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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cultural Debt

There has been a lot of talk lately about IT’s accumulation of “technical debt’.  Technical debt describes necessary work from a prior deployment that was deferred in favor of other tasks.   As technical debt grows, the ability to make future changes is hindered because of backlog was not addressed.

I have recently come to recognize that IT suffers from another type of debt – cultural debt.  IT is a young industry that grew rapidly  while facing constant pressure to bring technical innovation to the market. Cultural considerations were deferred  in favor of building and deploying products and services.  IT’s silo culture grew organically out of the need for diversifed sets of specialized experience and expertise.

While cultural debt was accumulating,  IT’s complexities were increasing.  The single platform mainframe vanished in favor of multi-platform servers.   Production applications grew exponentially. The IT supply chain went from a single location department  to a network that spans multiple geographies and organizations. Although IT’s silos were also acknowledged to be  IT’s constraints, converging different processes, frameworks,  vocabularies and customs was not going to be easy.  And so the cultural debt grew.

Like all debts, payment is eventually due.  For IT, the due date is  today. Cultural debt is having a tangible impact on the bottom line by hindering IT’s ability to meet the pace of deployment that the business now requires. Every bottleneck in the workflow between Dev and Ops affects the entire system of supply and demand.  The business has zero tolerance for missed deadlines, poor quality code or fragile applications.   A paradigm shift is required in order to improve IT’s consistency and speed.

The good news is that an increasing number of individuals and organizations are looking to pay down cultural debt by embracing a DevOps approach. Case studies are emerging that demonstrate proof of concept - silos are breaking down and people are talking to each other. Tools are enabling automated tasks and deployments are happening faster with fewer defects.  Dev and Ops are starting to embrace a common set of practices and accountabilities.  Best of all, DevOps is stemming the rate of future technical and cultural debt  - and that’s a win for everyone.

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