The average big application costs an extra £2.23m as a result of problems with the code that need to be fixed after software goes live, according to a major benchmarking study from software measurement firm Cast.
Using automated analysis tools, Cast’s Report on Application Software Health (CRASH) analysed 365 million lines of code within 745 large software applications belonging to 160 companies in 10 countries.
The company revealed an average cost (technical debt) of £2.23 per line of code to fix.
It also revealed that applications developed by third parties were no different to those developed in-house. “Despite assumptions to the contrary, outsourced and in-house developed applications didn’t show any difference in structure quality. The same was true for onshore and offshore applications,” the report revealed.
Cast measured applications based on security, performance, availability, and the ease of software transferability and its changeability.
Applications developed using programming language Java EE received significantly lower performance scores, as well as carrying greater technical debt than other languages, while established development methods such as agile and waterfall scored significantly better in structural quality than custom methods. Applications developed using the waterfall method were the easiest to transfer and change.
Cobol applications were the most secure and .Net applications received the lowest security scores.
Dr Bill Curtis, chief scientist at Cast, said over one-third (35%) of the violations discovered in the study result in damage to business by adversely affecting the security, performance and uptime of application software.
“Technical debt creates a double dose of trouble because it siphons money from IT innovation to pay for software repairs," he said. "The consequence is fewer dollars left to develop new applications capable of providing a competitive edge to an organisation and increased risk embedded in the new applications designed to create that edge. It certainly makes technical debt something that should be critically important to both CIOs and CEOs.”
The research found that government applications require more money to fix once live, than private sector applications. Government applications carried 50% more technical debt than the private sector. “There are many plausible explanations for these results,” Curtis said, “such as multiple contractors working on different parts of an application, and contractual disincentives for delivering high-quality software management.”
David Norton, analyst at Gartner, said businesses are creating huge risks by running software with problems. "The pace of application development, innovation and modernisation is increasing exponentially, based on agile practices, cloud, consumerisation and mobile," he said. "With every release cycle we run the very real risk of adding technical debt that we must pay back, it’s just a question of when. This is the ticking time bomb for the 21st century.”