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Java apps have most flaws, Cobol apps the least, study finds

December 8, 2011 08:08 AM ET

There has long been research on the technical debt problem, "but this metaphor now makes it easier for researchers to describe their work in a way that makes it relevant for practitioners," she said.

"One obstacle to improving software quality has been the uncertainty around what development techniques and approaches actually result in higher quality," said Seaman.

Gartner last year chimed in on this topic, redefining the term as "IT debt." The IT research firm puts the worldwide cost of deferred maintenance in 2010 at $500 billion and rising to a trillion dollars in a few years.

It remains to be seen how efforts to affix a certain cost to technical debt can be used to provide a clear guide to business risks. But businesses are starting to pay more attention to the issue, said John Heintz, a technical consultant at Cutter Consortium.

Heintz said he has begun to see technical debt being raised as a due diligence issue in mergers and acquisitions, and increasing awareness of it is influencing software development practices.

Putting more attention on technical debt doesn't mean that developers won't still cut corners to speed development, said Heintz.

"Sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to cut corners, but it is never appropriate to forget that you cut them and ignore the fact," said Heintz.

The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon Universities, a federally funded research center sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, started working on the technical debt issue about two years ago and has been organizing workshops on the issue, according to Ipek Ozkaya, a senior member of the technical staff.

"There is increasing interest in this area because people want to get to the foundations of it," said Ozkaya.

Beyond some code metrics about how to illustrate technical debt, Ozkaya said there is a lack of guidance "about how to pay it (technical debt) back and how to know when you even have to pay it back, and how to map it to your changing requirements."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter@DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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