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The secret weapon to increase delivery speed: Platform engineering

From burden to advantage: Sharing transformative insights into platform engineering

Platform engineering teams build systems and workflows that accelerate software delivery, enabling organisations to get new features into customers’ hands faster — and gain a crucial competitive edge over their rivals.

New features increase the functionality of products, making them quicker and easier for customers to use. This enhances the benefit an organisation’s products bring to their users, boosting loyalty and supporting increased adoption. Platform engineering reduces the cognitive load on developers, freeing them up to spend more time on creating new features. 

Platform engineering removes the burden on developers

Platform engineering is a strategic approach to software development that combines dedicated workflows and tooling to accelerate delivery and remove the burden on developers. While platform engineering bears similarities with DevOps (a portmanteau of “development” and “operations”), the two are distinct practices with differing functions:

  • Platform engineers build systems and workflows for developers to work from 

  • DevOps engineers implement processes, tools and methodologies to support the software development life cycle 

We can make this distinction even clearer by using an analogy, one that imagines a bustling city where developers assume the role of architects designing buildings (software applications). 

Platform engineers are the urban planners. They lay down the infrastructure, roads and utilities needed for the city to function efficiently. Their role is to ensure developers have a well-organised and reliable foundation to construct their applications.

DevOps engineers are the traffic managers. They implement traffic lights, signs and efficient transportation systems to ensure a smooth flow of traffic throughout the city. Their role is to optimise the movement of resources (code, data, and processes) throughout the development life cycle, making sure everything proceeds seamlessly.

Dedicated resources increase engineering productivity and performance

Without a dedicated platform engineering team, developers themselves will take on the responsibility of building the necessary tooling and infrastructure required. However, with limited time to dedicate to this, this is likely to either be: a) ineffectual and/or b) detract from vital development work, further stalling production.

According to McKinsey & Company, “Companies need to develop career paths that enable deep experts to advance without deviating too far from their core responsibilities or ending up leading a large team.” What’s more, “This kind of talent strategy not only makes top talent more productive but also enables experts to lead platform designs and work collaboratively, all of which are critical to operating model success.”

Having separate resources dedicated to building highly efficient developer platforms and tooling removes the burden from engineering teams. It also democratises the process, since more than one person is responsible for the overriding infrastructure. From a governance perspective, this helps to ensure organisations have visibility across their technical footprint and reinforce best practices.

Purpose-built tools accelerate the delivery of new features

As well as freeing up developers’ time to work on new features, a platform engineering team leverages Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to build the precise tools developers need to meet critical business outcomes, faster. 

IaC is a modern and scalable approach to configuring infrastructure, which avoids many of the historical challenges associated with manual configuration, such as human error and unforeseen costs.

Having a platform engineering team dedicated to creating purpose-built tools for developers helps to accelerate software delivery and reduce the time to market for new features. This drives greater agility and competitive advantage for organisations.

Tangible business impacts of platform engineering

Nearform’s Luca Lanziani says platform engineering enables “increasing revenue, moving faster, staying ahead of the market. You can increase your speed by perhaps 30%, by removing the cycles from the developer team and centralising them.” 

Speaking about the reasons for this, Lanziani explains: “Let's assume you're a big organisation and you have tens of teams. Each one of them has to think about the ideal infrastructure that they’re going to use, the ideal CI/CD [continuous integration and continuous delivery] pipeline, the ideal code to write infrastructure, to build infrastructure, the ideal security measures and so on. Imagine centralising all of these in a single team. That is what you're going to get in terms of saving. You're going to centralise everything, improve best practices and then focus on speed of delivery.” 

In short, platform engineering empowers organisations and their teams to deploy faster, scale easier and move forward with confidence. This is because developers have the systems and workflows in place to enable them to deliver better software, and to do so more quickly.

Platform engineering requires a cultural shift

While the benefits of creating a platform engineering team are numerous, acquiring the right talent can be a challenge. This is because platform engineers need highly specialised skills and a deep understanding of various technologies, including cloud infrastructure, DevOps, containerization, orchestration and more. 

Introducing a platform engineering function also requires cultural change, especially if your organisation is still operating on-premise legacy infrastructure and has yet to fully transition to the cloud.

As Luca Lanziani highlights, this cultural shift is a challenge because it requires: “Convincing everyone to converge into using the same platform. People are used to building things the way they like. Now they're going to have someone feeding them something that was built by someone else. And for this, there is a nice model — building the platform as a product. 

“What do we mean by building the platform as a product? It means the other teams in your organisation should be your clients. If they're your clients, you're going to have to listen to them, you're going to have to work with them.”

Platform engineering brings business growth

Platform engineering increases your organisation’s speed of delivery by boosting developers’ bandwidth. This means they have more time available to focus on work that drives business growth, such as developing new features that enhance customer experience and give the organisation a competitive advantage over its competitors.

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