Technical Debt Management in the public sector

Mille Edith Kjærsgaard Hansen

Publikation: Bog / Antologi / Rapport / Ph.D.-afhandlingPh.d.-afhandling


In the past decades the government has focused on digitalizing government services leading to numerous IT systems. The society is increasingly dependent on IT systems within the public sector, creating a growing need to ensure those systems perform successfully. When features must be made available under time pressure, shortcuts and temporary fixes are likely to be introduced to new and existing IT systems; this phenomenon is called technical debt (TD). Introducing TD saves time and resources in the short run but may cause problems and require additional resources in the long run. Therefore, TD management is essential to prevent costly IT problems, and a decline in the quality of IT systems. Knowledge about TD in the public sector is limited, however, as previous research on TD management has primarily focused on the private sector and has taken a software engineering approach, where source code is the primary focus.

This dissertation comprises four research articles and a summary (kappa). It focuses on how the concept of TD can be operationalized to improve the management of IT systems in the public sector. The core of this dissertation is an embedded case study that took place over seven months at a Danish agency. The empirical material was collected and analyzed by applying three perspectives: stakeholder theory, IT portfolio management literature, and metaphor theory.

There is a general knowledge gap in the TD research regarding TD in the public sector. This gap is addressed throughout the thesis by focusing on the organizational aspects of TD and TD management in the public sector. The overarching findings are 1) TD is affected by multiple kinds of stakeholders, however the stakeholders vary and depend on the IT system; 2) TD is not affected only by internal stakeholders, but external and non-technical stakeholders also affect TD activities (e.g., TD creation and TD repayment); 3) TD can be created and resolved on an IT portfolio management level; 4) five factors which increase the likelihood of TD creation; 5) metaphors can be combined and used to comprehend and communicate a new phenomenon.

This dissertation contributes new empirical insight into TD management in the public sector, explains and predicts TD activities, and presents recommendations for practice. The high level of abstraction in the analysis is beneficial to understand TD at an organizational level. For example, by proposing two frameworks: the first framework describes the development of a metaphor, and the second framework integrates TD with IT portfolio management. Additionally, it reveals five factors which increase the risk of TD creation. The dissertation contributes empirical insights into IT maintenance within the government, models of TD processes, and practical recommendations for how to manage TD in the public sector.
Antal sider216
ISBN (Trykt)978-87-7949-392-6
StatusUdgivet - 2022


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