Gartner Warns of App Maintenance 'Debt'

Gartner Inc. said last month that IT departments are incurring an "IT debt" totaling $500 billion worldwide this year because tight budgets have kept them from updating older software.

"Year after year of deferred maintenance means that the application portfolio risks getting dangerously out of date," Gartner analyst Andy Kyte said in a statement. Gartner called it "a debt incurred in previous years that will need to be paid off" in the future by investing in software upgrades.

The research firm defined IT debt as "the cost of clearing the backlog of maintenance that would be required to bring the corporate applications portfolio to a fully supported current release state." Gartner said the debt could rise to $1 trillion by 2015.

Independent analysts Vinnie Mirchandani and Frank Scavo said Gartner's estimates were overblown, contending that the research firm has a history of producing big, scary numbers, like its prediction of Y2K remediation costs.

"There are many good reasons to NOT upgrade/modernize many applications, and I believe Gartner is out of line using words like 'debt' which have guilt associated with them," Mirchandani, a former Gartner analyst, said in a blog post.

Scavo acknowledged in a blog post that "application proliferation and unsupported versions" are big problems. He said CIOs should make an effort to identify software that can be retired, consolidated or turned over to third-party maintenance firms or software-as-a-service providers.

He noted that only strategic applications that provide business value need to be upgraded to current versions on a regular schedule. Companies need to conduct assessments of their software portfolios to determine which applications fall into each category, he said, but he added that it's difficult to get users, top executives and IT to agree on the business value or quality of a particular application.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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