You can’t run away from technical debt

Like student loans and credit card balances, technical debt is holding you back or even killing your business. Unfortunately, the cloud can't always save you.

Eliminate technical debt immediately

You’re working for a company that has operated successfully in the market for several decades, delivering high-quality products. The company has gained a reputation for innovation and reliability, and the stock price reflects that.

However, as your IT ecosystem has grown in complexity and size, your company has started facing challenges associated with the accumulated technical debt. This debt comprises outdated technologies, architectural inconsistencies, and inefficient development and deployment practices. As a result, you’ve seen some negative impacts in the past few years:

Increased maintenance costs. This is one of the significant impacts of technical debt on your company. It just costs more to do simple things; for example, changing a database ends up breaking a hundred applications.

Reduced speed and agile development. Technical debt significantly hampers your company’s solutions development. The accumulated debt results in code complexity, making it difficult to add new features or implement changes quickly.

Quality and reliability issues. When technical debt compromises the quality and reliability of your core products, this negatively impacts your company’s brand reputation and erodes customer trust, leading to revenue losses. We can all think of companies that “used to be good.”

Difficulty in attracting and retaining talent. Excessive technical debt poses challenges in attracting and retaining top talent. Skilled pros prefer to work with modern technologies, good and efficient architecture, and clean code bases.

Understand the issue in order to fix it

What are your options to make things better? First, understand the problem. Technical debt is a metaphor to describe the repercussions of suboptimal technology design and deployment practices or decisions.  

How does it appear? Poor choices over time really. It could be poor architecture because IT leaders picked the less efficient path to a solution. Perhaps they went with a specific vendor, even a cloud provider, for the wrong reasons, such as a preexisting relationship. This led to a solution that functions but adds instead of removes technical debt. 

I’ve heard the excuses: A decision was made to expedite solution delivery for an urgent business purpose. However, that’s almost never the case. Most of the time technical debt accumulates from misguided decisions; the company could have gone in a direction that did not create technical debt but did not. Indeed, many of the better solutions would have cost less money and taken less time to deploy.

In other words, most of the technical debt is a collection of self-inflicted wounds, usually caused by leaders who don’t bother to understand the bigger picture and take technological shots in the dark. Of course, “it works,” but it significantly increases technical debt. I’ve second-guessed a great many of these in my 40-year career.

The key lesson: Avoid gathering technical debt by becoming smarter about how you pick and use technology, including the cloud. When someone suggests a specific solution, question it. There are always upsides and downsides to any technology solution, and they must be weighed and understood. If you’re not doing that, technical debt will follow. 

The cloud can’t always save you

Businesses that have accumulated a great deal of technical debt often look to cloud computing or digital transformation to remove some of that debt. The trouble is if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you could make things worse.

You only need to look at the hundreds of thousands of applications and databases that were pushed into the cloud over the past four years and then found to be more expensive to operate than where they came from. This is not the fault of cloud computing, but a lack of understanding of the pros and cons of the new target platform for those specific applications and databases (in this case, public cloud).

For example, just spending some money on refactoring applications to make them more efficient on a public cloud could have removed much of the technical debt for very little investment in effort or money.

What’s occurring now is that enterprises are reacting to their technical debt as their business experiences a downturn, the market begins to accelerate, customers are asking for better experiences, generative AI is surging, etc. The demand to change the tech accelerates, but the company has so much technical debt and inefficiencies that it can’t possibly keep up with the need to grow and change.

Other companies can. Businesses do go under because they’ve accumulated too much debt—much like our personal lives, if you think about it.  

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