Integrating Innovation and Legacy Systems: Reducing Technical Debt in Digital Transformation

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When it come to the struggles of undergoing digital transformation, many organizations are going about their digital transformation though a bimodal approach, and according to this post, this is unsustainable.

For most enterprises the space between their best and actual ability to support innovation and IT is getting wider, so much so that the average,  just can't go on in the long term. The problem of balancing legacy IT systems and the innovation needed to meet evolving business demands requires speed and skill. The bimodal approach, which creates two modes of IT does not seem like the best response to this problem and what is required to address it.

However, many organizations are going through a siloed, split, approach. The effects are this are numerous. First off it creates a divide between the team. The innovation-focused part of the team will be much less tied to building with software quality and maintainability (as they will be driving to provide fast business value) than the part working on traditional IT. This disparate level of accountability to sustainable IT solutions within the whole of the development team is what leads to technical debt.

Technical debt is defined in this post as the "work left to do". This may be too simple of a definition. Technical debt does have to do with work that has to be re-approached at a later point, not only because it was left undone to begin with but because it was work that met a certain standard of 'done' for the short-term and not long-term needs. This is a necessary clarification, especially when looking at how bimodal IT leaves the development team with dissimilar responsibility in terms of the sustainability of their software.

In bimodal IT what occurs is that one part of IT, that is focused on fast results, is not well-positioned to deal with things like: security, business continuity, and working with cloud, along with others. This results in technical debt because as we mentioned about fast-results driven IT had not set its sight on the future. This debt will accumulate making it more difficult for future innovation to occur (and most likely spur more short-term driven development) and leave any digital transformation initiative crippled by mountains of technical debt.

The responsibility for CIOs then lies in integrating what those who have worked on legacy systems have learned (from working with difficult poorly maintained code) with the rest of the team working on providing quick innovation. That means sharing lessons that providing quick and dirt work to reach a present business demand can wreck havoc down the road, in terms of technical debt. This sort of integration between traditional IT and innovative IT is necessary to successfully undergo digital transformation.

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Filed in: Technical Debt
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