Have you ever considered addressing technical debt as part of an overall investment strategy? Technical debt doesn’t always have to sound illusive and ominous. Although technical debt can have dire consequences, it can also be used as a stimulus for modernization.
Eighteen percent of respondents to the Forrester Analytics Business Technographics® Software 2 Survey, 2021, said that their biggest software challenge is that technical debt is taking energy away from innovation. Many technology executives have initiated strategies for managing technical debt but have fallen short of maintaining their strategy and progressing toward modernization and innovation. Technology executives face ongoing pressures to mitigate technical debt across legacy applications, devices, and computing infrastructure. Rapid development tempos, constant digital upgrades, and business agility add layers to the challenge. Here at Forrester, we acknowledge that this is a challenge but encourage execs to keep tackling technical debt for efficiency, productivity, and innovation gains. Doing this well enables differentiating capabilities, execution of strategic priorities, and retooling for the knowledge worker.
Once executive leadership determines the right tech investment for the company, the Forrester Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) model provides a good framework for making decisions. As organizations experience a resurgence in IT spend on technologies, companies should think about repurposing technical debt reduction from lagging operations to innovation aligned with business growth and improved customer outcomes.
Organizations are spending a great deal on IT every year, but many are asking, “Is it worth it?” The mistrust attached to not achieving desired results, and the misalignment against expected outcomes, can lead to buyer’s remorse and contribute to even higher technical debt. Make opportunity gains and use formal strategies to assess your current tech stack and calculate how each component is supporting your business and customer goals. If you have stagnant applications or applications that have low usage, address your contracts and strategize a transition plan to invest in more modern solutions. Establish a practice around technical debt/obsolescence, and think holistically about:
- Software. Common software debt includes prototyping in lower-performing languages, inflexible design, lack of configurability, unresolved defects missing test coverage, old versions that you have neglected to upgrade, and more.
- Security and compliance. Common examples of security debt include insecure platforms or approaches, vulnerabilities, being behind on upgrades/patches, or insufficient, misaligned, or over-specific controls.
- Infrastructure. Hardware capital refreshes and OS upgrades are frequently delayed, especially when budget cuts are needed.
- Skills. Usually, skill-related technical debt refers to a surplus of obsolescing skills, a shortage of skills for new platforms, and the lack of upskilling capability within the organization.
- Measurement. Common examples include the inability to baseline product performance or run predictive experiments.
- Suppliers. Supplier debt refers to overdependence on vendors with fading reputations, financial troubles, patterns of product disinvestment, declining performance on vendor scorecards, and partner relationships based on submission and not continuous improvement.