Tech Blog

04
Feb
2016

Technical debt – what is it and how can you avoid it?

TechnicalDebt

As the graphic above shows, often we are too busy “being busy” and we don’t take the time to look at how inefficient equipment and systems, can be holding our businesses back.

In this article I am going to use Technical Debt as a metaphor (based on the idea of financial debt) to describe the negative impact and consequence of running outdated computers, IT equipment and systems within your organisation.

As you all know, there are consequences of being in financial debt; such as interest payments, paying down principle, late payment penalties and being indebted to the lender.

So it is with technical debt in an organisation’s IT. The problem is technical debt isn’t always so apparent to the owner or stakeholders of a business, however it is definitely there, silently gnawing away at your profits and your staff’s productivity.

Running a business on outdated equipment is a false economy and it is where you will find technical debt. Yes, keeping those slow and unreliable machines does help to keep the capital costs down, but staff costs do go up. Just ask anyone who has:

- killed time making coffee in the 10 minutes it takes their computer to boot up in the morning

- anybody who has to wait 3 minutes for a spreadsheet to recalculate when it should take 3 seconds

- anybody whose machine hangs on them before they have time to save and have to start again from scratch

- anybody working on a slow computer who is always waiting for it to catch up with them

Let’s look at an example. On average there are 21 working days in a month, multiplied by 12 months makes a total of 252 working days in a year – less holidays for an employee means they will work on average 232 days in a year. Say an employee is on $45 an hour and they wait 10 minutes for their computer to start up – that is a cost to the company of $1,740 for the year – a company employing 10 staff with 10 slow computers has a technical debt of $17,400 in unproductive time.

That is just one very obvious scenario, but what about where the computer is just generally slow, not enough to make you think to replace it, but for the poor person using the computer it feels like the proverbial ball and chain that they have to drag along throughout the work day, as they try to meet deadlines and multi-task on a machine that just isn’t up to the job. Depending on the size of your business you could be literally losing thousands of dollars in down time and lost productivity.

Not to mention the cost to you if you lose a good employee because they don’t enjoy the stress of working on older equipment. The cost here is down time for training up new staff and agency fees at between 10 to 15% to find a replacement.

If this technical debt becomes a higher cost to your business than what you would have spent using your capital, that is where you are now incurring technical interest. This technical interest is added to by:

- paying your IT company to perform patching and band aid fixes on an aging and often unsupported system

- through more service call outs

- down-time while your staff wait for repairs to be carried out

If you leave the IT system in this state you enter a period of technical compounding interest – this is the stage where the computer is constantly causing problems and finally dies, causing a knee jerk reaction to quickly order in new equipment and try to recover data (if at all possible) putting immense pressure on your IT staff to do this ASAP, all because you are worried you have a staff member sitting there twiddling their fingers and relegated to filing duties.

All this could have been avoided if the owner or stakeholders had seen the real cost to their business of running on aging equipment.

How to avoid technical debt

We are now into a fresh year – take this as a chance to look at your computer equipment. Talk to your staff, find out how they feel about their computers – after all they use them day in and day out – look at the productivity of each staff member and their performance. Don’t fall into the trap of false economy.

Interestingly, we often see when people purchase a new computer to replace an aging one – they actually wipe the technical debt and the technical interest and more often than not, that new computer needs no further work from us for the first couple of years of service – now isn’t that interesting?

Talk to Brainworx – we can help you put a plan together. You don’t have to replace all equipment at once. New equipment can be rolled out in a staged manner over time, and in some cases we can redeploy existing equipment to less business-critical tasks (but only if the equipment is viable from a specification and reliability point of view).

There are finance options available and we can help guide you all the way through – so contact Brainworx now and make 2016 the year you wipe your technical debt!

 

Mark Coleman
About Mark Coleman
Director of Brainworx Computer Services and the sub brands of Mailworx and Dataworx

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