Paying-off my information debt

A blog by Martin Erasmuson

The information-bank-statement is in and it makes for grim reading.  Our information-debt is significant, the interest payments are kicking-in and it’s starting to hurt.  How did our organisations get into this pickle? 

Like monetary-debt, information-debt is the liability deferred by impulsive, easy to implement solutions.  Ad hoc, knee-jerk decisions made without considering the down-stream implications.  Just like living off the credit card, eventually those chickens come home to roost.

Many organisations find they now have significant information-debt. Complex application, information and process architectures, typically on legacy software and hardware that evolved over time.   This ‘debt’ can classified into three areas:

  • Physical costs including the overheads for maintaining managing these legacy environments with the numbers of FTE staff or suppliers to maintain them, legacy servers and convoluted processes
  • Increased risk from ‘information accidents’ or applications running on unsupported software/hardware
  • Opportunity cost which is typically not considered in the form of the myriad of business opportunities available from agile, mobile architectures, or decisions that must be deferred as it takes so long to find and analyse the information

There is a natural tension between expediency and thought-out decision making.  In that sense information-debt is not necessarily bad.  I’ve blogged before about adaptive-strategies and a ‘Good Enough is Perfect’ approach.  On a personal level, I’ve used the company credit-card tactically for ease of accounting or while waiting for company invoices to be paid.  So, debt is not bad per se.  Sometimes a heuristic method is appropriate and necessary, acknowledging that a particular solution is not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but is sufficient to move a project forward, while acknowledging there is likely to be a ‘debt’ once the optimal solution is discovered and re-work is necessary.

The key point, if you are going to incur an information debt, make that decision consciously, with your eyes open, not like a millennial on a road-trip with credit-card-lust.