As companies strive to stay ahead in the digital age, technology is becoming an increasingly integral part of their operations. However, with the need to move quickly, there is often a trade-off between speed and quality. Technical debt, also sometimes known as code debt, is one of the results of this trade-off, and it can be a significant problem for tech teams, founders, and CEOs.
In this article, we will explore what technical debt is, why it matters, and how to avoid it. We will also discuss how MSPs can help companies tackle this debt.
What is Technical Debt?
“In the American study titled The cost of poor quality software in the US from 2018, Herb Krasner calculates that the overall cost of poorly made software is approximately $2.8 trillion”.
To put this in context, the economic loss created by tech debt in the USA is larger than the GDP of several countries. With such a large revenue stake, tech debt is a concern that has gained a lot of attention in the business world. Code debt is the the cost of maintaining and modifying existing software systems as they become more complex over a time period of usage.
What Causes Technical Debt?
Technical debt can be incurred intentionally as a trade-off between the time and resources required to deliver a software product and the need to meet a deadline or budget. However, it can also arise unintentionally from poor design choices, inadequate testing, or a lack of documentation.
Technical debt can be caused by:
1. Time pressures
2. Complex technical designs
3. Lack of updated technologies and internal technical skills
4. Messy unorganised technical code
6. Insufficient testing and lack of compliance to industry standards
7. Overall lack of coordination within the organisation.
These factors cause a buildup of technological inefficiencies over time, which end up requiring future maintenance.
Unchecked technological debt may increase the cost of changing and replacing the existing software compared to re-implementation. Like financial debt, tech debt can accumulate interest over time, as the cost of maintaining and updating the system increases.
If left unhandled, these inefficiencies can make a software system too difficult and expensive to maintain. This results in poor performance, frequent outages, fluctuations and inconsistency. At times, we may need to rewrite the entire system from scratch. Therefore, it’s important for software developers and managers to prioritise paying off tech debt to ensure the long-term viability of a software system and prevent unnecessary expenses and wastage of resources.
To illustrate the practical implications of tech debt, let’s consider a hypothetical example of a software solutions company. In this scenario, both the client and the company neglected the client project, and the client only communicated with the company’s staff after the problems became evident. The project had an inefficient architecture and multiple technical issues that required updating and fixing. The code was disorganised and structurally unsound, resulting in a non-user-friendly product that frustrated customers and reduced business revenue. Moreover, the software was vulnerable to security and piracy threats since it hadn’t received updates or customisation for an extended period. These types of issues are typical of technical debt situations.
Why Tech Teams Should Think About Technical Debt
Technical debt can have a significant impact on tech teams. It can make it difficult to maintain software, increase the time needed for updates, and cause bugs and other issues. By not addressing tech debt, tech teams can create a backlog of work that will eventually become overwhelming.
Why Founders and CEOs Should Think About Technical Debt
Tech debt can also be a significant concern for founders and CEOs. It can increase the cost of maintaining software, make it more difficult to attract new talent, and hinder the ability to scale. Additionally, tech debt can lead to security vulnerabilities, which can be a serious risk for companies.
How to Deal With Technical Debt?
Equipping IT Leadership and professionals:
Organisations must make an effort to recruit and train skilled Information technology professionals and leadership who can prevent the accumulation of tech debt and ensure that their software systems remain efficient and updated.
Pandemic-related technical debt:
Moving to the remote working landscape introduced code debt in the security and digital infrastructure of the companies. It had to be a quick shift as well since a large number of companies did not have the time to adjust to the change. Now that things are looking better, companies need to ensure that they are prepared for a smooth transition in extenuating circumstances and that they have the necessary tools and resources for it.
Lack of technical documentation:
A lack of technical documentation is often source of code debt. Technical documentation is sometimes ignored when projects are completed within strict budgets and deadlines. Organisations should bring and install documentation into their working culture. Automating documentation and holding employees accountable for documentation generally help in this process.
Collaboration and Communication:
Company leadership should also ensure that effective channels of communication exist and work both within departments and to external clients and parties. Preventing departmental silos makes sure that knowledge is stored and shared so that any inefficiencies and issues can be handled by the respective department, immediately.
Code debt can be a significant problem for tech teams, founders, and CEOs. However, by taking a proactive approach to software development, regular IT health checkups, prioritising quality over speed, and improved software testing, companies can avoid code debt. Additionally, working with an MSP can provide ongoing support and guidance for reducing code debt and maintaining software. By addressing code debt, companies can ensure that their software is well-maintained, up-to-date, and secure.