We live in the age of consumerism, always wanting more and willing to incur debt to get it. And that includes those of us in the association industry, especially when it comes to our technology platforms.

The wave of hyper-competitiveness has pushed associations to ‘buy now...pay later’ as we respond to digital demands.  We must deliver more, faster, and at a lower cost. And while IT teams have responded admirably by upping their speed of delivery, this speed has come with an unintended consequence: technical debt

What is technical debt?

Technical debt, a result of outdated systems and rushed software implementations, accumulates over time. Tech teams choose speed over strategy (with the honest intention of fixing it later) to meet a deadline, but those small compromises here and there quickly become the default. This continues until, ultimately, the amount of time tech teams spend fixing technical debt issues consumes most of their resources.

To put it plainly, technical debt is like a virus. It may or may not show its effect right away, but it is hidden deep inside the crevices of bits and bytes, waiting patiently for an opportunity to turn into a chronic ailment. 

According to a recent report by Accenture, 70% of executives acknowledged that technical debt was a hindrance to innovation, an obstacle for migrating to new platforms, and a factor curtailing their ability to react to market changes.

How does it happen?

  • Packaged software customizations
  • Delaying application upgrades
  • Dirty data
  • Outdated workstations
  • Legacy and on-premises infrastructures

So, what?

Technical debt is tricky and can lead to quite a few association-wide issues, like:

  1. Negative customer experience
    You can’t meet member and customer expectations for online experiences if you cut corners. Your website, member portal, or LMS might not be mobile responsive or maybe you can’t use Single Sign-On (SSO) to integrate your LMS and AMS. And that is a problem. 

    An antiquated-feeling digital experience frustrates members and makes them wonder about the safety of their personal data, ultimately leading to those members doing business elsewhere.

  2. Wasted time and money
    The interest you pay on technical debt is the cost in dollars and staff time to work around or repair it. You have to pay developers to make it possible for you to implement  upgrades and create integrations, and instead of focusing their energy towards more strategic work, staff have to spend time fixing bugs and inefficient processes.

  3. Shortsighted innovation with little or no results
    With too much technical debt, your association is slow to market, meaning your ability to modernize and make improvements is limited, and the competition for your members and customers’ wallets and attention is leaving you behind.


How can technical debt be managed? 

  1. Focus on technology strategy and prioritization 
    An organization-wide technology strategy helps you make the best decisions about direction and resource allocation. You will know which selections and implementations to prioritize, so efforts are coordinated, rather than squandered separately. Perform a technology audit to understand your current technical debt and how to minimize it in the future.

  2. Understand the requirements process
    Learn how to identify, prioritize, and document technical requirements. Either provide a budget to help staff acquire these skills or hire outside help to match technology solutions to strategy.  Make sure that any purchases or customizations you make are not creating additional technical debt.

  3. Stay in the know 
    Cultivate a network of association peers to gain insight into best practices, learn what’s possible with technology, understand what the market expects, and see what’s on the horizon.  Implement processes to quantify and prioritize paying down technical debt as a part of your strategic planning and project management activities.

  4. Expand your knowledge
    Do not make purchases based on limited knowledge. Talk to a wide range of vendors and consultants at conferences, trade shows, industry demos, and other events. Ask vendors to educate you so when you are ready to think about selection, you know what’s what.  Find a trusted advisor to help you understand and manage your technical debt.

The Wrap Up 

It’s easy to slide into technical debt and not realize how deep you’re in it until it’s too late. 

Think through the implications of the technology decisions you’re making before implementing. In the long run, you’re better off taking the more thoughtful, sustainable, and strategic route than going for easy wins with hidden costs that you will have to address later.

Need help assessing your current technology and strategy? CIMATRI can help. We offer various assessments (like application evaluations, technology assessments, and data governance strategies) to help you manage your technical debt challenges and ensure you have a good plan in place - and in action.