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CompTIA Research: Technical Debt Deceptively Costly

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Organizations that accumulate technical debt and allow “cowboy IT” face the dual challenges of more cybersecurity vulnerabilities and fewer opportunities to innovate, according to a new survey by CompTIA.

Technical debt is a challenge for 74% of organizations, including 42% that say it is a significant obstacle, according to CompTIA’s survey of 523 IT professionals. An even higher percentage of organizations (78%) are negatively impacted by cowboy IT, shadow IT and other ad hoc approaches to technology development and deployment implemented without the involvement of IT teams, the survey revealed.

“If you don’t reduce technical debt, you end up with serious problems, and if cowboy IT is allowed to run roughshod, it leads to a toxic tech and business environment,” said Dr. James Stanger, chief technology evangelist, CompTIA. “When you accept a risk but never redress it properly, you end up with problems and implications that keep companies from making strategic use of their technology.”

Stanger cited two examples. Companies that accrue technical debt from the use of unmonitored and unpatched software could become ransomware victims. Unchecked cowboy IT practices could result in multiple issues, from fines and penalties for failing to comply with privacy regulations, to ransomware attacks and data loss, CompTIA said.

There are a number of causes of technical debt and cowboy IT, including underestimating the complexity of technology solutions and the resource and time requirements it takes to implement them. When generative artificial intelligence (AI) is added to the mix, a majority of IT pros (63%) said it exacerbates the accumulation of technical debt and occurrences of cowboy IT, compared to 32% who said generative AI has improved their situation.

On a positive note, 68% of organizations said improvement of their technology best processes to reduce technical debt and cowboy IT is a high or moderate priority, including these actions:

Improved connection between business and tech implementation52%
Better customer experience48%
Improved cybersecurity posture43%
Improved compliance to external regulations40%

The most productive way of tackling conscious technical debt involves iteration on every level of your organization, no matter how large or small. For example, actively manage development teams or service providers so they follow up on any debt that they incur and budget time to address the issues, Stanger advised.