In their rush to protect and generate revenue many CIOs and CMOs have inadvertently created digital debt. This debt is so bad for some that it is creating Zombie digital departments, unable to move forward because they are constantly paying the interest on their debt.
Digital debt is a consequence of making poor decisions with regard to the organisation’s digital strategy. I include in this definition those organisations that have failed to create a digital strategy.
As with financial debt, this digital debt comes with hefty interest payments that restrict future freedom and responsiveness. For example a decision to roll out multi-variate tracking tags on a website may require overly complex changes to the content management system, requiring additional testing and release planning.
These interest payments are consuming the time and energy of management, technical resource and consultants. Due to this constant fire-fighting and short-term focus they never deal with repaying the debt, they simply keep servicing the interest.
Symptoms of digital debt
There are many symptoms of digital indebtedness that often appear together:
- Lack of processes, where organisations have built a digital function that doesn’t have clear processes for project delivery, testing, releasing and supporting projects
- Too many processes, when the simplest of changes requires three Word documents, ten meetings and an Excel business case there is a problem
- Inability to measure results, which creates a vicious cycle of under investment in future initiatives fuelling the digital debt
- Lack of resource, when the organisation’s projects and ideas far outstrip the resource available to deliver those ideas
- Lack of flexibility and agility, where marketing and customer experience professionals are unable to have new ideas or user feedback included in development plans
- Too many errors in development, release or operations
- Failure to be responsive to market changes, competitor activity or customer needs
- Long delivery cycles, where even small code or system changes take months to roll out
- Scalability challenges, where the digital eco-system collapses under increased customer demand
- Focus on short-term targets, where the business has a focus on tomorrow’s sales figures not those in five years
- Unwillingness to invest, in resources, infrastructure or partnerships that would resolve the debt issues