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What is technical debt and how can companies get rid of it?

When projects are rushed, urgent support tasks are completed, and exceptions are made to normal processes, end users can be satisfied and someone can call the job done.

However, as IT managers know, no project is ever truly completed. Projects done too quickly will require more work as time goes on.

Then there are the add-ons outside the normal operation: that VIP who can’t survive without a ThinkPad while everyone else has a Dell. That 32-bit database server for a special application while everything else is 64-bit. The cloud subscription for one department while the rest of the company is on Microsoft 365 and OneDrive.

Keeping track of exceptional short- and long-term technical debt and maintenance obligations is a sobering exercise. Documenting debt serves two purposes: it helps IT managers understand where their resources are going and why the time spent on maintenance activities is so much higher than expected. Documenting debts also serves as a reminder of all those tasks that need to be completed.

RELATED: Why DevOps can help reduce technical debt.

Estimate the costs for maintaining old software

Regardless of which IT cost model your organization uses, it’s an excellent idea to include specific items in your budget for the costs of handling technical debt and maintenance obligations. This is especially true for exceptional items, such as non-standard hardware or software.

Putting a dollar figure on these costs helps inform discussions both within management teams and with end users. The IT team’s job is to serve and support the organization, but that doesn’t mean it should hide all its costs in an amorphous black-box budget. Transparency within the management team about how IT spends its time and resources helps when negotiating budgets.

At the same time, it is very valuable to be able to explain how much something will cost in the long term. By staying informed about the maintenance costs of hardware, software and especially custom configurations, IT is better able to provide credible and trusted advice as projects and requests arise. In the long run, running a business is about balancing scarce resources and competing priorities. When IT can predict what the short- and long-term costs will be for certain activities, it helps decision makers better allocate resources.

DIG DEEPER: The tools companies use to modernize their applications.

Identify refactoring targets and retire legacy systems

Debts do not always have to be paid. In some cases, it is more cost-effective to find another approach to dealing with unfinished work. By documenting and budgeting for the costs of ongoing and deferred maintenance, IT teams have some ammunition to retire legacy systems whose ongoing costs are excessive, or to remove customizations that have a disproportionate impact on the business. IT resources.

Budget and costs are not the only reasons to try to decommission or remove parts of the IT infrastructure. However, knowing where the money is going can help prioritize changes. If there is a top 10 list of systems that need to be replaced or decommissioned, prioritization based on ongoing costs is valid.