3 Ways States Can Start Repaying Technical Debt


The concept of overhauling legacy systems and eliminating technical debt is not new to state government agencies, but these initiatives are not always high on the priority list. After all, IT systems have a life cycle and agencies are committed to ensuring a return on investment for their lifetime, even if they lack the resources to maintain them effectively or the funding to replace them as they age. .

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aims to address these challenges by giving states access to federal funds to accelerate infrastructure modernization, which includes IT infrastructure. One of the first states to take advantage of this is Colorado. After discovering $465 million in technical debt earlier this year, the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology has requested $66 million in stimulus funds to upgrade the organization’s oldest computer systems. State.

But repaying technical debt is not easy. Re-engineering decades-old systems and applications or moving them to the cloud requires long-term vision and investment and is highly dependent on a state’s priorities and what IT can support.

With that in mind, here are three best practices to consider as state agencies seek to address the tech debt challenge.

1. Highlight what works and what doesn’t

First, agencies need to take inventory of their oldest IT assets and the cost of operating and maintaining those systems. For example, an application that consistently underperforms or requires significant manual intervention may benefit from a re-architecture, a new platform, a refactoring, or a move to the cloud.

Performance management tools can help IT teams understand, across the infrastructure, which systems are negatively impacting the organization or not needed. Performance vectors to consider include server and application health (RAM and CPU usage, user load, response time, bandwidth consumption, and availability), database issues (crashes, outages, and bottlenecks) and the security posture of a system (poorly developed code, accumulation of vulnerabilities, etc.). Connectivity issues should also be looked at under the microscope, such as load balancers failing to properly route traffic between servers and clients.

2. Build a compelling case for tech debt cleanup

Once IT leaders understand what works and what doesn’t, they need to convince cross-functional business stakeholders, many of whom have other priorities, that debt cleanup is necessary.

To do this, CIOs need to ditch the term “tech debt” and detail the cost to IT teams. Rather, they need to communicate the business results of solving the problem. Program managers and administrators need to be convinced that current ways of working are inefficient and that IT investments will deliver business value (organizational agility, better user experience and improved service delivery to citizens).

Colorado CIO Tony Neal-Graves understands this. His team works proactively with client agencies to identify individual technical liabilities and demonstrate the return on investment of moving to modern systems. Developing a technology roadmap that shows incremental value, delivers small wins, and justifies continued effort can build on that momentum.

3. Make sure legacy and modern technologies work well together

As agencies work on their roadmap for cleaning up tech debt, it’s critical that they each have a plan for managing project risks and performance impacts. New and old technologies don’t always work well together. Maybe they don’t integrate or manage data seamlessly, or maybe new hybrid cloud environments limit IT’s ability to diagnose service issues using the tools which it has today.

To deliver on their modernization promise, IT teams need to be observable about the performance of their applications, databases, cloud instances, and networks, without jumping between disparate monitoring tools and risk missing an issue. With visibility across the entire IT stack, they can see the connections and dependencies between systems and ensure everything is working as it should without incurring additional technical debt.

It’s time to tackle tech debt

Despite the challenges, cleaning up tech debt is worth it. When surveyed, a majority (69%) of IT leaders said they viewed technical debt as one of the biggest threats to innovation. It’s also a huge drain on computing resources. On average, organizations spend a third of their budget managing technology debt (this number jumps to 41% for large organizations).

State CIOs can reverse these numbers if they stop relying on outdated systems and advocate for a shift of resources toward modernizing key technologies. The funds are there, it is time to act.


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