What’s Behind the Technical Debt Most Technologists Face?

Technical debt remains a persistent issue for technologists everywhere, throwing production schedules and budgets out of whack on a regular basis. Also known as design or coding debt, technical debt is what happens when teams choose an easier but imperfect solution at the outset of a project; as that project grows and matures, those early flaws (such as a failure to align to standards, or development along multiple, incomplete branches) cost progressively more time and money.

What factors actually drive technical debt? OutSystems, a low-code platform, recently surveyed 521 “IT decision makers”at SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses), commercial companies ($1 billion to $2.5 billion in annual revenue) and enterprises (more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue) to obtain a granular answer to that question. 

The survey found that companies devote an average of 28 percent of their IT budgets to technical debt, just behind innovating and building new capabilities (33 percent of IT budgets) and running “status quo operations” (38 percent of IT budgets). At the enterprise level, some 41 percent of the average IT budget is consumed by technical debt—a stunning number, when you consider all the other priorities confronting project managers and executives. 

But when it comes to the root of technical debt, no one cause stands out. Too many development languages and frameworks, along with outdated technologies, are big reasons; so is turnover among development teams. Check out OutSystems’s chart:

While eliminating technical debt at all costs is important for many tech teams, this data from OutSystems shows the difficulty of that task, especially given the budget and resource issues involved. Managers can begin to tackle that debt by reserving time for the team to actually tackle the toughest coding issues; regular meetings to evaluate and streamline the tech stack can also help, at least when it comes to minimizing the debt on future projects.

“Driven by a need to provide better and more customized solutions for their customers, businesses are competing for a limited pool of developer talent that can help them navigate increasingly complex IT platforms and operations,” reads OutSystems’s report. “That’s why companies in the survey said the two leading factors behind technical debt were the high number of development languages, which makes it complicated to maintain and upgrade systems, as well as turnover in development teams, which leaves new hires in charge of platforms they didn’t create and may not fully embrace or understand.”