Comedian John Mulaney once said “Growing up, I thought that quicksand would be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be.” While he is certainly correct in highlighting the fact that Hollywood-style quicksand that can only be escaped with a piece conveniently available vine and some ingenuity isn’t exactly a real-life threat, the metaphorical threat of quicksand in the modern business world is all too real, and manifests itself in the form of “Technology Debt”.
The concept of Technology Debt is fairly new. After all, it has only been roughly two decades since the internet transformed the way we do business, and forced every single business large or small to adapt to the new landscape or fade into obscurity. In the years since, while technology has evolved and improved dramatically, nothing has fundamentally shifted the business landscape in the same way as the proliferation of the internet. Because of this, many companies have simply made small, incremental improvements on the technology base that was put in place during this last transformational shift. A band-aid here, a stop-gap there, anything to keep the business machine running while feeding the IT cost center just enough to survive.
This notion of IT as a cost center is was drives technology debt. When companies adopt this view of technology, it will always make sense to make “just enough” investments instead of value accretive investments focused on the long haul. In a sense, treating IT as a cost center is a self-fulfilling prophecy – if technology is treated like a cost center in the size of the investments made in it, then it will never be more than one.
In such cases, applications which were once robust, innovative tools are now covered in so many patches that impactful change becomes impossible because of the fear that removing the wrong patch might cause the entire system to fail. This problem is further exacerbated by resource turnover over time, as the individuals who conceived and implemented older patches have often moved on, retired, or forgotten the technical and functional designs of the patches they installed. The result of this scenario is an aging, restrictive, and complicated technology platform plagued by black box integration points, poor understanding of design, and many times poor or inconsistent data. In other words, this is an IT platform which is drowning in the quicksand of technology debt.
Finding the Vine
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for freeing an organization from the burden of technology debt, as it was these type of “keeping the lights on” investments that allowed this debt to accumulate in the first place. Instead, a “catch up” investment – one that is sufficient enough to both tear down the aging foundation of the status quo and replace it with something modern and scalable – is required to settle this debt. To justify this level of capital expenditure, leadership must embrace the notion that in the modern business world technology cannot be viewed as a cost center, but rather as a tool for value creation. Then and only then will an organization be aligned for capitalizing on exciting new developments like big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and improved automation.
Helping our clients better understand their technology platform, technology debt impacts areas, and roadmap options for moving forward is what we do. If your organization is struggling to free itself from technology debt, drop us a line on our Connect page. We would be happy to provide you with a free consultation on how our team can help navigate this critical period in technological innovation.