Tech Debt and the Escalating Knowledge Crisis

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Tech Debt and the Escalating Knowledge Crisis

In a 2021 survey of 700 IT decision-makers, 78% of respondents said they’d taken on greater levels of tech debt over the previous 12 months. 83% said they were more open to accruing it since the pandemic, but 69% feared it would slow down their digital transformation.

That fear is justified. While shortcuts may be necessary to launch products and services faster, they can have a far-reaching impact on a company in terms of costs, performance, cybersecurity and the success of digital transformation programs. If tech debt is ignored, it becomes harder to manage, and the issue is being exacerbated by the knowledge drain that began with the Great Resignation’    and is continuing through IT talent recruitment war.

As IT expertise leaves, it’s getting harder to recruit

Even following the layoffs of the past year, 37.5% of respondents to a survey of software developers and IT professionals at the start of 2023 said they’d have trouble finding skilled developers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers will grow 25 percent between 2022 and 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations, with around 153,900 job openings per year.

The increased pace of technology adoption is partially responsible, forcing more companies to compete for talent to tackle their digital transformations. As long-serving IT professionals retire from the business or move to new roles companies are leaking long-held knowledge. It’s harder to retain new Gen Z talent who have differing views on company loyalty than their predecessors. So, how will you retain knowledge about older tech? How can you share knowledge on required workarounds if those well-versed in them have already left the company? And if joining to facilitate the introduction of new technologies, will new recruits have the time to clean up the issues created in the past?

It’s clear that tech debt has the potential to scupper innovation. McKinsey research suggests that it accounts for about 40% of IT balance sheets. The company also cites a large business considering dozens of modernization initiatives that it hoped would realize a $2 billion margin expansion opportunity, but with 70% of those initiatives dependent on technology, the cost to manage them - $400 million – was much higher than anticipated because of tech debt. The company pared back investment to around $300 million and forfeited 25% of the potential margin expansion. But by not addressing all tech debt, planned work was impeded further down the line.

Tackle tech debt, protect the business and retain knowledge

By tackling tech debt now, you’ll protect the business even as long-held knowledge is lost when workers leave, thereby saving IT teams from future pain. It could also help you retain knowledge. Tech debt creates more work for software developers, causing frustration and often burnout. So, by reducing tech debt, it could reduce this pain. And what about the wider user base? Tech debt impacts everyone and reducing it could aid employee and knowledge retention across the company.

McKinsey suggests the following is true about tech debt:

  • It’s not spread evenly – 10-15 assets will be responsible for the majority.
  • The severity of tech debt varies between applications.
  • Some of it is best left alone because the cost of addressing it isn’t worth it.
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Tackling Tech Debt

It’s shortsighted to let tech debt fester so put in place a plan to address it today by:

  • Taking stock: Use reports and service management tickets to identify issues over time.
  • Ranking issues: Using the info above, rank issues by their impact on the organization, such as the number of people or affected applications, or if critical applications and users were impeded.
  • Understanding the wider impact: Identify the assets at the heart of the highest ranked issues as well as those impacted by them by inventorying the IT estate and identifying interdependencies.
  • Tackling the worst culprits first: Begin with those that will have the biggest potential impact on the business and continue until you are happy with the level of tech debt remaining.
  • Recognizing this isn’t a one-off program: Ensure you have processes in place to revisit this audit at regular intervals.

This is easier said than done. It will take time, moving you further away from achieving your digital transformation goals and increasing the strain on developer teams. So, how can you relieve that strain? The Reveal survey found that in today’s age of remote and hybrid working, 54.4% of software developers would like to use a common tool to collaborate and resolve issues, another 47.5% would like to automate workflows and processes, and 43.7% prefer to eliminate manual file sharing.

One way to reduce tech debt and its impact, while retaining knowledge, is to introduce a digital platform conductor (DPC), a tool that combines system integration, data intelligence, and workflow automation in a single unified solution. Highlighted as transformational in six Gartner hype cycles, a DPC connects to and unlocks vital data held within disparate tools and databases around the company and in the minds of specialists. It aggregates, normalizes, and analyzes that data in real time, giving teams visibility into historical issues, associated assets, impacted users, and interdependencies between physical assets, applications, and users. This allows organizations to make better informed decisions on how to tackle tech debt.

With a DPC, IT teams can aggregate and clean information held across IT and business systems and garner greater intelligence from that data to make better decisions about the tech they want to support. Then, using that data they can automate workflows to manage processes, and reduce the pressure on IT professionals, while also removing roadblocks to digital transformation.

Book a demo with ReadyWorks to see how a digital platform conductor can help halt the knowledge drain in your company and allow you to tackle tech debt and move ahead with digital transformation.

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