We are all familiar with debt. When we are obliged to spend money, time, and effort on something that we didn’t plan and budget for, we get into debt. But did you know you can also get into technical debt? In your personal life or in business, if you are not doing what you should to keep up and upgrade your technology, you’ll end up so far behind, the debt load will become extensive and reach far beyond monetary costs. The good news is that you can reduce your debt and stay ahead of it with a few simple steps.
Are You in Technical Debt?
Not sure if you are in technical debt? A good example of how you might get into technical debt is with your smartphone. If you ignore the suggested app and phone updates, eventually your phone and/or apps will stop working correctly. This will, without a doubt, cause a host of issues, including possible missed calls, emails, texts, and security vulnerabilities. Another increasingly common issue is that smartphones are outpacing “old technologies” and basic functions may no longer work with an outdated phone. If you aren’t proactive about replacing your phone, you may be forced to jump several models and go through the hassle of transferring data, updating old apps and files (and hope you don’t lose any information), and make unplanned, hefty new phone payments.
Technical debt is widespread with software and operating systems too, like Microsoft Windows. Often, months or years will pass as you stay in your comfort zone without updating (it’s just easier, right?). However, when you’re finally forced to get the latest software or operating systems, you will be so far behind, the financial and time expenditures will be much greater than necessary. As with any hardware, software, operating system, web application or mobile app, without the recommended updates, you’re also extremely vulnerable to hackers. Imagine the fallout from having your identity stolen and sold on the black market.
The Impact of Outdated IT on Business
If you are a business owner or the head of IT for a company, technical debt is a much larger issue when it comes to servers and hardware, operating systems, software and business process automation systems, Cloud solutions, and web and mobile apps. When you are comfortable using what you know and you follow the old adage, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” you could rack up technical debt that puts your company at risk.
With an outdated system, if a portion of it malfunctions and/or you’re unexpectedly forced to update the entire system, the expenses and lost revenue from reduced production, lost man hours, negative company culture, sales and customer issues, and the acquired debt to buy, install, and implement years of technological updates all at once, can be substantial.
Besides the unplanned, significant financial debt for new hardware, software, and/or operating systems, technical debt can also lead to:
- Production downtime and reduced inventory.
- Data breaches and the legal ramifications.
- Wasted man-hours and additional labor expenses.
- Lost information and data that may be irreplaceable.
- Impaired sales performance.
- Damaged reputation and customer satisfaction.
- Negative impact on company culture.
- Decreased revenue.
Now, imagine you’ve been updating a couple of times a year or as necessary. If there’s a glitch in the system or any needed installations, typically your software company or IT team can take care of it quickly and with minor disruption. Avoiding technical debt gives you peace of mind that your data is protected, and all systems are operating at or above the required standards.
In the simplest of examples, to go from system A to system E requires stepping up to each echelon one letter at a time – with most technology, you cannot jump five stages in one step. It is much easier and cost-effective to take each update as it comes, from A to B to C, and so on, while your business continues to run smoothly.
Buy Down Your Debt Gradually
If your company is in technical debt, it’s best to buy down that debt in a strategic way. Depending on how long it’s been since you’ve updated your systems, meet with your internal and/or external IT team to review which updates need to happen first, create an update/upgrade strategy, and allocate a budget. As you spend over time and buy down your debt, revenue often increases, so the incentive is there to stay with it in perpetuity.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all systems tend toward entropy. By the very nature of things, they will deteriorate over time and get worse, not better. In the case of technical debt, when you keep up, disorder is minimized.
Stay Debt-Free with Prevention
As mentioned, staying current with technology reduces larger expenses, wasted time and frustration, and keeps molehills from turning into mountains. So, how do you make sure you remain debt-free?
- Build an annual technology maintenance budget. When it’s in the budget and accounted for, it’s much easier to stay on top of updates and issues as they arise. If you’re not sure how much IT maintenance costs, ask your team for estimations.
- Keep an eye out for upgrade notifications. These will often come from your software and operational systems, as well as your IT department or external IT company. It is imperative to install the updates for stable infrastructure, usability, bug fixes, and security. (The easiest way for a cybercriminal to steal data is through an outdated system).
- Do not ignore service announcements and emails from your IT team. They will let you know (usually via email or in a meeting) when a system update is coming, how to prepare for it, and what problems to watch for. Help them help you have the most current and productive technology to keep things running smoothly.
- Communicate. If you sense any part of your technology isn’t working – be it an app, website, emails, ordering or inventory systems – no matter what, tell your IT team right away so they can fix it before it becomes a huge problem. Also, during regular due diligence , if an issue is diagnosed, your IT team should communicate with you and propose a solution. If you have two-way communication, the sooner problems are addressed and the roadblocks eliminated, the faster you can carry on with business as usual.
The Bottom Line …
When it comes to technical debt, if you continue to do nothing, the debt will become overwhelming and detrimental to the existence of your business. Be proactive, have a plan, create a budget, and work with a team that keeps your technology up-to-date and running smoothly, and you can remain debt-free. If you have any questions about this topic or would like to know how Swip Systems can help you with technical debt, please feel free to contact our team today. We’re here to help your business grow! 877.377.SWIP
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Tom Swip has been developing and streamlining business processes for over 20 years. Tom’s expertise lies in business process automation, software and application design and network infrastructure. In his spare time, Tom likes kayaking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities.