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Why IT debt is mounting

Derek Britton | Sept. 23, 2014
While businesses continue to stockpile cash, they are quietly assuming an unspoken debt IT debt.

* New Technology/Innovation. Many CIOs and IT Managers will point to the external pressures such as the disruptive technologies companies must work with to maintain market share that are causing them to delay other tasks.

* Improvement Process. With no rigor for monitoring and controlling the application portfolio, it is often harder to plan and prioritize application backlog activities systemically. Gartner suggested this in 2010, and more recent research concludes that only half of organizations have an appropriate process for managing the portfolio this way.

* Vendor Relationships. Filtering the must-do from the nice-to-have and ensuring the right technical and 3rd party strategy is in place is an important IT task. Not adding to the longer-term backlog as a result of procurement decisions remains an important and ongoing challenge for the organization's senior architects and decision makers.

Understanding potential root causes of IT debt leads to a greater likelihood that CIOs can address it in a meaningful and sustainable way. Strategies that can assist CIOs in reducing IT debt include:

* Don't rush to rip and replace' existing systems. CIOs who feel trapped in a cycle of tackling maintenance tasks and firefighting are tempted to schedule a future overhaul/rewrite of technological assets. But rewriting or re-engineering working systems costs time, money, is fraught with risk and, ultimately, will not alleviate IT debt. At the same time, ripping out perfectly good business applications and replacing them with new code that may or may not do exactly the same job doesn't seem wise either.

Instead, CIOs must gain a deeper understanding of the scope of the problem and employ a pragmatic approach to fixing processes without jeopardizing existing services or adding to the backlog. An optimal starting point is focusing on the backlog at a systemic level. Isolating and planning backlog busting projects is facilitated by new incarnations of application knowledge technology, and smarter tools for making application changes.

* Laser in on IT debt culprits. The Vanson Bourne survey reaffirms the mainframe is likely to hold the majority of the out-of-date software in an organization and that organizations have let their mainframe applications get even more out of date suggesting that many are not maintaining their mainframe applications, let alone overhauling them.

This would not be an issue if reliance on mainframes was expected to decrease, but survey respondents expect their organizations to continue relying on mainframe applications for another ten years, with almost a third (32%) believing it to be longer than this.

However, despite the perceived longevity of mainframe applications and mounting IT debt, the majority (81%) finds it difficult justifying the expense of maintaining core applications and only 10% confirmed they are always successful in their justification. As a result, roughly half (51%) of CIOs admit their business is exposed to compliance and risk issues.


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