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Weekly Episodes - Listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, & Google.

The Digital Utopia Podcast Episode #33

What is Tech Debt and how does it impact your business?

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About the podcast

The Digital Utopia Podcast is for SMB Marketers and Business Leaders looking to align their Marketing, Sales, and Service departments so they’re part of one powerhouse growth team.

Each episode will dive into the strategies, philosophies, and tools that will change your approach to organizational growth, give you renewed focus and clarity, and allow you to build a brand that not only helps you stand out—but win.

The Digital Utopia Podcast is produced by Digitopia and hosted by Frank Cowell and Joseph Freeman.

Episode transcription

 
DJ  
People like to look at the numbers and the bottom line of what are our expenses with tech. But just are your people happy? Are they able to utilize, work efficiently with the technology that you have? And that's another source of tech that you are listening to the digital utopia podcast, a resource dedicated to help b2b leadership and executives gain clarity and focus in a chaotic marketplace.
 
Joe  
Hello, and welcome to the digital utopia podcast episode 33. This is your co host, Joseph Freeman. And today sitting in the seat of our regular host, Frank Cowell is one of our counterparts here, DJ Shirley. So DJ, actually, you heard his name mentioned several times. He is the backbone to this podcast. He is what brings it to life every single week. And quite honestly, he brings to life a lot of the marketing and the technical aspects of what we do at Digitopia, the agency that brings you this podcast. So welcome to Frank seat today. DJ, how are you doing? 
 
DJ  
Thank you. I'm flattered. Very good. 
 
Joe  
You look flattered. So today, we are actually going to start kicking off getting into a little bit more of the nitty gritty of bringing robots to life. So we've talked a lot about the digital utopia methodology. We've talked about the core philosophies that help bring rev ops to life, in our business and in the businesses that we touch. Now we're going to start talking about bringing it to life from a technical standpoint, and, you know, in episodes to come, we're going to start bringing in more voices to help fill in the gaps so that it's not just theoretical jargon, but instead it is actual, you know, actionable type of things that you can do to bring the select some as I continue to stumble over my words, I'm gonna pass this over to DJ and DJ, what are we talking about today?
 
DJ  
Today, we're gonna dive into tech debt, which is just technology in general, it's a big passion of mine. So yeah, happy to get into this topic and excited for to be the first guest on the podcast.
 
Joe  
Now, are you talking about tech deck are those the little skateboards with your fingers that you do the ramps and the tricks and the teenagers do
 
DJ  
probably go into depth on both topics. That's not what we're talking about. Today, a good portion of high school was spent putting together little pieces of plastic to pretend.
 
Joe  
And now you put together little pieces of zeros and ones and make stuff come to life. Is that right? 
 
DJ  
Absolutely. 
 
Joe  
Okay, so we're talking about tech debt DEBT. And so I think what we need to start this off with is a quick explanation of what is tech debt, give us a definition.
 
DJ  
So historically, or the term originated from the software world of tech debt was something that companies kind of the concept of the implied cost, they would experience if they put together a poorly structured architecture when putting together a software application. So if they did a shortcut, or something along those lines, or it was a proof of concept, and they sped through it, but they know in the long term, it's not scalable, or they'll have to go back and fix that there's tech debt associated with that. So it's kind of a growing cost that if you don't address it, you're either going to get further in the hole and you're locked in with whatever poor system you built. Or you're going to have to go back and put in a lot of man hours to fix that solution. So the debt kind of accrues over time just like most dead. Well, it's like that. Yeah, definitely, you know, pretty apt description.
 
Joe  
So now fast forward, how does this apply to rev Ops, which is not always or rarely a programmatic effort.
 
DJ  
And I've liked how rev ops has done this, where it's kind of pulled in different phrases from different realms and repurposed it. So rev ups has repurposed tech that for the tech stack that most organizations operate off of so the collection of applications that make up the technology that the company operates on a day to day basis with. So the tech debt can either be it can have multiple facets, whether that's you have poorly managed processes that oversee those technology applications, or you have overlapping technologies, that maybe sales and marketing are using a similar application and both paying for subscriptions where they can either share and cut the cost, or they could both move to a different application that covers both needs. That might also be a savings of cost, but also efficiency with data. And it kind of that's the nice part about technology, too. It snowballs into a lot of other avenues as well.
 
