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Technical Debt – The (Not So) Silent Crisis

By: on February 16, 2021 in Advice, Business Continuity, Technical Debt

Here in the USA, many are experiencing unprecedented winter weather. For example, parts of Texas are without power and heat and experiencing blackouts. A big focus of what I do for customers – business continuity – has to account for things like the power going down. A few years ago California had rolling blackouts in the summertime. Austin tried that in this 2021 storm – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – the plan did not work since what happened isn’t what they expected. From this Austin-American Statesman article:

Austin Energy’s plan was to rotate the outages, meaning more neighborhoods would’ve shared the no-electricity burden for the entire city, for a period not to exceed 40 minutes. But the rotation was not possible, Sargent said, because it would have disrupted service for those critical operations.

There is a reason I strongly recommend testing all continuity plans. For IT folks, you do not just want your servers literally powering off. If that happens, pray you experience no data corruption. How are your backups? Test them recently?

Having said that, the Houston Chronicle wrote a damning article. Here’s the part I want to focus on:

“The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

“For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity,” said Hirs. “If you don’t make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It’s like not taking care of your car. If you don’t change the oil and tires, you can’t expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work.”

Some of what is happening in Texas is not only due to Mother Nature but also partially because of technical debt. Old, aging infrastructure eventually buckles and sometimes fails. Technical debt is not just an IT problem. Real life examples such as this bring the concept front and center.

Kicking the proverbial can down the road and saying things like “We’ll worry about that later, it’s fine now” is often what makes the end results so painful. Neglect increases risk whether it is intentional or not. Max and I help customers so these big leaps incur less risk and pain including managing external dependencies.

Look at your company if you are a FTE or your customers if a consultant. How many applications and servers have not been even looked at because they “just work” and “it/they is/are fine”? Budget is always a concern, but to paraphrase the old adage, you will pay now or pay later. Paying later is often more expensive. Insert your own scenario or question here but answer this:

What is the actual cost if that system/application/server fails or is unavailable? I bet it is more than if things had been dealt with all along or right from the start. You can sometimes avoid a quadruple bypass.

For those of you affected by this weather, my heart goes out to you. Stay safe and warm. Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, please check in with neighbors and loved ones.

We must be prepared both in life and in business to handle both the expected and unexpected which also means managing your technical debt. This is what we help our customers do every day at SQLHA, so if you want to ensure your business can not only be resilient but also in a good place to manage handle technical debt, contact us today.


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