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Author: Elyse, PMP, CPHIMS
March 4, 2011

If you work in IT, you have felt the joys of technical debt. Technical debt is the catch phrase that captures all that built up debt every time a solution is "good enough with a smidge of manual intervention". Often in projects the lack of planning and the longer implementation forthcoming increases your technical debts. The manual intervention and tweaking done in system administration is another component. Additionally those old legacy applications still in use are another component of technical debt.

5 Places to Check to Quantify

As a leader, it is time to figure out how much technical debt your it department has incurred over the years. Let's talk a bit about places to examine for metrics to see what your current run rate on technical debt is.

  1. Track Break Fix Time -Create a standardized time reporting structure within your department, and an awareness campaign to assure all understand the categories. Review the categories with your leadership team to assure everyone agrees on the items to track. Often in this category there are the incidents and problems being managed. The goal here is to uncover your resource allocation.Determine what percentage of overall time is spent on break fix activities.

  2. Get a sense of the daily, weekly, and monthly operational tasks - We are the automation department, however it is time to look under the covers and find out how truly automated we are. Besides the computer operations team, how many of your team are accountable for manual operational tasks? What are those tasks? What is the frequency?

  3. Infrastructure components over 5 years old or End Of Life - What percentage of your infrastructure is over 5 years old? Over 8 years old? What percentage has moved to End Of Life/Support? What mission critical application run on this infrastructure? Check out the PBX and voicemail systems too, it is not a good idea to leave telecom outside.

  4. Ascertain Applications which haven't been updated in 5 years - What percentage of your organizations applications have not been updated in the last 5 years? Are you still running Office 2003? It is important in this exercise to include all applications not just the ones supported by IT.

  5. Implement an Event Monitoring and Tracking Process - It is important to track outages and events to determine the level of brittleness of your it environment. Once I watched a hospital billing team have a horrid oncall for years. When the team reported to me, we quantified what the main repeatable problems were. It turned out most of the staff spent time managing file sizes manually, instead of letting the mainframe do it for them. We implemented the solution working with the mainframe system programmers, and it was a good first step. The end of the story is unless you shine a light on the problem and know what is breaking and how often it may not come to light. When you determine what is breaking with frequency, you will now focus on percentages and resolve the heavy hitters.

Once you have a sense of the technical debt, it is time to clarify how this impacts your agility to respond to organizational requests. After all our goal is to be able to deliver the business outcomes our hospital is focused upon achieving.

The Take Away

Once you have a sense of your technical debt, you can plan to address it. This will probably mean needing resources and a bit of money. You will also need to have transparency with your customer base explaining the small amount of resources dedicated to resolving technical debt. However in the long run, reducing technical debt will improve the agility and responsiveness of your department.
These are a few suggestions of where to examine, have you checked out others?

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