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The Business Case for ADDRESSING Tech Debt

Doug Ross
Mar 18, 2024
Artist’s rendering of a complex IT ecosystem

With all the hoopla around new technologies, many IT organizations face a more mundane challenge: ever-growing “Run” costs that crowd out investment in delivering new business capabilities.

These “Run” costs are often the accrued results of technical debt.

The term technical debt refers to the outcome of prioritizing velocity or short-term deliverables over good design and clean code. While it might get a feature or product out the door faster, it creates a “debt” that needs to be repaid later.

The business case for mounting an aggressive campaign to drive down technical debt is a multi-faceted one. In my experience, there are six basic pillars that can be used to construct a solid case:

1. Talent Management

Poor knowledge management and single-points-of-failure often plague legacy systems. Further hindering this talent gap are the challenges around recruiting and retaining individuals to support older platforms and applications. Does a Computer Science grad really want to code in COBOL or RPG?

The inability to staff and support these platforms can become a critical factor in the business case.

2. Financials

Attacking tech debt can drive several positive financial outcomes: it can reduce licensing and support costs for outdated platforms. It can reduce “Run” costs while addressing audit findings.

If an application is unstable, an outage can directly translate to lost productivity and customer dissatisfaction. Ensuring all aspects of financial leverage are applied to the tech debt equation – from teams scrambling to address a P1 incident to high-powered engineers performing L3 support – will make a more ironclad case.

3. Data & Analytics

Legacy systems often create “data siloes”. Business users seeking dashboards and reports can struggle to patch together information from disparate sources. Data quality may suffer, which can impact business decision-making.

Attacking technical debt can streamline data delivery into strategic platforms, help simplify MDM and data quality challenges, and optimize a consistent view of reporting across the organization. These levers should not be overlooked when constructing the business case.

4. Business Strategy

Less technical debt means delivering new business capabilities faster. In a world where the business must pivot regularly, tech debt represents an anchor that slows down the ship and prevents it from steering clear of trouble.

The business case should account for more rapid delivery of new capabilities — like launching new products or introducing new channels — that match the speed of requests from the business.

5. Risk

Legacy systems represent risk. From a cyber-security perspective, squelching tech debt reduces the number of out-of-support or extended-support applications, shrinks the attack surface, closes overhanging audit findings and overall improves security posture.

The business case should include a “Risk” pillar to account for these elements.

6. Infrastructure

Removing technical debt can help drive more infrastructure into the cloud, which can offer faster delivery, improved DevOps and DevSecOps pipelines, and the use of managed services from Cloud providers to drive scalability.

These aspects can also result in reduced risks and costs that should be factored into the business case.


If left unaddressed, tech debt can weigh down an organization and prevent it from responding to critical business needs. I personally believe every IT leader should be concerned with this type of debt in their domains.

Attacking technical debt can also be streamlined using new technologies to document legacy systems, suggest new architectural patterns, and help upgrade, migrate or rebuild packages more rapidly than ever before.

Delivering a comprehensive business case to attack technical debt can offer a business-centric approach to justifying long sought IT improvements.

About the author

VP, National Solutions Architect – AI and RPA | USA
Doug Ross is the former CTO at Western & Southern Financial Group, a Fortune 500 diversified financial services company. While there, Ross won a ComputerWorld Premier 100 Award as well as an SMA Innovation in Action Award for innovative solutions that helped the organization open new and highly profitable distribution channels.

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