If an organization develops or uses software of any kind, tech debt is unavoidable and can accumulate in different channels. Sixty percent of CIOs interviewed by McKinsey stated that their organization’s tech debt had increased noticeably in the last three years. Four areas in which tech debt often accumulates are business strategy, architecture, tech-team talent and company processes.
Business strategy doesn’t align with needs
Generally speaking, a lack of cohesion between an organization’s business strategy and IT can lead to the accumulation of tech debt. The right amount of funding needs to be linked with the company’s software development strategy in order to ensure business goals are met.
This also means keeping IT-related consequences and benefits in mind when making business decisions that would require changes to the company’s technology stack. A good example of this occurs during mergers and acquisitions.
Mergers and acquisitions are particularly susceptible to accumulating technical debt. During an acquisition, temporary integrations with existing systems can become permanent fixtures of technical debt. However, many larger retailers recognize this potential and choose to "rip and replace" rather than attempt to assimilate existing systems, software and processes.
Architecture is outdated
If an organization is dedicating significant time and budget to integrations and constantly maintaining its legacy code, it’s likely to have accumulated a large amount of technical debt. This could come about through a failure to update hosting environments, which keeps the software inflexible and therefore harder to adapt to the organization’s changing needs. As a company adopts more software, it’s important to use standard systems-integration processes. A poorly integrated architecture will be disjointed, more difficult to manage and more prone to security issues.
Established organizations that have grown their IT for decades also tend to be vulnerable to tech debt. These organizations may be reliant on applications written in COBOL, CICS and other legacy languages that are no longer widely used. In these cases, it can be difficult to find developers who can decode the complex business logic of these languages. Archaic systems like these need to be refactored into newer technologies.
Related: APIs are enabling the store of your future
Talent available doesn’t meet business needs
A lack of available skills (or available time) on your team can lead to the accumulation of tech debt, with limited work capacity causing delays in product updates or deliveries.
These days, customers expect seamless integration between physical and online stores, whether it’s a bank, a restaurant or a retailer. This means you need to create smart spaces with metrics, establish a deep understanding of a store’s drop-off points and augmenting it all with technology.
In the short term, this requires many retailers to source talent with backgrounds in consulting or system integration. Retailers might also have to outsource tasks to other partners who are able to augment this thinking for them. By sourcing third-party services and applications, companies need to create tendrils to support them within their own systems. This is where technical debt creeps in. If done smartly, retailers can class this as serviceable tech debt and immediately take the necessary steps to address it.
Processes are not in place to address tech debt
A close look at an organization’s processes might uncover some hidden pools of technical debt. An organization that uses task-planning tools and prioritizes project backlogs is better equipped to stay in control of its technical debt. Without proper development or maintenance processes in place, organizations lose visibility on product or code quality, which can potentially lead to the build-up of tech debt over time.