This article was originally published here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/you-burdened-technology-debt-wemasia-1f/ on July 22, 2022
Technology can be defined as the application of scientific knowledge to solve the practical problems of mankind. In today’s world, technology has become a vital part of our everyday lives, as it offers various tools that assist in the exchange of information and also boost development.
Over the years, technology has convincingly taken over the entire world. It has made our lives easier, faster, better, and more fun. With modern-day innovations like computers and voice assistant devices & multi-functional devices like smartphones and smartwatches, the technical revolution changed the way the world operates as it brought everyday stuff like transferring money instantly to purchasing clothes, food delivery, groceries, furniture, and more to our fingertips. Technology even helped people deal with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, as OTT platforms overtook the entertainment zone and & became the new way to consume content and video calls became the new way to meet and interact with people.
However, as the popular saying goes, everything has its flaws. Even Technology, which was built with the sole purpose of making human lives easier, accustoms a concept called technology debt. It was coined by Ward Cunningham, a computer programmer, in 1992. In software development, Technology Debt is defined as the implied cost of choosing an easier approach to deal with a problem now instead of choosing a better alternative. It occurs when a development team chooses to expedite the delivery of the project which later needs to be restructured. It is often used as a tool for “getting ahead” with a system that is ageing and eating up engineers’ valuable time.
So now that we know what technical debt means, the next question that arises is How do we measure technical debt? The four elements of technology debt include principal, interest, liabilities, and opportunity costs. The principal refers to the total cost an organization will incur to maintain its outdated legacy systems, recurring system issues, and hardware damage. The interest is the amount that the organization accrues as a result of using and maintaining old IT assets and applications instead of getting them replaced on time. The more they delay the updates and replacements, the more compounded interest they’ll end up paying in the long run. Liabilities can be defined as the consequent payments of failing to maintain or replace the hardware and software systems. The indirect costs such as outages, security vulnerabilities, or interruption to business operations are some examples of liabilities. These liabilities make it harder for cybersecurity systems to avoid disruption or third-party attacks. The opportunity cost refers to the time and money lost in ineffective and inefficient processes as a result of failing to address technical debt.
Accumulating all the above information, we can define technological debt as the summation of all the four elements, i.e.
Technology debt has a significant impact as well. Due to technology debt mounting up, the software can become unstable, which may lead to the customers experiencing bugs in the program’s operation, unstable functionality, and a slow feature development pace. This will, in turn, increase the help desk cost due to more complaint calls from the users, and maintenance and repair will eventually increase the overall cost of the product as well. Moreover, dealing with messy code that is hard to rework might erode developers’ morale, which eventually adds up to compromised team performance.
However, not all technical debt is bad. A growing school of thought among some progressive engineering organizations says that technical debt should actually be a core part of the job of all software developers and that by proactively managing technology debt, organizations may not just avoid sinking, but can actually outpace the competition.
Now we address the main issue at hand: Is technology debt a burden? The answer to that question basically depends upon how you go about dealing with technology debt. It is a given fact that some amount of technology debt is inevitable. So how do you go about managing it? Well, in my opinion, it's all about risk management and risk reduction. Technology debt is actually very similar to the financial debt component. If left unchecked, it can have severely detrimental results which lead to downtime from power outages, lost efficiency, and major cybersecurity risks. However, if an organization accepts the presence of technology debt and knows how to identify it, plan for it, and work towards tech debt reductions, they may just utilize that technology debt to their own advantage, driving at maximum value and setting themselves apart from their competition.