Technical Debt Might Be Hindering Your Digital Transformation

Technical debt — the price companies pay for short-term technological fixes — hinders their ability to innovate and adapt in the digital age. One strategy to combat technical debt? Digital decoupling.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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Organizations face intense pressure to keep themselves at the leading edge of IT capabilities. Sometimes, however, the need for fast technology solutions forces them to make short-term programming and systems-architecture decisions. In doing so, they accrue and compound an invisible technical debt — the price they will one day need to pay to make it right.

As IT software and infrastructure age, and as more features are added to legacy systems, technical debt grows and puts additional fixed operating costs on the company, diverting precious investment in innovation and new capabilities. Over time, the challenge of connecting and updating these systems becomes overwhelming for IT teams, and undertaking strategic digital transformations as an organization becomes even more difficult.

Companies seeking to expand their businesses across the globe may find themselves hindered by an untenable IT environment — a patchwork of hundreds of different systems that slow collaboration and make it difficult to scale innovation.

From Technical Conundrum to C-Suite Challenge

How serious is the problem? The entire C-suite, including the CEO, now recognizes technical debt as not just a technical problem but an obstacle to progress on many fronts. According to an Accenture survey of more than 1,000 C-level executives, evenly split between IT and non-IT leaders, a significant majority say technical debt severely limits their IT function’s ability to innovate (70%), greatly limits their ability to migrate to new technologies (72%), and makes their IT function much less responsive to changes in the market (69%).

To make matters worse, there are no easy solutions to this problem, and indecision abounds. Some 67% of executives we surveyed said they would like to replace all of their core legacy systems. But 70% would like to keep their existing core systems as long as possible — and 50% wish they could have the best of both worlds. In other words, what leaders really want most is to enjoy all the benefits of new information technologies, such as being able to adapt quickly to new situations, while keeping their legacy systems humming.

Fortunately, there is a way for established companies to have the best of both worlds — and create a scalable, flexible, and resilient enterprise IT architecture. This solution is called “digital decoupling.”

To Get Out of Debt, Decouple

Think about your older systems.



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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The authors acknowledge the contributions of Allan Alter, Paul Barbagallo, and Surya Mukherjee, all of Accenture Research, to this work.

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Comment (1)
Dave Miller
From a human resources perspective, it is useful to engage the master users of the legacy systems (who usually are the only players with the full view of the business needs, reporting capabilities, system limitations and data) from the beginning of the process. They have the demonstrated talent to excel in this realm and will provide the proper insight into how the new systems should be configured. To ensure this works efficiently, the user(s) should be existing team leaders and be granted authority to either directly guide the IT transition, or at least co-manage it. Most IT projects have no transparency to the the business units, so, operational leaders can bridge that weakness if they are in a position to project manage the effort.