'Technical debt' catches up to CIOs who launched flawed tech to meet pandemic needs

Chief information officers at companies worldwide accelerated the launch of digital programs to respond to the changing needs of their organizations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these imperfect programs could incur debt to retroactively fix, according to a July 16 report by The Wall Street Journal.

Technical debt is when flawed technology is launched to meet immediate needs, with CIOs usually aware these flaws will need to be addressed in the future, the Journal reported. Technical debt is similar to financial debt, where there are implications over time that can limit new innovations because money is being funneled to address former innovations.
"Across the board, people were doing the bare minimum to keep the wheels on, and that's typically an environment where technical debt arises," said Johna Till Johnson, CEO and founder of research firm Nemertes.

Research firm McKinsey surveyed 50 CIOs in July 2020 and found that 60 percent of CIOs reported increased spending on technical debt.

"Technical debt inhibits you from doing what you want to do in the shortest path possible, and I'd say it is a bigger problem now than before," said Krish Krishnakanthan, a senior partner at McKinsey.

Thomas Phelps, CIO and senior vice president of corporate strategy at software company Laserfiche, said taking on technical debt is OK as long as CIOs understand the risks associated with it.

"Always [look] at technical debt to make sure it's an appropriate amount for your organization," he said. "If your goal is to drive technical debt down to zero, you're going to drive up costs for your business and impede a culture of innovation. This will have catastrophic consequences as you will lose your competitive advantage while striving for that perfect code in every release."

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