Address Technical Debt To Mobilize Innovation

Image credit: iStockphoto/francescoch

Have you ever considered addressing technical debt as part of an overall investment strategy? Technical debt doesn’t always have to sound elusive 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 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 spend a great deal on IT every year, but many ask, “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 even higher technical debt. Make opportunity gains and use formal strategies to assess your current tech stack and calculate how each component supports your business and customer goals. If you have stagnant applications or low usage applications, 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, 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.

The original article by Forrester's vice president and research director Linda Ivy-Rosser and researcher Rebecca Rose is here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/francescoch