Joe  
Gotcha. So we're actually talking about real monetary debt here as well. Right. Definitely reconciling or regaining, you know, some of the dollars spent that are double spent in a lot of ways, right. Okay, cool. So tech debt is the conversation about bringing that into alignment. And that does roll into RevOps in a big way. Because DevOps is all about alignment, right? 
 
DJ  
Definitely. 
 
Joe  
It's about alignment across lifecycle stages for your buyer, to create an absolutely seamless and amazing, delightful journey for them. It's about alignment, Crusher, marketing, your sales, your service teams to make sure that they are passing, you know, that prospect or that customer all the way through in a very seamless way. And now we're talking about alignment with your technology. Yes, love it. Okay, cool. So let's talk about this. Why is tech debt bad? And is it all bad? Or are companies just supposed to live with some of it?
 
DJ  
Sometimes it's beneficial to have it. So if you're doing a proof of concept or need to get something done really quickly, like acquiring a little bit of tech debt is not a bad thing. If it's manageable, and you don't let it get away from you, that can be bad when you have it locks you into a certain application, or you custom build this over architected piece, which I actually think an example would be on the last episode of the podcast, Frank mentioned, a company he was working with. And they had their marketing team put together 70 to 120 different workflows to manage their Google Ads account. And my brain exploded when I heard that, like that emoji with the outcome. And that's exactly how I CJ gotcha, were that any changes to go back and modify that that's a huge process just in terms of the commitment of time from the marketing team, all to gain insights that potentially an integration or application could have solved. So weighing out those costs of is it worth to spend the money on an integration that could pull that data together, jump to a different platform that could offer the insights and make everybody happy, and potentially just increase efficiency across the board. But that is an example of tech that of doing work that is going to cost a lot of manual hours that could potentially be simplified.
 
Joe  
So this is interesting to me. because if you are a new company, you may intentionally take on some tech debt, to cut corners to prove concepts and create an MVP, you could do that for sure. Which has a whole nother can of worms that it might open just like any debt, where you put it on a credit card for a little while and think, well, I'm gonna just use this to float me by next thing, you know, 20 years later, you're still paying off that credit card, right? Yeah. So I think there is an inherent risk for a new company who's trying that, or even a new department or an existing department who's trying to new tech stack. And then you got to be careful about that. Often, in our experience, the companies we work with are actually very established. They're trying to get, you know, to the next level of their business, what got them here won't get them there. And so we're helping to put in place solutions to move the needle. And I, you know, I think any tech debt that has accrued at this point, was inevitable. I mean, there's no, there's no real decision making going there. It just kind of happened. different departments not talking, getting their own software's creating their own processes, waking up a year later, realizing they've duped some of the processes that duplicated them. And, you know, like you said, they're paying for double. So what do we do about that? I mean, how do we get to the bottom of a company who's already been living with tech debt for a long time, and is finally ready to clean up some of that debt? What do you do?
 
DJ  
Yeah, well, there's several steps you can take in the example that you mentioned, there's also tech that has an impact on the team morale and camaraderie, because if you've gotten in the hole with marketing, has their own software sales had their own software, they might be looking at different metrics in a different way, which is a common theme across the podcast as well have you need clean data? And that I think could almost weren't a whole nother episode is just fighting dirty data. But that conflict between marketing and sales, if marketing is a and they have numbers, and it's they hit their goal, where sales is saying, No, we didn't hit our goal, that can cause some serious conflicts across your team. And just the reports that the C level is getting, and some issues, they're just across the board. Yeah. So that is another impact that I think is commonly people like to look at the numbers and the bottom line of what are expenses with tech, but just are your people happy? Are they able to utilize and work efficiently with the technology that you have? And that's another source of tech debt I'd say. But how you can avoid it is one auditing your tech stack on a regular basis, maybe two, three times a year of just looking at all the applications that are being used across your organization within each department? What is the function? Who owns it? What are the capabilities of it and seeing if there's any overlapping technologies, as well as identifying how are they talking with each other, to make sure that you have a clean flow of data across the board. So if there's a technology application that's causing a hurdle or a bottleneck within your data flow, need to address that.
 
