When we hear the word “debt” we tend to recoil, and for good reason. In both our business and personal lives, debt can be an inhibitor of growth and sustainability. In terms of technology and automation, the same is true. But technical and automation debt are not something that should stop your organization from remaining future-focused. Just like a college student incurs debt in pursuit of gaining a better career in the future, your company should handle its technical and automation debt with a forward-looking approach, too.
What Are Technical Debt and Automation Debt?
When comparing technical debt and automation debt, one stands out as much more inhibiting than the other. Technical debt is often unavoidable and does not necessarily stop progress. Automation debt, on the other hand, is avoidable and can slow or even halt organizational growth.
Technical debt is immaturity in technology created by anything from rushed timelines to “Band-Aid” fixes that cause future issues with compatibility, performance, or strategic alignment. But technical debt, like college debt, is often a necessary evil.
Sometimes, waiting to roll out a new technology until it is perfect is not an option, especially because spending too much time on a “perfect” solution often means that the solution will become irrelevant by the time it’s ready for launch. The fact is that no technology is perfect and there will always be bugs—as long as you understand those risks and are prepared to deal with them, the debt you incur as a result is not inhibiting growth but enabling you to keep moving forward.
Still, it is important to note that not all technical debt is equal and that some types of technical debt can become a burden on your organization. In 2009, software development expert Martin Fowler created a quadrant that helps to weigh the risks and rewards of taking on technical debt and it still holds up today. Here is what it looks like:
The main idea behind this quadrant is to avoid reckless automation debt, the left side of the quadrant. Technical debt that is reckless can cause unforeseen issues or issues that cannot be ignored and will therefore halt progress, if not today, then surely down the road.
In contrast, prudent and deliberate technical debt is the best kind of technical debt to have because it implies that you have a plan moving forward while also keeping up the momentum of your business’s technological growth.
Put simply, automation debt is all of the opportunities for automation that your organization misses. Any process that can be automated, but is not, creates debt. Since automation debt is the non-existence of something rather than the existence of issues, like technical debt, it is easy to accumulate a lot of automation debt without knowing you are doing so.
All of those missed opportunities for automation are also missed opportunities for advancement. In the long run, automation debt can be more damaging than technical debt because it implies a lack of movement.
But that does not mean you shouldn’t worry about technical debt. Technical debt can sometimes lead to automation debt because poor technology limits the capabilities of future automation tools. As a result, companies decide not to automate until the technical debt is resolved. Often, they end up never automating at all.
Odds are that if you are automating processes, you have both automation debt and technical debt. But there’s no need to panic, reducing/eliminating debt and avoiding it in the future is more than possible. It starts with implementing a future-focused strategy along with sustainable solutions.
Avoiding Debt from the Outset – Future-Focused Strategy
Although both technical and automation debt is a normal and somewhat expected part of your automation journey, there are preemptive measures that you can take to reduce the occurrence of debt and make your journey much smoother.
1. Create a Comprehensive and Realistic Timeline
This could be said about all forms of automation, technology, or new business processes: a good timeline will yield good results. When implementing automation tools into your business, it is crucial that you leave space for iterations, updates, and listening to team feedback. This is time that is well spent at the beginning of implementation and will reduce any technical debt that may have resulted from a rushed update or unrealistic timeline.
2. Align with IT
When creating your timeline, it is also greatly important to make sure that you are aligned with your IT team. Make sure they have the capacity for implementing on time and give them sufficient cushion for any unexpected issues that may arise and become technical debt if not addressed.
3. Choose the Right Processes to Automate at the Right Time
The first two items in this list are mainly about avoiding technical debt, but process selection is the best way to preemptively avoid automation debt. Creating a comprehensive timeline with an aligned team will be ultimately fruitless if that time is spent on automating the wrong process at the wrong time.
Before you even begin creating a timeline, make sure you have assessed not only the most important places for automation but also the ideal times to implement. Read our recent blog on Dev Ops and Agile to learn more about not only choosing the right processes but also implementing them at the right time.
Eliminating the Automation Debt You Already Have – Sustainable Solutions
Chances are that you have already begun your automation journey and have therefore already gained some technical and automation debt. There’s no need for concern, the preemptive measure listed above are still valid when bringing on a new technology. And there are several things you cal do after the fact to get you out from under the technical and automation debt that may be holding you back.
1. Quick Delivery with Proper Investment and Competent Team
One way to reduce automation debt is to speed up the delivery of your technology. However, as we stated previously, rushed timelines pose the threat of creating more technical debt. But that doesn’t mean that quick delivery is impossible or inherently debt-heavy. With sufficient money, resources, and people, speeding up your automation implementation is more than possible. Remember, this is not the place to cut corners. If you are going to make an investment in automation, make it a good one.
2. Citizen Development
Previously we talked about the importance of aligning with your IT team and making sure they have the capacity to perform the tasks at hand, but for some companies, waiting for IT to have the capacity could mean waiting forever. That’s where citizen development comes in.
Don’t make employees wait for when IT has the capacity—give them the resources to start implementing automation tools themselves. With several low-code or no-code automation platforms on the market, limited IT capacity is no longer an excuse for automation debt.
3. Zero/Low Dependencies
Many organizations recognize that they have technical debt and have concerns about how those flawed technologies will affect the technologies that are coming down the pipeline. Sometimes, technical debt does become an issue here, but there are several technologies on the market today that have low dependencies or no dependencies. This means that these technologies do not require other technology in order to operate.
Zero and low dependency technology can eliminate some technical dept by taking the place of old software. It also helps avoid automation dept because it allows your automation plan to move forward regardless of past mistakes.
Stay Focused on the Future
Automation is all about improvement, advancement, and growth. During your journey from RPA to hyperautomation, if you find you are not improving, not advancing, and not growing, it may be time to take inventory of your debt and revisit your strategy.
Contact us for more information on how to eliminate and avoid automation debt in order to create a culture of automation focused on continuous improvement.