CIOs take a business approach to technical debt

Technical debt is the responsibility of the entire organisation; CIOs and CTOs reveal how to build the business case

Word cube that says 'Tech Debt'
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Technical debt may have a techie title, but it is a business problem. CIOs and CTOs are therefore tackling technical debt with business focused approaches and investment plans that involve stakeholder management, communications and agile methodologies.

Best defined as a technical decision made at a point in time to either achieve a short-term outcome or solve an instant problem, that decision becomes a debt to the business in the longer term. Managing technical debt is described by Simon Lamkin, CTO of FOD Mobility Group, a provider of software applications to the transport industry, as: "dealing with the backlog of stuff that you know is not quite right." Lamkin is amongst a number of business technology leaders that are making technical debt a business issue for the entire organisation. "It's totally underplayed by so many organisations," he says.

The demand for digitisation, which increased during the pandemic, is bringing technical debt to the attention of the senior leadership peers of the CIO. “Now it has the label technical debt business feel they can talk about it,” says Ian Golding, Group CIO with Anthesis, a sustainability professional services firm. Business advisory group Accenture believes that 80% of the IT budget in many firms is spent on the existing IT estate. Research commissioned by Low Code firm OutSystems found that 41% of the technology budget is spent on technical debt in large enterprises.

The OutSystems research found that 52% of CIOs believed too many development languages and frameworks were to blame, whilst 49% cited the turnover of development team members as a major cause of technical debt. Given the current challenge to retain and recruit development talent, this is a figure that could well rise. Building in technical debt by accepting known defects in order to meet deadlines was said to be a factor by 43% of those surveyed.

"In business terms, technical debt can create less efficiency and more cost," says John Pelant, CTO for global travel management firm CWT. Research finds that 70% of CIOs identify technical debt limits the ability of the IT team to innovate, 72% say migration to new technology is prevented, and 69% believe they are unable to be responsive to changes in their organisation's vertical market. “Technical debt is an invisible brake on progress,” says Golding. Paulo Rosado, CEO and Founder of OutSystems adds: "The combination of old code along with the new generation of mobile apps, stack applications, and SaaS sprawl are robbing organisations of resources, time, and the ability to innovate."

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