When projects are rushed, urgent support tasks are accomplished and exceptions are made to normal processes, end users may be happy, and someone might call the job done.
As IT managers know, however, no project is ever truly done — and those conducted too quickly will cause more work as time passes.
Then there are the add-ons outside of normal operation: That VIP who can’t survive without a ThinkPad when everyone else has a Dell. That 32-bit database server for a special application when everything else is 64-bit. The cloud subscription for one department when the rest of the company is on Microsoft 365 and OneDrive.
Keeping track of the exceptional short-term and long-term technical debt and maintenance liabilities is a sobering exercise. Documenting the debt serves two purposes: It helps IT managers understand where their resources are going and why time spent on maintenance activities is so much higher than anticipated. Documenting debt also serves as a reminder of all those tasks that need to be done.
Budget for Your Organization's Technical Debt
No matter what cost model your organization uses for IT, it’s an excellent idea to make specific line items in your budget for the costs to handle technical debt and maintenance liabilities. This is especially true for exceptional items, such as nonstandard hardware or software.
Putting a dollar figure on these costs helps in discussions both within management teams and with end users. The IT team’s job is to serve the organization and support it, but that doesn’t mean it should hide all of its costs in some amorphous black-box budget. Transparency within the executive team about how IT spends its time and resources helps when negotiating budgets.
At the same time, being able to explain how much something will cost over the long term is very valuable. By keeping up to date with the maintenance costs of hardware, software and especially custom configurations, IT is in a better position to give credible and trusted advice when projects and requests come up. In the long run, running a business is all about balancing scarce resources and competing priorities. When IT can predict what short-term and long-term costs will be for some activity, this helps decision-makers do a better job of resource allocation.
Cancel Your Business's Technical Debt
Debt doesn’t always have to be paid. In some cases, it’s more cost-effective to find a different approach to deal with uncompleted work. By documenting and budgeting for the costs of ongoing and delayed maintenance, IT teams have some ammunition for retiring legacy systems whose ongoing costs are excessive, or for removing customizations that have a disproportionate impact on IT resources.
Budget and costs aren’t the only reasons to try to retire or remove pieces of IT infrastructure. However, knowing where the money is going can help to prioritize changes. If there’s a top 10 list of systems slated for replacement or retirement, prioritizing based on the ongoing costs is valid.