What is technical debt in state and local governments?


Does using microservices increase technical debt?

Microservices allow governments to quickly and efficiently deploy large and complex applications to diverse groups of users. This is a useful strategy for increasing efficiency and cost savings, but it can have an impact on technical debt.

“Tools like Microsoft Power BI, for example, can be used in a multitude of applications,” says Reynolds. But IT managers also need to consider the culture of their departments and determine whether employees will use microservices. “If they don’t, then you’re increasing the technical debt.”

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With the move to microservices, “you’re updating systems that already exist, often because you’re trying to settle a technical debt. But maybe you don’t have the right tech staff to handle it, or maybe the feature list got shortened,” says Bruce. “You get technology that may work in the short term, but in the long term you add technical debt.”

When it comes to microservices, technical debt can also arise if the right staff isn’t in place.

Agencies need to have “the skill set readily available in a cost-effective way so that one can actually use these microservices and implement them,” says Reynolds. “If the organization doesn’t have enough knowledge or enough funds to hire individuals or consultants to use microservices, or if you have three or four departments that are struggling to work together, you’re ultimately not as effective as you could be.”

How to resolve technical debt

A number of strategies can come into play to help states and local governments reduce their existing technical debt and avoid taking on more of it.

“It starts with upgrading systems,” says Bruce. “Many of the great legacy systems were built by well-meaning people who designed the right solution at the right time, but technology has moved on. The missions of these agencies have evolved. What was once correct is no longer.

Collaboration and information sharing can also help get things done.

At the state and corporate level, “we’re seeing increased levels of interest and enthusiasm for technical debt resolution, increased efforts to build public digital infrastructure,” Bruce says. “As a result, there are more and more information-sharing groups — not just technical groups, but people in state and local governments who are data stewards or IT practitioners. to be part of the formalized ways to come together, to share what works across states and across cities.”

At the technical level, debt reduction begins with an inventory.

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“It is important for an organization to know what it has. It’s not just a data asset inventory, it’s an application asset inventory,” says Reynolds. “Then you need to perform a risk analysis, looking at those areas and identifying where your vulnerabilities and threats are, especially with aging systems. What is the cost or debt of not changing or improving in this particular area? »

Technical debt has financial implications, and IT will need to work with finance to resolve these issues. To do this effectively, IT will need to search for a common vocabulary. “Let’s speak the language of the budget director,” Reynolds says.

“Words like ‘technical debt’ and ‘major maintenance’, for example, translate easily into their language. They understand that dollar signs relate to renovation costs and replacement costs,” she says.

With strong communications and a focus on modernizing legacy systems, national and local IT departments can alleviate technical debt and put themselves on a stronger footing for the future.


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