Intelligent Automation/RPA

What is technical debt, and why is everyone talking about it?

Defining technical debt and addressing how it accumulates within an organization is the first step to remediating it.

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Defining technical debt

Technical debt has become a buzzword and hot-button subject among digital enterprises; no industry is immune. But what is the definition of technical debt, and why has it become such a big conversation? This article sheds light on exploring the true meaning of technical debt.

Technical debt (aka tech debt) is the accumulation of relatively quick fixes to systems, or heavy but misguided investments, which may be money sinks in the long run.1 This can manifest in several ways across an organization, like when a development team implements speedy patches to code instead of a full-scale update or adopts a tech stack with tools that don’t completely integrate with existing solutions.

The difficult pill to swallow is that most companies have already accrued some amount of technical debt, especially in recent years, and are likely feeling the burden of it.

Digital transformation and the pressure on business agility

The COVID-19 pandemic brought on unprecedented stressors for many businesses, particularly those that had been lagging in digital maturity. As entire industries were forced to shut down, companies struggled to find new ways to deliver goods and services to their customers. When in-person customer options were severely limited or eliminated altogether, it quickly became clear how few companies had made the investment to enable a fully digital architecture and operating model.2

This created a monumental push to embrace digital transformation and rapidly digitize what were once in-person processes for everything from customer interactions and supply-chain logistics to internal operations. For some, that meant they adopted new tools and systems well before the infrastructure was in place to properly implement them.

For example, cloud migration and intelligent automation are complicated endeavors that shouldn’t be rushed. But, if it was the difference between staying in business or laying off huge amounts of staff and closing doors, companies did what they thought was necessary, and in record time. The downside is that the sudden push to be agile could also lead to a lack of ROI, or more drastically, the appearance of tech debt.

The strain of adapting to remote work

One of the most predominant business functions that changed because of the pandemic was the shift to remote work. As the concern for public safety grew and shut-down orders went into effect, companies had two choices.

Either they had to furlough, lay off, or send employees home and halt all business, or they had to quickly figure out how to equip their staff with the necessary tools to carry on their work at home. For many organizations, like local government agencies, there was no roadmap to follow, and this had never been done before.

Laptops, monitors, and other essential IT assets needed to be sent to every member of every team. Beyond that, there also needed to be adequate software and licensed seats in place to keep business operations running smoothly and to keep teams connected in their various locations.

This presented huge upfront costs to scale across a large employee base, especially if an organization wasn’t already using a CRM or virtual conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Adapting to these new working methods created an inevitable and immense financial strain on businesses—and additional instances of technical debt.

Identifying and addressing technical debt

The past five years have brought a multitude of changes to how companies do business. Rapid digital transformation and the sudden shift to remote work created unexpected financial strains and debt that many organizations are still grappling with.

The good news is that just because technical debt exists, doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing, or that it will have a permanent negative effect on a business. By understanding where the debt exists in your organization, as well as how much has accrued, you’re better able to address and mitigate the impact.

A strategic approach to managing technical debt can make all the difference.

Read our white paper Unlocking the secrets to managing technical debt to gain insight on how to tackle technical debt at your organization.


  1. McKendrick, Joe. “Technical Debt: A Hard-to-Measure Obstacle to Digital Transformation.” Forbes. June 24, 2022. Accessed February 15, 2023.
  2. Overby, Stephanie. “9 digital transformation truths that the pandemic rewrote.” The Enterprisers Project. August 16, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2023.

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