Tech 'Debt' Explained


Tech debt, quite simply, is the concept that the older a piece of technology in your business gets, the more likely it is to cost you money. When a piece of technology is new, the likelihood that it will fail is quite low. However, putting off replacing an antiquated system because it's "working fine right now" might seem like a good cost cutting measure, but the long term implications of that deferred maintenance or replacement can be pretty serious, and cost you thousands. 

Asset Lifecycle

All of the technology your business uses has a life cycle; that life cycle is defined by the manufacturer MTBF - or mean time between failure, which is the manufacturer predicted time between REPAIRABLE failure, and MTTF - or mean time to failure, which is the manufacturer predicted time between NON-REPAIRABLE failures. The life cycle of computers, servers, or other technology is the average amount of time you can expect to use a piece of equipment without major added expense WHEN PROPERLY MAINTAINED. Many businesses see articles or blogs stating that you can get 3-5 years out of a computer  and assume that means once you plug it in, it will work for 5 years without being touched. That's patently false, and anyone that tells you otherwise is selling you a bill of goods. 

The average life cycle, in our experience, for the most common kinds of business technology is a follows: 
- Computers: 3-5 years
- Servers: 5+ years
- Routers: 4-6 years
- Laptops: 2-4 years
- Access Points: 3-4 years
- Network Switches: 3-5 years
- Laser Desktop Printers: 5-7+ years
- Inkjet Desktop Printers: 3-4 years
- Multifunction Office Printers: 3-7 years



The Forgotten Account...

So what is this "debt" talk? It's simple; think of the age of your technology as a bank account. If every piece of technology at your business was brand new, the balance in that account would be the value of the technology. As a component ages, it's value decreases. Once that age reaches a certain point, the 'balance' goes from a positive (asset) to a negative (debt). As that technology keeps aging past it's anticipated usefulness, its now incurring 'tech debt' - something that can quietly sneak up on many businesses. 

But that 5 year old laptop isn't really costing you anything, right? Wrong! Your business 'tech debt' has a measurable impact on your bottom line. The cost of replacing computers and servers before they fail, in a planned, controlled fashion is much less than the cost of replacing them during a failure event. During a failure, when that critical server needs to be rebuilt ASAP, the costs of repair or replacement goes up. Emergency billable hours, expedited parts (if they're even available), and lost productivity a measurably higher cost than a planned project. 

Even in non-failure scenario's, tech debt has a marked impact on productivity; business applications aren't getting any less resource intensive. Even cloud based solutions like Salesforce or Autotask put huge demands on browsers. Google Chrome, for example, is known to gobble up gigabytes of RAM with just a few tabs open. The performance hit you take running modern business applications on old systems may seem small, but minutes add up, especially across your workforce, multiplied by days and weeks spent using old systems. 

Prevent Tech Debt!

Preventing tech debt is simple. 

  1.  Keep up on all of your maintenance for every computer, router, access point, switch, server, phone system, etc. That means applying all important patches, firmware updates, and other manufacturer recommended maintenance tasks.
  2. Keep track of the age of every device your business uses, upgrade when possible, or replace when they reach the end of their life cycle.
  3. Keep backups of critical data, especially image based backups of your servers.
  4. Regularly check on the health of computers, servers, etc to ensure they aren't showing signs of impending failure.
  5. Take into account your business's needs, and make sure your staff has the technology they need to do their job correctly.

If all of that seems a bit much to add to your daily routine, consider partnering with an experienced IT company or managed services provider like ROI Technology Inc. A partner can help you manage your infrastructure more effectively, maintain your systems, and reduce the amount of hours you have to spend worrying about IT matters, freeing you up to run your business.