Feb 01 2024

Agencies Can Simply Streamline to Reduce Technical Debt

The cost of failing to modernize can be greater than the price of refreshing systems.

At last year’s annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), Julia Richman, then the deputy executive director for the Colorado Office of Information Technology, noted that the work of transforming large legacy platforms can be difficult and expensive. Still, Richman and her colleagues demonstrated to the governor and the legislature that there could be an enormous cost if the state does not modernize critical systems.

One factor in that equation is how much technical debt the state faces. Technical debt refers to the costs incurred when an enterprise does not address problems now that will affect them in the future.

The Colorado Office of Information Technology must keep state IT systems running smoothly and securely, and it must deliver the services Coloradans need. There is a tremendous cost associated with a failure to modernize: The well of knowledge about how to efficiently and effectively address these challenges shrinks.

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Governments Can Simplify to Reduce Debt

During NASCIO Midyear 2023, Utah CIO Alan Fuller spoke about how streamlining reduces technical debt for his state. He told Government Technology that the state has a portfolio of roughly 1,600 applications. Over the past several years, Utah has moved about half of its systems to the cloud. And where possible, the state is moving to commercial off-the-shelf solutions to lower the cost of administering systems. Custom applications have high support costs and may open security vulnerabilities, he said.

In reports including “The Need for Speed,” NASCIO stresses the importance of reducing technical debt and suggests avenues such as low-code and no-code software development as a means of addressing it.

“Due to workforce shortages and the desire to reduce technical debt created by custom applications, LC/NC really fills a need,” NASCIO notes in “The Need for Speed.”

Low-code and no-code software development is exactly what it sounds like: It is the adoption of an application that doesn’t require software coding expertise.

“Low-code and no-code development tools enable end users who may not have coding skills to become citizen developers, creating apps without having to pull in IT resources or programmers. The tools offer drag-and-drop functionality as well as templates for common features such as e-commerce capabilities, and they can help organizations dramatically increase the speed and efficiency with which they deploy new applications,” notes a CDW white paper, “How a Modernized Digital Experience Improves Hybrid Work.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Colorado aims to pay down technical debt.

State and Local Agencies Can Automate to Reduce Debt

CDW advises that adopting DevOps can reduce technical debt.

“DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity,” notes Amazon Web Services.

In a blog on DevOps, CDW’s Roger Campbell says that traditional development environments cannot systemically address performance issues that accumulate in an application over time. Because IT officials may face urgent problems that require solutions now, they could neglect these growing performance issues in the background.

“In a DevOps environment, by contrast, organizations can automate workflows in ways that prevent technical debt from building up,” he notes.

Technical debt can build if people don’t recognize the problem. When adopting DevOps, government teams receive constant feedback to identify problems quickly and respond promptly.

Governments Can Streamline to Reduce Debt

In 2022, the Center for Digital Government recognized Oakland County, Mich., as a top digital county due to its efforts to reduce technical debt. The county adopted a cloud-first strategy and streamlined business processes for government agencies.

The county centralized and mainstreamed processes with an identity and access management solution from Okta. “Oakland County decided to reduce its technical debt by modernizing its infrastructure and placing a strong identity solution at its core,” Okta notes in a case study.

To get there, the county had to retire applications that were contributing to delays in its business processes and no longer fully meeting the needs of its agencies. By studying how to streamline processes, the county was able to reduce the number of applications in use, cut maintenance requirements and reduce its technical debt.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on X (formerly Twitter).


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