When Taking Care of Technical Debt Requires a Technical Reboot

Technical debt is a major impediment in most organizations, but it is often unacknowledged or misunderstood, especially outside of IT departments. The concept derives from that of financial debt, in which one borrows against the future. As with a traditional loan, if enough debt accrues, the borrower can no longer afford to pay anything toward the principal. Instead, all their available cash goes toward the interest. The debt is never reduced (and may even increase), and both the lender and the borrower stagnate.

Too often, IT organizations defer a rewrite or refactor to accommodate other seemingly high-priority needs. With limited time and money (too little to do it all), the organization must make a choice between adding debt and failing to deliver some features. When organizations avoid debt entirely, they can stifle innovation. At the other end of the spectrum, some organizations take on too much and then fail to pay it off.

For telecommunications (telecom)—an industry weighed down by legacy systems requiring heavy, ongoing maintenance— the issue is reaching a breaking point.