Joe  
Actually, I love that and that, that ropes right into a tool we use regularly with clients, which is our technical life cycle mapping document, right, one of my favorites, it is a favorite. And actually that was born by accident, out of necessity for a specific conversation that was being had for a specific client with a specific need. But we realized that that spreadsheet kind of changes lives. It's actually we could probably make it available for download. I would think, you know, if you're listening to this episode, we can give you a link for that. I'm sure Gigi is over there right now typing up some vanity URL that we can use to do this, but that but the life cycle mapping tool, it allows you to go in and See, okay, at the visitor level at the lead level at marketing qualified lead level, not only what are the definitions for each of these stages, but what is the technology that is governing that change from one stage to the next. And if it's not one seamless piece of software, like, you know, we talked about HubSpot, that can do it all. If you actually are passing a prospect through different software's at different lifecycle stages, what is the bridge between them, not just in terms of actual middleware? But what's the process that governs that? What's the trigger that gets them to go seamlessly from one system to the next? And oh, by the way, what's the report that kind of governs them all? So you can see a total report? That's what this document does. I think that's essentially what you are talking about in terms of auditing on a regular basis, whether or not your software is working for you.
 
DJ  
Yeah, managing the lifecycle stage. And you mentioned the middleware, too, I think that's a big facet of that. That'd be the second component of identifying tech that is interviewing your team, just shooting out a survey maybe once or twice a year to see what applications are using, what applications are giving you trouble? And asking one of the my favorite questions is, do you have to do multiples of your data entry of if you have to enter contact information in your CRM, and then your project management system that can get you a headache? So do you have that middleware that's connecting those two. And, yeah, I can save your team a lot of time and just makes people feel better, if you know, you're addressing those issues. And people get to focus on high level tasks rather than mundane data driven that that's a very important skill set. But if you have some high value players that are spending the bulk of their day or week, or that time all adds up. So if you can cut that down and have them focus on what they do best, that's another facet that can really help optimize just everybody's efficiency and really happiness to if I'm spending time doing what I enjoy. And like knowing I'm making a big impact versus got a big stack of data to enter there into there. It's the same information that can be a bummer.
 
Joe  
That can be a bummer. So when we can do the obvious, which is audit, what we have talked about what we're spending on the software, and we can you know, almost from a like a cost analysis standpoint, figure out is the software really worth it is the fact that we're using one feature of 25 that it offers, and we're doing all the rest in different software, can we somehow move that over and consolidate it? That's one exercise that can and should be done on a fairly regular basis, especially as software evolves, and features evolve, or devolve in different software's as service? I'd imagine button. I think there's also another layer here. And that is, as your internal process evolves, as you start to make moves to align process between marketing, sales and service teams. How do you then go implement that in your existing software and use that as a trigger to start consolidating? Right. So like, if I am going to put together a process that helps me move a lead from the marketing team over to the sales team in a very seamless way, now that I have a new process and new rules defined around that maybe some new, you know, criteria that has to be validated, every time that we make that move? Maybe that is a time to say, well, let's evaluate the software, the two different software's that are facilitating that. And is it now finally time to consolidate those into one? I think that's a kind of an obvious time to start making that assessment. The only way you know how to make that assessment is if you have first defined what those process changes are internally.
 
DJ  
Yeah, that's huge as being able to identify those pieces. And there's always costs and benefits of Do you need to move to a larger application like HubSpot that can handle multiple hubs between marketing, sales and service? Or are you trying to integrate maybe a best in class service that really helps your sales team auditing, maybe contact information like zoom info that also supports your existing CRM? Yeah, where you're going to be? That's an example of overlapping technology that you very well want that because that's assisting your team and saving people time. But I think that's a great example. We need to be able to identify when those applicant when it's time to start looking for either new offers. So you don't get locked into this. Creating maybe workflows that are overcomplicated. And I think that's another piece is a bottleneck. Do you have one person that is controlling all of those pieces? And what happens if that one person goes away? Can you know what's it gonna take to salvage that?
 
