Can Your Developers Benefit from Platform Engineering?

Will designing tools and workflows to bring self-service to software development help developers work more efficiently? A growing number of adopters think so.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

May 22, 2024

5 Min Read
Profile of concentrated young software developer eating pizza and coding at home.
Vadym Drobot via Alamy Stock Photo

Platform engineering focuses on tasks designed to help application developers work more efficiently, such as setting up staging environments, readying CI/CD pipelines, and configuring infrastructure as code (IaC) to automate cloud resource provisioning. 

With a renewed focus on cost efficiency, organizations have come to realize that significant value can be derived from improved developer productivity and engineering effectiveness, especially in making R&D dollars go further, says Christian Kelly, a managing director at business advisory firm Accenture, in an email interview. 

Achieving these goals takes more than simply collecting and assembling developer tools. "It requires designing an engineering capability that's systemized and intently focused on empowering developers to be more productive," Kelly explains. "This vision is now being coined as platform engineering or developer experience, which is sometimes also called DevX." 

Multiple Benefits 

Platform engineering's primary benefit is giving developers an experience that features the same ease-of-use intended for business users and consumers, ultimately making them more productive, Kelly says. "The result is happier developers who can build products faster and easier." He adds that platform engineering is also a requirement for the large-scale adoption of trending technologies, such as DevSecOps, continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), low-code/no-code, GenAI coding assistants, MLOps, and LLMs. 

Related:How Developers of All Skill Levels Can Best Leverage AI

Another key benefit is ensuring a common platform focused on automation, says Jim McKenney, practice director, industrial and operational technologies, at cybersecurity consulting and managed services firm NCC Group. "Well-developed platform engineering processes typically include self-service portals, which reduce administrative overhead costs, streamline workflows, and improve documentation," he notes via email. 

With platform engineering, developers no longer need to continuously reinvent the proverbial wheel, observes Pete Lilley, vice president and general manager at Instaclustr, NetApp’s provider of managed open-source database, pipeline and workflow applications. "They focus on what they do best -- building applications and services -- instead of spending countless hours on repetitive work around infrastructure, security, and other needs," he notes in an email interview. 

Getting Started 

Since platform engineering draws from DevOps and CI/CD practices, a good way to begin is to become adept in managing DevOps tools, frameworks and technologies. As platform engineering tends to align with cloud computing, microservices, and orchestration, organizations should focus on building a portfolio focused on automation in AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, McKenney recommends. 

Related:How to Create a Generation of Super Developers with AI

The most important principle of platform engineering is to step away from thinking about technology in terms of siloed, disconnected tools, Kelly says. "Instead, start thinking holistically about what the ideal developer experience ought to be and how to evolve organizational capabilities in tandem with the technology stack," he advises. This will require a comprehensive evaluation of the current development process, from ideation and product management through development, release and use-in-production. "Then shop for technologies and capabilities in the market that can help support the developer experience you wish to build while eliminating bottlenecks, blind spots and redundancies."

Kelly also stresses the importance of architecting an end-to-end experience by breaking it into blocks that demonstrate value to both developers and stakeholders. "Focus on removing friction for developers and enabling the development process to create customer value quickly as early wins will help secure buy-in across the organization." 

Related:9 Ways to Ensure Continuous Innovation

Early adopters should understand how open-source technologies can play a key role in platform engineering, Lilley says. He notes that open source aligns well with the first steps in a platform engineering strategy, from portability to security to pluggability, rather than trying to shoehorn requirements into a vendor's vision or product roadmap. 

The ideal platform engineering leader would report directly to the head of R&D, or to the CTO or CIO, and own everything from experience design and technology implementation to value management, Kelly says. 

Avoiding Mistakes 

Platform engineering's primary drawback is that it requires a great deal of preparatory planning. "It cannot be a simple aggregation of developer tools," Kelly warns. The approach requires organizations to think holistically about their end-to-end developer experience and the significant amount of time that must be spent on it. 

Additionally, there's no single system that can be easily plugged-in and deployed like a productivity suite. "While there are vendors steadily building this capability, organizations willing to embrace platform engineering still have to think about the core capabilities they want in their platform and assemble them together so it can deliver an end-to-end experience," Kelly says. 

Final Word 

When deployed correctly, platform engineering can be an engine that drives real business transformation, Lilley says. "It bridges the gap between pie-in-the-sky claims about accelerating application development and the boots-on-the-ground reality of most software teams, which are often already stretched thin while being asked to support increasingly ambitious business goals."

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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