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Cyber Security

Can Your Business Afford Technical Debt?

 July 13, 2020

By  Tim Starnes

Credit cards: The bane of many business owners’ existence.

The concept of credit cards isn’t all that bad, and truthfully, behave much like a loan – an agreed-upon amount of credit is made available to the cardholder, with the understanding installments on the account’s charges will be made monthly, if not in full. If any unpaid charges are left on the card at the end of the month, an interest fee is applied, think of it as a convenience fee.

Of course, there are good debts as well, such as purchasing a home or investing in a rental property – one of the few moments that experts advise going into debt is ok.

When a business owner walks into their IT department, server room, or one-room home office, the last thing on their mind is the real-time accruing cost of IT, or by the textbook word, technical debt.

Technical debt:

Technical debt is the accrual of expenses through unsolved IT issues. There are a few different types of technical debt. This term was first coined by Ward Cunningham, the creator of the first wiki site on the internet, in the early 1990s.

Deliberate: At times, IT techs and business leaders will decide to cut corners on an IT project due to a variety of reasons. This decision leads to deliberate technical debt – debt with the idea that this decision is only temporary or a permanent workaround (however, this solution often costs more in the long run!)

Accidental: When teams design systems, gaps in coverage are inevitable, either intentionally or unintentionally. Accidental technical debt is incurred over time as these mistakes pile up causing backed up workflows, malfunctioning equipment, system downtime, etc.

Outdated: Much like cooking, medicine, travel, and fashion, solutions change over time. IT equipment becomes more outdated each day after deployment. Failure to continually update and upgrade equipment leads to outdated technical debt.

Bit Rot: Over time, systems tend to degrade, much like food begins to spoil. The speed at which this will happen will vary but is inevitable. This system degrading comes from active usage, settings changing over time, aged equipment failing or requiring a reset, and programming becoming outdated.

As you can imagine, the cost of a solution grows with each passing day. A larger price tag for the same outcome.

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Security First IT’s Firsthand Experience with Technical Debt:

One of our clients will have to pay nearly five times the normal rate to migrate a database.

The reason? As you already have made an educated guess, technical debt.

This client has a business-necessary database of clients that have been permanently hosted on an in-house server since the opening of the business over a decade ago. Over the years, this database has given the business no issues whatsoever outside of the general occasional replacement of a cord or server reboot. However, recently this business has been given the news that they are required to move their database to an up-to-date server with accompanying security software.

This means migrating an out of date, insecure, ten-year-old system. Even with cost-saving measures put into place, the client faces a much larger bill for the technical debt accrued over ten years, much like unpaid interest on a loan or credit card.

Managing Existing Technical Debt:

Like the many methods out there for reducing personal debt, there are methods to keep a reduce a large technical debt bill.

Priority: Issues with the largest priority should be examined and have their solutions implemented first.

The Quickest (or Cheapest) to Solve: Find the quickest or cheapest solutions and implement them before the list of issues grows larger.

Technology Update: Technology updates come in two forms, software and hardware. Software patches and updates should be performed regularly, however, if this has been neglected, it is an important next step to ensure that all devices are completely updated, and their safety features are configured appropriately. The second form, hardware, is more cost intensive – it requires replacing outdated hardware such as faulty equipment or pieces that have reached end of life.

Refactoring: If your business possesses custom-coded environments or software, it is important to audit the code for inaccuracies or mistakes which could cause problems in the future.

Preventing Technical Debt

Preventing technical debt is rather easy – active updating of equipment and following a business-customized IT plan. One of the biggest uphill battles in the fight against technical debt is explaining the importance of IT upkeep to those with spending power. What these individuals lack in IT knowledge, they understand in terms of expenditure.

It is important to explain ongoing IT costs like an investment, such as a home or rental property mentioned earlier – the investment into a business’ IT backbone pays itself off gradually, rather than incurring a large bill that will need immediate payment to avoid interrupting business activities.

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