For a very long time, IT people had a bad reputation. And for the most part, it was our own fault. Strange hair, thick glasses, a questionable sense of fashion, cryptic language, silly private jokes, and limited social capabilities. Even when we got a spot in the glamour of TV shows, we were always represented as those people who work in a basement and don’t ever get to see the sun.

But our looks and stereotypical behavior were not the worst people had to deal with. Our tendency to focus all efforts on technology-based projects and to sustain a closed, opaque, and defensive organization, ensured that every IT department behaved as a siloed organization. We were like bad neighbors that communicate with each other by throwing stuff over the fence.

This reduced IT to an irrelevant organization – best case scenario – with no impact on the company goals. Basically, a group of people ensuring that the network connection worked well enough. The business units could then have external consultants in the office to perform meaningful and impactful work.

These problems were so blatant that they led people like William Murphy, CTO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, to put things in extreme terms:

“If Coca-Cola had a brand that was the equivalent of IT today, they would just kill it and start again.”

This was a radical, almost desperate way of putting things. Mainly because it wasn’t said that long ago but in the 2013 edition of Interop. However, many IT leaders believed that IT could do a lot more, and, for some time, they looked outside the rigid constraints of company walls.

The Rise of IT

In the early 2000s, in the aftermath of the dot-com Bubble, tech companies resurfaced. A presence in the World Wide Web or a .com suffix was no longer enough to attract investors and customers. So, these companies evolved. They started focusing on something that no other industry could compete with: speed and scale.

This was when the first network-based businesses consolidated (eBay and Craigslist in 1995), social media boomed (LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2004), and the first modern platform businesses were born (Airbnb and App Store in 2008, Uber in 2009).

These are 100% digital companies, with their operation, business model, and value proposition based on digital technology. They were born at a time where 3G and domestic high-speed internet were spreading like wildfire; when modern smartphones were blossoming with the launch of the iPhone (2007).

All these factors triggered an unprecedented increase in adoption. Businesses grew at an incredible rate, paving the way for some of the mammoth-sized companies that we all know today.

Digital Debt: Use Low-Code to Cut the Interest Rate
The time each product took to reach the first 50 million users (data by TechToday)

For many business leaders, this was an eye-opener. They realized the transformative and disruptive power of technology as they saw digitally native companies stack massive revenues. That’s when they turned to IT to request a slice of that growth.

It was time for IT to morph into something else and regain its relevance.

Move Forward and Adapt Fast

In the past 20 years, Agile methodologies became the norm. Concepts such as multidisciplinary teams, product mindset, and DevOps became common. At the same time, digital platforms, microservices, and continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) became significant technological investments.

The focus of any business then was to move forward and adapt faster, which implied a significant shift in culture, processes, and technology. That’s the same movement that we now see across all industries. When a business becomes digital at its core, IT teams become responsible for the design and implementation of the company’s vision and strategy.

And, oh boy, didn’t we in IT love our new roles! We started focusing on our customers’ digital experiences, perfecting the user journey, and incorporating mobile. We had to provide them with at least the same fluid experience that they were getting as consumers of other digital services.

However, good news is like my sunglasses. It’s not meant to last.

IT moved from an irrelevant technology-focused organization into a slow outcome-based unit. And, when slowness is the problem, aggressive prioritization is usually the first solution. We started prioritizing and focusing on the initiatives that produced the most significant impact. And since customer-centricity became the new mantra, we were diverting most of the investment to customer-focused initiatives.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great thing. Happy customers are fundamental when growing a sane and profitable company. The question is not if we should reduce the focus on customer-centered digital initiatives, but if we shouldn’t also be investing in internal efficiency-focused ones.

Falling Into Digital Debt

Whenever we’re working on a piece of software, and decide to make quick and messy development decisions to deliver the feature faster, it generates digital debt. It should not be confused with a similar concept, technical debt, which deals with code legacy that may come from several developers’ malpractices.

Digital debt happens when a company is forced to prioritize some digital initiatives in favor of others. It’s the cost of additional work caused by not properly addressing a digitization problem at its origin, allowing the ecosystems to become more complex, disconnect, and non-standardized. Practically speaking, it’s a problem that stops a company from scaling fast in a cost-effective way.

When coping with growth and scale becomes a problem, the easy solution is to add more people to make up for the existence of suboptimal processes. However, we all know how hard it is to recruit highly skilled people and, even if it was easy, we know that this can’t be the way.

This strategy will put any company on a spiral, increasing headcount at a non-sustainable rate, hurting one of the most visible metrics for company performance: revenue per employee. The solution needs to be different, one that can be summarized in one short sentence: do the right things fast.

Using Low-Code to Get Out of Debt

We need to focus on what really matters: reliable processes. In a time where digitization needs to grow by the second, backlogs pile up, new business models are born overnight, and customer expectations are as high as they have ever been, there’s no room for wasting time and resources on low-impact initiatives.

And not only do we need to do it right, but we also need to do it fast. That’s where OutSystems can help. Its low-code platform has the power to massively increase the efficiency of delivery teams and reduce the time it takes to achieve digital readiness. High-paced teams are more able to strengthen and fasten their processes, allowing a more dependable digital strategy to take place.

Once we have teams that perform at the level low-code allows, we’re hitting digital debt straight in the face. Teams will be able to focus on achieving the perfect customer experience without sacrificing internal efficiency. These two pillars will ensure balanced growth and a bright future for our organizations.

With OutSystems, the interest rate for digital debt just got slashed!