Skip to content

Technical Debt: What are the risks, and how can we manage them?

Clock icon 4 minutes reading time

One of the most significant challenges associated with technical debt is that it not only proliferates over time as a strategic default "choice," but also increases risk. These risks include cybersecurity vulnerabilities, inefficiency, increased costs and regulatory compliance issues.

Technical debt, also called design debt or code debt, is a concept in software development that represents the potential expense of future rework. It arises when an easier, yet constrained solution is chosen over a superior approach that may require more time (and cost) to implement. Similar to financial debt, if technical debt remains unpaid, it can accrue "interest" and complicate the implementation of subsequent changes.

Group of colleagues having a meeting.

Imagine multiple successive developers constrained by time and budget, working in a disconnected way on the same project, doing just enough, or maybe not quite enough, with the cycle repeating constantly. If you recognise this scenario in your organisation, it's likely that you have technical debt. And not only that, this debt means that your systems are probably undocumented, poorly governed, prone to breakdowns and failures, and may be exposing you to regulatory risk. The consequences can be extremely costly in terms of financial losses, damage to the company's brand and customer trust.

Additionally, in industries with stringent regulatory requirements, such as finance or healthcare, the inability to maintain systems up to best practice standards can result in severe consequences, including legal penalties and reputational damage.

Technical debt introduces complexity and uncertainty, amplifying the risk of cyberattacks. Outdated or poorly designed components and systems are more susceptible to security vulnerabilities, making it easier for malicious actors to exploit weaknesses and compromise the software. The longer technical debt accumulates, the more vulnerable the software becomes, heightening the risk of data breaches, unauthorised access, and other security incidents.

So, how can technical debt be managed? Here are a few tips:

Identify technical debt:

It is essential to identify technical debt in your software development project. This can be done by performing regular code reviews, analysing performance metrics, and seeking feedback from your team members. By identifying technical debt early, you can take proactive steps to address it.

Prioritise technical debt:

Not all technical debt is created equal. Some technical debt may be more critical. Prioritise technical debt based on its impact on the product and the organisation. Then focus on the most vital areas and fix them first.

Plan for technical debt:

Technical debt is inevitable in any software development project. It is essential to plan for technical debt from the beginning of the project. Set aside time and resources to address technical debt in your development process.

Communicate about technical debt:

Technical debt is not just a technical issue – it is a business issue. Communicate the impact of technical debt to stakeholders, including management and other team members. Communicating about technical debt enables you to build support for addressing it.

By identifying, prioritising, planning for, and communicating about technical debt, you can minimise its impact on your project and your organisation.

How CDS can help you manage technical debt

A proactive approach to managing technical debt is the first step in creating a more sustainable technology landscape for your organisation. This longer-term view of the value of investments creates a healthy friction in the process, which ensures that the appropriate time and effort are spent in making these crucial decisions.

With an ecosystem of world-leading technology partners, we at CDS, have a unique perspective and understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of different technology choices, with a wide experience of building in these technologies, against a range of objectives and use cases. 

Here are some thoughts on how to make your technology investments as sustainable as possible.

Define success in technology projects

Defining success from the outset is critical to ensuring your investment yields the expected results. Identifying and articulating both the macro and supporting micro KPIs that demonstrate ROI is essential. 

Embedding and managing effective change

Embedding and managing change can be challenging, but vendors that facilitate a user-centred, agile, iterative approach can help. It is far more challenging to try and change or retrofit employee or citizen behaviour to the constraints of technology than it is to co-create a solution around their needs, with a collaborative approach between technology vendors, agency partners and clients. 

Avoid technology silos 

Engaging with a broader stakeholder group is critical to avoiding silos and ensuring the investment can scale against use cases and add more value. Focusing too heavily on immediate or siloed needs can hinder the investment's long-term success. 

Future-proof for flexibility

The platform's ability to facilitate in-life change quickly and efficiently is critical to its long-term success. Additionally, the solution should support self-sufficiency and drive potential cost savings by consolidating your existing technology estate. 

Continual improvement 

Defining a strategy for ongoing optimisation is essential, and understanding how vendor capability and features can support identifying performance bottlenecks should be a prime consideration. 

At CDS, we take on the responsibility to add value and help our clients make sustainable tech investments. If any of the above sparks interest, we would be happy to chat and provide guidance on how to navigate these challenges effectively.

Ensuring a better, more sustainable future

Evidence from environmental, economic, ethical, and social perspectives demonstrates the need for increased governance around tech decisions to ensure better future sustainability. By setting standards and ensuring regulatory compliance and governance, we can help drive the development and adoption of technologies that minimise environmental impact, promote resource efficiency, uphold ethical principles, and foster social inclusion. 

Please get in touch if you'd like to discuss technical debt and how to deal with it in your organisation. Thank you for reading.