Technical debt is the accrued set of technical issues that create friction during the pursuit of new business value. The term is often applied to software engineering practices, but it is also an invisible force working against marketing teams. The growing complexity of systems and services under the digital marketing umbrella inevitably leads to the accumulation of technical debt. Left unmanaged, technical debt can bring your digital marketing efforts to a grinding halt and potentially tarnish your brand.

Why It Matters

Technical debt typically accumulates with each new feature, as the complexity of the system grows. It is not a precise measure, but rather a heuristic one. In essence, for each technical shortcut you take towards a solution, you pay a price at a future date – by either resolving it or working around it. At a certain point, technical issues become too numerous, causing systems to be retired and others to be built in their place. Avoiding the debt altogether is generally not viable. The rate at which it increases is what is most important and most manageable. A well-managed technical debt extends the life span of the company investment and ensures that everyone dependent on the system can remain productive in the long run.

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Building Sustainably

Company websites are particularly prone to the accumulation of technical debt. Sustainability of the technical solution powering the website is generally not high on the list of concerns as it is built, resulting in that brand new website being decommissioned in less than two years. Add the plethora of tracking and marketing tools that are piled on to the website, and you have many moving pieces that are inter-dependant on each other.

Medical Device Company Pays Off Technical Debt

We were approached by the sales and customer service team for a medical device company to help them manage their complex technology stack. Over several years, they had built an ecosystem of tools to manage the complex pipeline of data from marketing through to the customer support efforts. This ecosystem had developed organically over time through a mix of commercial, open-source, and custom tools in response to evolving business needs. Convertiv was asked to perform a deep dive into the toolchain and re-engineer it to pay down accumulated technical debt and improve performance across the pipeline.

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Issues with website components cross-interacting can lead to lost leads, double-counting of revenue, or just a poor experience for the visitor. Poorly written stylesheets can cause one aspect of the design to eventually breaking another component of the website. This risk inevitably leads many businesses to avoid adjustments altogether. Ultimately, successfully implementing marketing technologies follows many of the rules of good systems design: being mindful of inter-dependencies, observing the separation of concerns, and building resilience at the individual component level.

Building Efficiently

It is always possible to over-engineer things, especially when the future roadmap or requirements are not clearly defined. Managing technical debt means making the right tradeoffs at the right times. Sometimes it’s acceptable to do a quick and dirty implementation if the building is on fire, as long as you remember to go back and do it properly. The hard part is lifting the foot off the gas and relieving the team’s pressure to race towards new features all the time. There should be ample room to go back and reevaluate what’s already there and clean the house at certain intervals.

A Measured Way Forward

Making sure the team is well-educated about best practices of the technology being applied is one of the best ways to minimize the amount of debt created. The vendors usually provide such information alongside other documentation, and learning from other people’s mistakes is the cheapest lesson you can get. Periodic technical reviews are an excellent strategy to ensure that debt isn’t accumulating unchecked over a more extended period. Following a review, improvements to existing practices should be documented and adhered to in the future. Choose your tools wisely. For example, tools that follow and support web authoring best practices can go a long way in making sure your workflow is solid and that your website remains healthy and extendable for a long time.

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