4 Ways Low-Code Helps Reduce Technical Debt

Rena Stern, Director of Product Marketing, Appian
May 27, 2021

Over the past 18 months, organizations awoke to the need for digital innovation and transformation as an existential issue. Business leaders recognized that software is central to digital innovation. As the need to quickly create more apps grew, demands on IT skyrocketed. So did the IT application development backlog.

Technical debt is a part of software development. Some technical debt is inevitable—but too much can overwhelm developers, draining resources and infringing on IT’s ability to innovate and solve business problems. A recent study found that 91% of organizations struggle with technical debt.[1]

Unfortunately, the impact of technical debt is only getting worse. With tight deadlines and limited resources, organizations often turn to quick and easy solutions outside of IT to get the job done. But that creates big problems in the long run. For instance, IDC estimates that through 2022, 90% of organizations will need to remediate the technical debt incurred around the design, quality, and security of applications they rapidly stood up during the pandemic.[2]

Read on to learn the impact of technical debt, why technical debt management is important, and how low-code can help.

 

technical debt development cycles pie chart

What is the impact of technical debt? 

On average, IT organizations spend 38% of their time on maintenance activities, such as the need to maintain applications, secure enterprise and customer data, ensure backwards compatibility, avoid technology obsolescence, and support the latest devices or endpoints.[3]

This endless list of items needed to maintain business operations eats up roughly two full days per IT employee each week. In certain industries, such as banking, companies are spending as much as 75% of their IT budgets just maintaining legacy systems. Far from being an IT-only problem,  technical debt’s negative impact extends throughout the enterprise

  • Technical debt impedes innovation and growth. Complex challenges require innovative solutions. But if development teams spend most of their time keeping the lights on, there’s no time left to evaluate new or existing use cases, find applications that deliver business value, or improve user and customer experiences.
  • Technical debt feeds a disconnect between LOB and IT priorities. When business leaders think an IT solution will take too long or worry they won’t get an effective application in the end, they work around IT and buy their own solutions. This problem is called shadow IT, and it’s a symptom of a larger disconnect between development teams and business users. It sets up much larger problems in the long run, including fragmented systems with siloed data, messy technical debt, security risks, and governance issues for the CIO—all of which, in turn, leads to more technical debt. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Technical debt is a scalability problem. Applications and systems have to work together to be effective. Yet IT teams grappling with technical debt may not have the time to check new applications for backwards compatibility. Cumbersome legacy systems and disparate solutions stood up by business users impede integration and limit scalability.

Consider this statistic: Over 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed by 2023—the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years, according to IDC.[4] With volume like this, organizations can’t afford to stick with the status quo, letting technical debt continue to build up. That’s where a low-code comes in.

 

How low-code helps with technical debt management

Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Low-code provides that fresh thinking. It empowers organizations to build powerful applications quickly while reducing the burden of ongoing maintenance for their IT teams, allowing them to redirect resources to the innovation that drives business forward.

Low-code is a different way of developing applications. Rather than writing lines of code, developers create applications using visual, intent-driven development tools. Embracing low-code enables organizations to break free of the technical debt burden. 

Low-code manages technical debt at every step: design, development, integration, maintenance, and beyond.

  1. Low-code encourages business and IT to work collaboratively. The best solutions emerge when business users and developers design applications together. Low-code makes collaboration easy and encourages clear, frequent input from business users. Rather than feature development happening in a silo, end users can influence the application as it takes shape before their eyes. Prototypes and in-progress builds give users something concrete to give feedback on, ensuring development teams have a clear understanding of what’s needed.
  2. Low-code speeds application development time without sacrificing power or quality. Low-code application development is 10 to 20 times faster than traditional development approaches. With low-code, teams focus on designing the right solution and leave the coding to the platform. The right low-code platforms offer both the speed of development with the flexibility of customization as needed.
  3. Low-code tackles the integration problem, significantly reducing overhead and upkeep. Robust low-code automation platforms bring everything together in a single workflow, including human workers, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA), plus external tools, legacy systems, and data while keeping data in place. This enables organizations to integrate applications and automate processes—even complex ones—quickly and easily.
  4. Low-code applications are significantly easier to maintain. When applications are deployed, they automatically incorporate the latest interface and security standards and run on the latest mobile devices and cloud platforms, eliminating the need to modify applications for various environments and operating systems. New applications do not add to the technical debt list that overworks IT teams. Maintenance requirements are simplified, with upgrades, security certifications, regulatory checks, and performance considerations automatically handled by the platform.

Low-code platforms free development teams from technical debt, allowing them to get back to the types of innovative development that attracted them to IT in the first place. Because the platform takes care of the updates and upkeep usually handled by IT teams, low-code not only reduces the maintenance burden of already-busy IT staff, it significantly cuts the overhead costs of running an application.

 

Managing the impact of technical debt

Watch the video to hear what Appian CEO Matt Calkins has to say about low-code and technical debt. And discover more benefits of low-code in the whitepaper: The Future of Enterprise Application Development.

[1] 2018 Digital Transformation Readiness Survey, Appian and DevOps.com

[2] IDC European Accelerated App Delivery Practice, 2021.

[3] IDG “The Future of Work” Report, 2018. appian.com/future-of-work-part-2/.

[4] IDC, FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2020 Predictions, DOC #US45599219, October 28, 2019