Article

Tim Biddiscombe
Tim Biddiscombe 9 June 2022

What is the Balance of Your MarTechnical Debt?

Before we delve into MarTechnical Debt, let’s review Technical Debt – the fascinating phenomenon in the world of software development. Put simply, it is the cost of later rework, by choosing easier and quicker solutions in the near term. It’s about taking sooner, rather than better approaches which can ultimately take longer and cost more.

In every single scaleup technology firm in the world, technical debt is a very real, and sometimes company-ending paradox. I get it, the pressures of delivering products on time, to budget, the endless need for incremental value to satisfy both customers and stakeholders, forces all kinds of difficult decisions and compromises in the short term.

Coupled with this, as some software specialists of my acquaintance will happily tell me, is the judicious use of ‘the J word’. I do of course mean ‘Just’, where business stakeholders with little to no appreciation of the impact of previous short-cuts, often try to talk developers into cutting corners with phrases like “can’t you just…”.

These technical decisions lead a company into architectural cul-de-sacs, where the ‘interest’ that must be repaid on the technical debt can be too great, often becoming an unbreakable technical debt ceiling that a company’s capabilities are unable to expand beyond, sometimes fatally.

I was intrigued to be discussing this with a friend recently, as in our wonderfully diverse world of Marketing Technology, we experience a very similar phenomena, which I am now calling MarTechnical Debt.

What is MarTechnical Debt?

I know what it’s like, I completely sympathise. Imagine you are at a company that has grown fast and organically – perhaps you don’t even need to imagine it because you’re in it! You have probably decided to buy rather than build your solutions from the available software vendors – I have many times in the past advocated a Frankenstack approach to creating a best of breed offering that meets the diverse and ever-changing needs of a cutting-edge organisation.

In your MarTech stack you probably have upwards of a hundred technology providers, across many areas such as Marketing Automation, Customer Experience, Content Management, CRM, Programmatic Advertising, SEO and Social Media, to name just a few areas where your unique needs have led you to seek out innovative solutions.

Many of these technologies you have deployed will in all likelihood offer very similar features and functions. They probably didn’t at the time you started using them, but over time all these MarTech providers (an astonishing 9,932 as of the 2022 Marketing Technology Landscape infographic from chiefmartec.com) have grown in capabilities, either through old fashioned software development or aggressive acquisition strategies.

Either way, over time, greater and greater similarities exist between many of the technology providers as they mature. You only have to look at the breadth of industry leaders like Salesforce and Adobe to know the truth of what I am saying.

The situation you therefore typically find yourself in then, is one of MarTechnical Debt. Historically, decisions have been made, the right decisions at the time as well, to select certain vendors to give you certain specific features and functionality that gave you an edge over your competitors; to be first to market with the killer capability that differentiates you in your marketplace.

However, as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. These historical decisions to hitch your wagon to a variety of interconnected technologies very likely limit your future strategic vision and roadmap to technologies and offerings that fit in with that home grown ecosystem of yours.

This is an uncomfortable reality that could see you fall behind your competitors when attempting to keep up with where you see the marketplace (not to mention the customers) going.

The solution therefore is to pay interest on your MarTechnical Debt. In essence, when faced with this increasingly common issue of organically grown software combinations that so many companies face, the best thing to do can be to stop and do nothing.

Well, not nothing, but a period of untangling, where technologies and capabilities are mapped and assessed and suppliers consolidated. Sometimes this is achieved through RFx and vendor selection activities to create a v2.0 ecosystem that is future proofed, as opposed to the spaghetti junction of technologies that at the moment is future hindering.

I’m under no illusions that when looked at through the 4-dimensional lens of people, processes, data and technology, this is technically very difficult to achieve, not to mention contractually Kafkaesque. But make no mistake, it is ultimately achievable, and might well be the key program of activity that allows your marketing organisation to break through a ceiling it has found itself bumping against.

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