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Jan 11, 2022

It’s 2022. Do You Know Where Your Technical Debt Is?

It’s not uncommon for organizations to become burdened with mountains of aging hardware and software due to past mergers or acquisitions, or technology that has just become older or defunct as the business innovates and upgrades. But losing sight of these assets can have grave consequences, even if those assets are no longer in use.

Technical What?

Technical debt is an organization’s incremental cost or loss of agility caused by past decisions to save time or money when deploying new systems or maintaining existing ones. As a concept, most people associate technical debt with a product’s codebase, but it’s equally applicable to an organization’s technology assets—both hardware and software. Not surprisingly, it’s just as important an issue to tackle in code as it is in an effective asset management strategy because assets near or at end-of-life or no longer in use can leave organizations with serious disadvantages.

Technical Debt Costs Time and Money 

Organizations with technical debt risk losing money because they are likely maintaining aging or unneeded assets, which hinders the ability to innovate and become an agile digital business. That’s because IT teams then spend time managing the complexity and fixing old issues rather than thinking about innovative solutions that can move the business forward. While maintaining disjointed IT architectures prevents an organization from taking full advantage of advanced data analytics and insight that help them make faster, better decisions.

How much time are they spending? A McKinsey survey of CIOs found that IT teams spend up to 20% of their budget for new products on issues relating to resolving technical debt. It also found that technical debt accounts for up to 40% of the value of their technology estate, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars for larger businesses, and 60% of CIOs were seeing their technical debt increase over the previous three years.

Technical Debt Hampers Performance

Failing to manage technical debt properly can hinder an organization’s ability to keep pace with competitors. For example, complications caused by operating old, outdated systems can affect their ability to integrate new products and features cost-efficiently. Or legacy challenges within their IT architecture can result in over-budget projects and missed deadlines.

However, modernizing to meet customer demands and keep pace with competitors is expensive work. Gartner predicted IT spending would reach $4.1 trillion through 2021, representing an 8.4% year-on-year increase.

Technical Debt Creates Unknown Cyber Risks

Perhaps most concerning, technical debt leaves organizations vulnerable to cyber attacks. Aging equipment no longer supported by the manufacturer likely isn’t receiving critical security updates, fixes, and patches. In situations where organizations can’t put equipment out of service because it supports essential business functions, organizations can be at particular risk of costly ransomware attacks that can shut down business operations entirely.

Pay Down Debt Before the Bill is Due

Technical debt will only increase as trends like remote working, automation, and the Internet of Things continue to change the way businesses and their employees work. And the pace of change is only increasing as organizations look to meet customer demand for new technologies and better user experiences.

Therefore, organizations must understand what technical debt they need to pay down by recognizing which assets need to be replaced, updated, or eliminated. To achieve this, organizations need to fully understand their technical debt landscape, which relies on having a clear picture of which assets are at the end of life and need to be retired and where they can modernize their assets.

Here are three critical considerations for organizations looking to manage their technical debt level effectively.

1. Assess Organizational Performance

Businesses need to have complete visibility of their physical assets, their lifecycle, and the state of assets’ functions. This process begins with understanding whether the organization has assets that can run or manage modern applications and whether they have any hardware, software, or operating system assets that manufacturers no longer support. Assets that lack manufacturer support keep the business from taking advantage of powerful new hardware and software features.

With all of those factors considered, it’s also essential to identify the use of non-critical assets to assess whether or not you can extend their useful life effectively and securely. However, organizations need to pay particular attention to any end-of-life or near-to end-of-life assets still being used to support critical business functions. These assets can’t be taken offline or replaced without causing significant disruption in many cases.

2. Manage Asset Lifecycles

Organizations must assess the lifecycle of their assets and compare this to their corporate policy compliance. For example, some business departments may have obligations for assets to be no more than one or two generations old. In that case, relying on outdated assets could be business-critical.

Therefore, businesses must have a process to track the age, location, and other critical details of all their unmanaged physical assets. They also need to have a system for automating processes around identifying and replacing aging assets, have become end-of-life or are no longer supported by manufacturers.

3. Assess Risk and Security

Organizations must assess whether they have assets they can’t patch or that are unmanaged and could cause a security risk. This assessment should include monitoring for unpatchable, critical assets that they can’t take offline easily or at all. While unavailable to users, cybercriminals could access these assets and use them to gain access to corporate networks, then install malware or steal sensitive data.

Another consideration is unmanaged physical assets that run on end-of-life operating systems in the organization’s environment. These operating systems also pose a significant security risk as they could provide attackers with access to connected networks and contain corporate or user data.

Additionally, organizations need to assess whether their network infrastructure relies on obsolete computing or networking equipment in unreachable locations. Any device that appears unused could be a goldmine for attackers looking to sneak into a network and increase their privileges without being discovered.

Address Technical Debt With Complete Visibility

Organizations can address their technical debt by gaining complete visibility of assets across all their environments. That means being able to see every information technology (IT), Internet of Things (IoT), industrial IoT (IIoT), and Operational Technology (OT) devices to remove the risk of attacks on their critical assets.

Businesses also need to deploy technology that reduces risk exposure and provides real-time insight into device behavior, potential new risks, and policy violations, alongside ongoing threat intelligence. This approach will empower organizations to take confident actions based on the latest insight, ensuring they protect their IT environments and maintain business continuity and resiliency.

Assess your organization’s asset vulnerability and technical debt potential with the Armis Quick Visibility Assessment

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