After a holiday travel debacle that led to more than 16,000 flight cancellations and left millions of passengers stranded, Southwest Airlines blamed “operational failures” and “technology issues” for an unprecedented disruption of service.
The conversation around the airline’s failure became about “technical debt” to its overloaded legacy systems and how delays and deferments to key updates were deemed low-priority.
Southwest now faces a class-action lawsuit, hearings in front of Congress, and the fallout of a customer service disaster that threatens its customer loyalty and brand reputation and has already cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. These events are a warning to organizations large and small, public and private, about the organizational malaise that can trigger technical debt—and the consequences of inaction.
Reliance on two-decade-old systems and software is an all-too-familiar reality for many in the public sector—and now many CTOs and CIOs are asking themselves: What are the potential consequences for the technical debt my organization has incurred? What are my worst-case scenarios?
UNDERSTANDING TECHNICAL DEBT
“The simplest way to understand technical debt,” says Stu Hammer, Senior Director of Digital Transformation and Consulting Services, “is that you’re talking about the gap between what’s in use and what’s required. When you have legacy systems that are outdated and difficult to maintain, you’re creating ‘debt’ in terms of the cost of deferred maintenance.”
“You start by creating a culture of change, a culture of transformation,” he says, “and that begins to create a culture of innovation.”
BRIDGING THE GAP
While technology is key, a large focus should be on the outcomes—what a shift in organizational culture can mean for the agency to deliver on its mission.
“This is not just about the IT environment and the CIO. Really, it’s about looking at the whole organization and understanding the problem. Not just from a technical perspective, but a business perspective.”
Many federal agencies are still operating without an enterprise architecture, according to Hammer, a key component to help stakeholders understand how to plan, prioritize, and budget for necessary changes and upgrades.
“An enterprise architecture is a business tool, not a technical tool,” he says. “The enterprise architecture informs any technical change that’s related to the mission, the stakeholders, and the processes, so it helps to eliminate technical debt. The key is to keep the mission going. If you are going to go this route, the enterprise architecture helps you understand the implications.”
Without an enterprise architecture, a transformation roadmap, and a commitment to the mindset shift toward a Lean-Agile framework, these decisions—or decisions to wait—continue to loom and threaten the viability of the organization.
“It all comes down to getting the right information to the right people at the right time,” says Hammer. “Building a resilient organization—one that can pivot. Today, it’s crucial that agencies can understand disruption and not panic. It’s all about the workforce—pulling teams together to address the disruption. People who can work together and solve problems effectively.”
WHY IT MATTERS: TRUST
Many government agencies deliver services connected to the security, safety, and livelihood of U.S. citizens—it’s critical that even a ‘perfect storm’ doesn’t threaten their ability to deliver those services. Instead, these agencies should be in a position where they are constantly leveraging new technologies to improve on service delivery, keeping with the times and avoiding anything that could threaten either the viability of their mission or legacy and reputation of the organization.
A digital transformation plan built upon an enterprise architecture with a partner like Peraton can be the difference between a culture of innovation and one “held together with duct tape.”
“Digital is the great disruptor,” says Hammer, “and yet it helps organizations transform. It’s not just about understanding the risks but making sure the organization is on a path to replace, upgrade, and transform the delivery of our nation’s critical services—and always meet the speed and need of the mission.”
Whether you need digital transformation, digital consulting, digital intelligence or software, Peraton partners with you to ensure your organization’s journey to digital is a success.