Managing Technical Debt For Local Governments


A Hidden Roadblock For City & County Administrators


As an administrator responsible for effective operations and service delivery in your city or county, do you have a clear picture of technical debt and how critical it can be?

You know how challenging it can be to balance immediate needs with long-term goals when resources are tight.

This dilemma extends to the technology infrastructure meant to serve your community.

What Exactly is Technical Debt?

Technical debt refers to the backlog of unfinished tasks and unresolved issues accumulating in software and IT systems over time. It often stems from quick fixes, delayed upgrades, and resource constraints.

Like financial debt, technical debt accrues “interest” in extra maintenance costs, lost efficiency, and increased risk. This debt drag can profoundly impact service levels, productivity, security, and innovation if left unmanaged.

Common Causes of Technical Debt for Local Governments:

  • Tight budgets forcing delayed system upgrades.
  • Rushed software implementations due to limited staff.
  • Short-term patches instead of long-term solutions.
  • Integration challenges with legacy systems.
  • Turnover leading to loss of technical knowledge.
  • Lack of documentation for critical in-house systems.
  • Compromises made to hit short-term milestones.

What Are the Impacts on City & County Operations?

Technical debt may seem harmless at first. But over time, the accumulating interest payments can cripple progress. Examples of how it hinders city and county governments:

  • Slower response to citizen service requests.
  • Difficulty quickly implementing new technologies.
  • Frequent system outages or performance issues.
  • Security vulnerabilities from outdated software.
  • Costly workarounds and manual processes.
  • Roadblocks to digital transformation initiatives.
  • Inability to scale operations or capacity.

Unresolved debt ultimately leads to declining community services, unhappy constituents, increased risk, bloated IT costs, and frustrated employees.

Communicating the Risks to Leadership & Citizens

Technical debt often gets overlooked amid pressing community issues. As an administrator, you must spotlight the problem and gains from addressing it using metrics tied to:

  • Service quality and civic engagement.
  • Employee productivity and satisfaction.
  • Cost savings and optimized IT spending.
  • Risk reduction of outages, breaches, and failures.
  • Ability to quickly launch innovations.

For example, communicating how debt paydown will reduce issue-resolution timeframes by 40% and allow reallocation of $200K annually from maintenance to growth initiatives.

Present how seamless systems can improve access to services and community participation. With clear ROI illustrated you gain support to prioritize technical debt.

Best Practices for Tackling Technical Debt:

Ignoring it only causes it to multiply, like credit card debt. As a leader, you must take focused steps to address it:

  • Audit existing systems and software to quantify and prioritize debt based on business risk.
  • Allocate budget/resources for paying down high-risk debt through upgrades, training, and documentation.
  • Strengthen IT policies, architecture standards, and governance to limit the accumulation of new debt.
  • Modernize legacy systems incrementally through refactoring, automation, and cloud migration.
  • Broaden internal skill sets via training programs and knowledge transfer.
  • Celebrate progress but persist beyond initial milestones, dedicating regular resources.


Transforming Technical Debt into a Strategic Asset

View technical debt paydown not as a cost but as an investment in improving services, driving efficiency, and accelerating innovation long-term.

Forward-thinking leaders recognize that proactive management of technology debt leads to:

  • More stable, resilient systems with lower failure risks.
  • Better use of taxpayer dollars through optimized IT spending.
  • Faster response times and access to services for citizens.
  • Increased community participation through new technologies.
  • Improved employee productivity and satisfaction.
  • Enhanced ability to quickly implement innovations.

Make this threat an advantage for your city/county by making it a consistent priority. The future success of your community may depend on it.


Technical debt is a lurking threat that can undermine service levels, increase risks, and restrain innovation. However, administrators who tackle it strategically can transform their technology into an asset for positive change.

With assessment, communication, and proactive management, technical debt can be handled like any other balance sheet liability. Pay it down through dedicated resources and diligent governance, and its drag will lift – making way for agile systems that help drive your city or county forward.


Next Steps:

If you would like to learn more about technical debt, check out this full guide we created for leaders:

Technical Debt: The Hidden Roadblock to Growth-A CEO’s Guide

If you have more immediate concerns or needs, reach out, and we can do a full assessment of your current infrastructure.

Talk To An Advisor

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