Recognizing and Reducing Tech Debt in 2022
The last three years have been a crash course in digital transformation, with the emphasis on “crash.” The paradigm shift to digital-first customer experiences, while successful for many brands, has inevitably left many organizations struggling to quickly adapt to new vendors and integrate with new platforms. While this acceleration to digital reflects where the industry was already headed, the speed at which things have changed has left many brands with a confusing MarTech stack that is convoluted at best. Addressing these urgent business needs along the way was necessary for survival; to continue to thrive, brands must rationalize those investments into a more efficient, forward-thinking strategy. To support this, marketers must assess their tech debt and work with a vendor that can help them tackle it head on.
What is tech debt and how does it accumulate?
Many of us have heard about tech debt and most of us have our own definitions about what it is—ranging from complex to top level. But in reality, the definition is quite simple. Tech debt refers to hidden, ignored, or overlooked technical problems that will bring down the success of any project through things like deployment delays, complexity, or bugs that make fixes all but cost effective. One of the biggest issues with tech debt is that it can accumulate unnoticed for some time. In order to be on the lookout, here are a few key ways that companies amass tech debt at alarming rates:
Entropy is classically defined as a gradual decline into disorder or rot—almost like a classic car being left out in the garage for far too long. The same is true for software entropy and it’s one of the biggest contributors to tech debt. As programs & strategies are amended, they will inevitably become more complex. Without a system that can help marketers to optimize data and processes within their tech stack, debt will inevitably grow.
Siloed or lack of adoption
Another issue that can lead to tech debt is siloed adoption or lack of technology adoption across teams. Like the classic car example above, if a team continuously adopts vendors and platforms for their own purposes without integrating them into the systems or goals of their greater company, then it’s going to leave a lot of them underused or not used at all. This creates a cache of programs that only add to complexity and increase tech debt.
Partial integration of systems and data
This section ties back nicely to the next two above it because it takes into account disorder, adoption, and usability. Implementing many different systems and sources that don’t speak to each other will make it harder for the business to enact data-backed decisions, ultimately contributing to disorder across the org.
Inability to centralize and share data
All of this finally leads to our last section. Data is the backbone that supports the creation of highly-individualized and high-converting marketing campaigns. Without data centrality and shareability, however, this is nearly impossible to pull off. To avoid this, marketers should look for partners who can help them democratize their data sets so that they’re integrated and accessible by all.
Integration “taxes” and how they can increase tech debt
So why does tech debt continue to grow for many marketers and brands? It’s not because they don’t realize that there’s an issue at play. For many, the issues revolve around non-native and complex integration standards. Many of which are simply legacy “best practices” passed down through an organization from one hire to the next. Before we get into how you can move past these legacy barriers, let’s highlight a few places where you can identify them:
Absence of product knowledge and experience
One of the easiest ways to help identify where tech debt can exist within your team is to simply look at the experience they have working with certain vendors or knowledge they possess around launching certain marketing campaigns. This is something most of us do without even realizing it. If a vendor has one internal expert on the platform who leaves your company for one reason or another, then the knowledge of the platform goes with them—creating instantaneous tech debt.
Outsourced integration and supporting services
We often see that the previous point and this one go hand in hand—a loss of talent and knowledge being coupled by the fact that you don’t have control over, or easy access to, changing your programs. To solve this, most marketers turn to a third-party integration partner to help them create and maintain campaigns with their marketing partners. Stay away from this trap in thinking. Instead, look for a partner that has completely verticalized integration, with in-house technical and support teams, to truncate your go-live time from months to weeks.
Lack of a “pre-ordained” partnership ecosystem
One of easiest ways to identify tech-debt within your team is to look at how your partners and vendors are interacting with each other. Many times, companies will bring on one partner to address their email marketing programs, a different one for their CTV, and yet another for their SMS efforts. Without a pre-ordained ecosystem, data from each vendor will be siloed, drastically reducing the ability to look at customer behaviors and intent across efforts. A centralized view is necessary to avoid this.
Reliance on technical know-how and resources
Growing technical know-how and resources within your team may seem like a simple solution, but it can actually help to contribute to the disorder and complexity that we’ve mentioned throughout this post. Managing the integration and maintenance with marketing vendors is likely not most of our main focuses. But even if it is, with the ecosystem changing at such a rapid pace, it can be hard to keep up. To avoid tech debt, look for vendors that have those internal experts who work with products on a daily basis. They can act as simply, hands-off resources to understand nuances as product advancements or changes are made.
Eliminate the integration taxes and reduce your tech debt
Now that we’ve identified the ways that tech debt can accumulate and how you can identify different areas of your organization where you can find tech debt, it’s time to reveal how you can reduce it and avoid any future accumulation:
Choose a partner, not a vendor
One of the biggest themes that we’ve hit on throughout this article is that many marketers feel like they need to spend mass amounts of resources and time on integration even if they don’t have technical expertise or previous experience working with a vendor. It should be unequivocally said that no marketer should ever feel this way. This is what leads to spending unnecessary money on outsourced, third-party vendors who will likely be disconnected your desired partner and their team.
Instead, look for a partner that offers native integration and implementation services as part of their core offering. The advantages to this are immense. Firstly, you’ll be working directly with the team that spends their days developing expertise into how customers can implement and leverage their services in the most successful way. Additionally, this native-integration support will help you get your campaigns up and running in a matter of weeks—instead of months that third-party solutions can require. This will allow you to begin running campaigns and gleaning insights from them much quicker than ever before. Lastly, vendors who offer native integration place accountability onto themselves in order to get you up and running in as seamless a way as possible. Accountable teams deliver.
Prioritize stability of your MarTech stack
Another of our key themes was the necessity to reduce the amount of disorder in your marketing by applying more cohesive, simple processes. The simple fact is, that many teams will desire to continue to add tech to your orgs stack in order to help them meet their personal goals. While this is likely in good nature, it also runs the risk of toppling your whole system as complexity and dissonance between each vendor’s data sets continue to grow. Simply put, this is a band-aid and not a permanent fix.
To avoid this, look for a partner that can help you simplify and rationalize both your tech stack and the increasing amounts of data you’re ingesting. Instead of logging into different campaigns under different vendors depending on the strategy, look for a vendor who can centralize these under one roof for one simplified view of all of your efforts. Additionally, ensure that data can be shared across vendors in this centralized hub, so that you can leverage the power of these insights across your entire audience.
Embrace low-code applications as the future
One of the most annoying things a marketer can experience is a technical roadblock when it comes to testing or running a new campaign. We’ve all been there. Maybe we want to personalize a section of our site to speak to our audience or test new ad sets across an emerging channel. We login to our marketing partner and are stonewalled by an inability to run these types of campaigns without high levels of engineering or coding expertise. Not only has this sent many a marketer’s computer out of the window, it also greatly hinders an organization’s ability to pivot their strategies on a moment’s notice depending on changing goals and industry trends.
This doesn’t have to be the way. Look for a partner that employs low-code or no-code applications as part of their services. Instead of heavy-coding marketing experiences, find a partner that will allow you to drag and drop aspects or click a single button to change aspects of campaigns. Small, intuitive changes like these are what enables businesses to be more agile in their marketing efforts, while beating out competitors who are less focused on usability.