DJ  
Yeah, yeah. So having all of that documented? Well, Devon processes is a huge part of it. You know, when we work with clients, in the first eight weeks of working with them, we go through these extensive audits of not just their their tech, but also their process. And that is a perfect time to understand what's currently happening from a software stack standpoint, and then also what's currently happening on the process side in the marketing department in the sales department, and then also in the service department in many cases. And it's at the end of that eight weeks that we assess and say okay, what needs to change some times, sometimes the recommendation isn't change everything, sometimes it's not get on one software. And the reason for that is because, you know, many companies use specific er peas or specific in or industry specific CRMs, like the real estate industry often will use stuff that's tied into the MLS, and you just can't use something like HubSpot to manage all that. So for sure, there are times when you do have to have disparate systems. And so we'll get to the end of the eight weeks and with that, that's a perfect time to create a roadmap for yourself and say, Alright, some of this stuff, we're gonna change immediately, we're going to take our chat bots and we're going to take our survey tool, and we're going to make sure we find one software to take care of all of that kind of marketing or hand raisers sort of technology and bundled into one. And then you might say, we can't do anything about our CRM right now, because we have too much custom functionality built out there, we can't consolidate it. But maybe we can do that, you know, 12 months from now, or maybe we can make the first strategic move towards that six months from now with a final technical move 12 months and getting to the end of that eight weeks. And laying out that plan, I think is a huge, wonderful first step to do. Because having a plan is half the battle here. If you just are ad hoc, spinning up new software and shutting down old software, that can be a problem, too, that'll create a brand new set of tech debt potentially. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So you know, if you need some information on how to audit your process, audit your tech audit the people who have their hands in there, we can definitely provide that actually, you can find that on buildingyourdigitalutopia.com. There's information there and resources to point you to for that. What else about tech debt Do we need to cover here, DJ? 
 
DJ  
Well, I think we've covered the the big points of just what it is, what are the sources? What's the impact, and I mean, it really does impact your entire organization and the morale and the customer experience of if your technology isn't enabling your teams to really do their job and focus on what matters most is the customer experience, then that's going to dwindle and balls are going to drop on the customer experience side. And that's what we absolutely want to avoid. Yeah. So if you, you need to do due diligence on your tech and make sure that it's always streamlined. And it's not saying like okay, goes by all the best tech, but just know how it all works together and have a plan of how it's going to improve over time and how it's going to be able to scale. I think that's the other facet is that's not necessarily tech that side, which is managing your technology overall is do you have the ability to add new team members quickly? Do you have the ability to grow and monitor how that all works? Or is that going to be a big shift for you? And both of those are okay, answers, you just need to know which direction indeed go.
 
Joe  
I love that. So I know I throw a bit of a monkey wrench in here, just as so many conversations over coffee between good friends go. We now have this introduction of a lifecycle mapping tool which DJ can we get this put up? Can we make this a thing?
 
DJ  
Yeah, so we can go to or you can visit digitopia.agency/lifecycle-map. And we'll have a landing page set up where you can download the technical lifecycle journey map and that is going to be your starting point.
 
Joe  
Could you be nimble on the fly? Alright, we're gonna make good on that. So what does it digitopia.agency/ What? lifecycle-map map? Okay, go check that out, download the tool, you're gonna love it. It's actually one of our most popular exercises we do with our clients. And if you need help with it, obviously you know where to find us. You can email us through the website, you can check it out. But yeah, go go get the the tool, try it out and start to understand where you might have some tech debt that you can reconcile both for a monetary gain and a little bit of peace of mind to definitely.
 
DJ  
And you can also just go to the website, digitopia.agency and use our search feature, just type in lifecycle map and you'll get to the page as well.
 
Joe  
Sounds great. Alright, perfect. Next week. We're going to have Frank back on here and we are going to talk about it's a surprise. See you next week.
 
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