT in that if you go around IT in order to make an easy decision, you’re going to likely face the consequences of that decision later, which may or may not be simple to manage.

For example, let’s say you are making a decision to release a software application 2 months earlier than planned, by not automating a number of complex processes. The application can get out the door and in your hands 2 whole months earlier.

Sound good? Perhaps at first. Sure, it may be faster and cheaper to have the application released earlier, but what’s the cost of doing so? What you’ll come to appreciate sooner rather than later is that you now have hours of manual processes that you have to run in perpetuity to compensate for missing features.

That’s an example of technical debt. You won’t have to “pay” for it now, but when you do, it could be a painful experience. It’s like an anvil that IT has to lug around, getting bigger and bigger if left unchecked. All due to resources stretched thin, costs adding up and the organization moving slower.

Meanwhile, IT leadership is feeling strangled by the need to have so much money tied up in just keeping all of these balls in the air whereas if they had gone through a reconciliation effort, they’d be able to breathe much easier. IT could justify the applications that they need to have because it would have tied into real business value with apps that were being used and recognized by the business.

Again, if we go back to our example of only paying the interest on our credit cards, that’s not really paying down debt, is it? Throwing money at initiatives of limited benefit is much like that interest payment: A continual payment toward technology that offers little value in the way of moving the organization ahead.

A Smarter Way To Manage Technical Debt

Technical debt doesn’t have to be eliminated completely. The key is to know when you’re incurring technical debt as opposed to unknowingly falling into it and trying to recover after the fact. You’re not empowered at that point and it’s easy to feel helpless.

Real empowerment for our clients at Silent IT comes from us identifying those initiatives that add immense value and help instill lasing change for the business. If you’re aware of the technical debt you have while nurturing these other opportunities to grow the business, you’ll find a greater sense of control rather than feel surprised by technical debt tomorrow. Feeling as though you’re building unnecessary technical debt but not sure where? Don’t just “pay the interest” on preserving the status quo. Talk to Silent IT and let’s address the issue head on as a team together.