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Technical Debt: Strategies to Quell the Quick-Fix Quagmire

There are numerous challenges associated with technical debt, but from a CIO's perspective, these are the top four.

Eric Helmer

February 13, 2024

3 Min Read
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You’re probably familiar with the adage, “more money, more problems.” The same might be said of technology, as we face the all-too prevalent -- and automatic -- assumption that new problems always require new technology solutions. This can lead to hasty adoptions, de-scoped implementations, and paltry ROI. But there’s a better way. By using resources wisely and taking a “look before you leap” approach, you can prevent unnecessary technical debt, drive innovation, and accelerate growth.

Optimizing existing resources, especially underutilized features in systems like ERP, can maximize potential and speed up progress. From cyberattacks and ransomware, to regulatory compliance deadlines and critical system failures, urgent scenarios might prompt "quick fixes," where thorough evaluation is sacrificed for immediacy. This approach can neglect essential quality aspects, like proper documentation and end-of-life planning, not to mention integration, scalability, and cost-benefit analysis issues, all of which can increase technical debt.

Optimizing Existing Technology

Organizations can drive innovation and accelerate their growth and profitability by optimizing resources and maintaining comprehensive oversight. Existing enterprise solutions, highly customizable and adaptable, can often meet new needs. This approach leverages investments so you can maintain control over your IT strategy, enhancing your organization’s competitive advantage.

Related:Take a Wrecking Ball to Your Tech Debt Wall

IT leaders eager to experiment with new technologies for career growth must balance this with responsible due diligence, ensuring decisions align with broader business goals. Often, well-planned (and well-contained) pilot programs can serve as testbeds for the viability of new tech, laying the groundwork for potential wider-scale deployment. Whether pilot or full-scale, inadequate governance of new solutions -- from a lack of standardization and ownership/accountability to insufficient resource allocation -- can also add to technical debt.

While departmental autonomy is beneficial, the technical debt that stems from unregulated divisional purchases without corporate oversight --whether shadow IT or SaaS sprawl -- can be problematic. Proper governance ensures flexibility in IT strategy so you can innovate around the edges while extending the life and value of investments. A comprehensive software asset management (SAM) platform is crucial in today's IT environment. SAMs keep track of all enterprise software, alerting to unexpected changes, thus maintaining control and reducing business and security risks.

Related:4 Tips for C-Suite Leaders to Accelerate Tech Wealth

Key Technical Debt Challenges and Considerations

There are numerous challenges associated with technical debt, but from a CIO's perspective the top four include:

1. Unpredictable and escalating costs.

2. Cybersecurity risks from numerous solutions and outdated code.

3. Data integration and reporting challenges due to multiple solutions.

4. Staffing difficulties with aging systems.

CIOs should anticipate that their software estate will grow, recognizing that technical debt often stems from dependency on costly, monolithic platforms. A strategic approach involves embracing multiple specialized solutions, each delivering optimal outcomes. This strategy mitigates technical and security risks while ensuring minimal disruption during updates or replacements.

Two cornerstone considerations of such an approach include:

1. A realistic definition of "end-of-life.” Systems functioning well can be extended beyond vendor-set end-of-life dates, maximizing investments.

2. A modular, multi-vendor approach offers the flexibility to update or replace components without overhauling the entire system.

This strategy balances technical debt with a multi-product solution, enhancing flexibility and competitive advantage. Managing technical debt involves prioritizing security, data orchestration, and governance as the software estate expands.

Thorough vetting of new solutions and adherence to responsible policies can reduce business and security risks. Planned exit or replacement strategies for new solutions help to gain flexibility, allowing for strategic management of technical debt. Outsourcing support for non-critical systems can mitigate staffing challenges and free up resources for more strategic initiatives, ultimately contributing to reduced risk and sustained growth.

About the Author(s)

Eric Helmer

SVP and Chief Technology Officer, Rimini Street

Eric Helmer is the SVP and chief technology officer at Rimini Street. In this role, he is responsible for advising clients on strategic innovation initiatives that align with financial, technical, and functional long-term corporate goals across applications that include Oracle, SAP, IBM, and Microsoft. These initiatives are designed to maximize the effectiveness of mission-critical enterprise software systems.

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