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Technical Debt - Overcoming the Invisible Trap

Technical Debt describes the obligation incurred by a software company when it selects a software design approach that’s beneficial in the short term, but increases complexity and cost in the long term. Eventually, this will lead to an exponential increase in costs, to redesign or correct the software – reason enough to prompt CIOs the world over to take note of this parasite in their IT applications.

In today’s rapidly changing business milieu, it’s critical to meet the dynamic business expectations, thus necessitating IT agility and flexibility. This accentuates the need for a broad based, integrated software development capability to manage the burgeoning business complexity – and thereby help CIOs/CTOs keep their worries at bay. In recent times, the term ‘Technical Debt’ has started to emerge as one of the most widely used buzzwords among the CIO fraternity.

Technical Debt describes the obligation incurred by a software company when it selects a software design approach that’s beneficial in the short term, but increases complexity and cost in the long term. Eventually, this will lead to an exponential increase in costs, to redesign/correct the software – reason enough to prompt CIOs the world over to take note of this parasite in their IT applications. Increase in the agility of software releases in the recent past signifies this development.

Research indicates that, of late, the base product is reworked almost every fortnight to accommodate new features and releases, leading to poor structural stability of the software. Owing to some short term decisions taken by organizations at the software development stage, many of them are bearing the brunt today. Prevalent causes of Technical Debt include poor coding and system design, inter-team and intra-team communication and collaboration discrepancies, lack of standard development protocols and poor requirements’ identification and specification.

This can have serious repercussions for an organization – ranging from poor customer responsiveness to long delivery times; an abnormal proliferation in defects to disgruntled, poor performing teams. In addition to being dependent on one particular vendor, this can lead to poor agility and loss in market share. On one hand, in-house innovation may come to a complete standstill; on the other, the overarching objective will be to maintain status quo. That said, one tricky thing associated with Technical Debt is the lack of a definitive way to measure it effectively.

Overcoming Technical Debt

Pre-empting or overcoming Technical Debt is a comprehensive exercise in itself. It’s about dealing with the unknown; it involves changing the internal structures submerged within the software architecture/framework. In reality, two aspects get manifested - the defects; and a higher time to effect a change. Organizations report that, as high as 30 to 40 percent of defects in software products can be attributed to poor internal structures. The methods and models in vogue haven’t really helped in controlling this debt.

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