Tech debt and digital transformation


In an era where every company is essentially a technology company, no organization can escape the challenge of dealing with technical debt. But the issue is particularly challenging for organizations with large legacy technology systems.

Tech debt for technology startups is usually focused on keeping code clean and debugging their software. From the perspective of an organization like ATB, we also have technical debt in terms of the legacy systems that have been bought or built over the years. Not only the technology tools behind our banking systems, but the file sharing, customer relationship management, and team collaboration tools.

Like keeping the clutter down in your home, it is a constant battle to address technical debt and keep down the clutter of old systems.

On top of keeping our current systems uncluttered and running smoothly, a huge factor in keeping up with tech debt is maintaining the security and privacy of our customer data and proprietary data. The age of systems often corresponds with the level of vulnerabilities, particularly if those systems are no longer being patched or updated.

Migrated largely from buy vs build to build vs buy in our digital transformation, a main focus is to get to 100% retirement of old systems. Just like financial debt, the compounding of interest on technical debt is cumulative, and we have to be careful to prioritize how we pay off our technical debt, consolidate into areas with the lowest risk, and make sure we get to 100% retirement of outstanding debt.

So how do we prioritize paying off our technical debt? Just like how we optimize across all departments, we ask the questions: ‘is the technology causing disappointed customers?’ or ‘is it causing mistakes?’

Our first priority is to provide the best banking experience to customers. Further layers of evaluation consider how the tech debt affects the availability, reliability, and security of our systems. Is this tool or technology needed? And what vulnerabilities does it introduce that could cause problems in how we deliver value to customers and team members? What is the minimum we need to do to get this into a supported state?

Another way that we are constantly working to address tech debt is in the adoption of new technologies and tools. There are always great new products and ideas and technology is so accessible that teams can easily adopt new tools. But sometimes it results in even more money, time and investment to offset vulnerability or consolidate systems that can be properly supported. Our Tech Enablement department is the advocate for careful evaluation of new tools, like adopting a new customer relationship management tool. And most importantly, 100% decommissioning of old tools.

Our cloud initiatives at ATB are a great opportunity for teams to leverage technology, giving team members access to the best machine learning tools, and making systems accessible across platforms and from any location. But we don’t want to just move all the problems we’ve had and all of the tech debt we’ve accumulated into the cloud. We want to solve for the underlying problems simultaneously.

Even within the cloud, we can look at the problem holistically, protect proprietary and customer data and make sure we are not accumulating unnecessary tech debt.

We are strategic in how we tackle our tech debt. Just like consumers, we have have to manage our debt carefully, leverage it in places, make sure we are keeping careful track, and paying it down responsibly.