An introduction to platform engineering – what you need to know

Platform engineering as a discipline has only been around for a couple of years. Yet Gartner believes that 80% of software engineering organisations will have platform teams by 2026, stating that: 

“Platform engineering will ultimately solve the central problem of cooperation between software developers and operators.”

So, how does platform engineering work and why should you care? 

How platform engineering works

Platform engineering works by providing an internal developer platform that is built around the needs and priorities of internal dev teams. While a team of platform engineers will be responsible for the internal developer platform, it is very much a consultative role. Internal developer teams are essentially customers of the platform engineering team, so that team needs to consult with all the dev teams and find out what they need and which solutions would meet multiple teams’ requirements – then deliver them through the platform. 

The team providing the platform engineering services can include DevOps engineers, site reliability engineers, product managers and other experts. 

What is the goal of platform engineering?

The goal of platform engineering is to create a frictionless infrastructure that will enable internal developer teams to work better by improving the developer experience. That means including a range of tools and workflows so that teams can work more efficiently while not enduring any additional restraints as a result of the platform. Done well, platform development can create an environment in which dev teams can work faster, more efficiently, more collaboratively and more productively. 

What is platform engineering used for?

Platform engineering is used to deliver greater efficiency within an organisation. When a business grows organically, silos tend to develop, with different teams using different tools and different methods. Platform design engineering takes all of that and introduces efficiencies through collaboration, enabling teams to work more efficiently and more productively. 

According to Gartner, platform engineering teams should implement reusable tools and reusable configurable application components and services in order to deliver an efficient and largely self-service experience. Through a blend of standardised tooling and processes, along with a product-focused mindset, the platform engineering team can thus support greater engineering efficiency. 

What are the key benefits of efficient platform engineering?

Platform engineering, when implemented efficiently, can deliver multiple benefits. By removing operational complexity, sharing best practices in terms of tooling and workflows and automating processes, it can support developer teams to work faster and more productively. 

This means that the development cycle picks up pace, with faster iterations and less friction. Scaling becomes easier, while shared components and tools supports standardisation. 

The challenges of platform engineering

Efficient platform engineering is not without its challenges. The first is that the platform engineering team must be highly consultative and must remain so. If not, there’s a danger that they will build another silo that won’t end up helping anyone – and that could actually introduce delays and inefficiencies into internal dev processes. Keeping the platform engineering team’s agreed mission and goals front of mind at all times should help to avoid this.

Part of this challenge is to ensure that communication and consultation is ongoing. If it takes place only at the outset, then there is a risk that the internal developer platform will gradually become less useful as time passes. This can trigger teams to begin finding their own ways around things, which can lead back to silos once more. Instead, communication must be maintained and the platform developed to ensure its continued relevance for those using it.

Documentation is another challenge. It is crucial to the long-term success of any internal developer platform, but that means allocating time and resources to create it. It will be money well spent though, as new incoming team members will be able to get up to speed quickly and efficiently and use the platform collaboratively, as intended.

One further challenge that is likely to arise is around gaps in skills and knowledge between different internal dev teams. Each team will have knowledge of the tools, solutions and processes it uses. The sharing of these resources via the internal developer platform will trigger a need to educate those teams that are unfamiliar with them. It’s nothing that a robust approach can’t quickly overcome – it just needs to be factored in for maximum platform engineering efficiency.

Key principles of platform engineering

Any platform engineering team needs a checklist of key principles if it wants to operate as efficiently as possible and achieve maximum results. These include:

  • Clearly defining the goals and mission for the internal developer platform and the team. 
  • Taking a product-focused approach, where the platform is the product and the internal dev teams are the customers. 
  • Ensuring open and ongoing collaboration and discussion with dev teams about what they need, what tools and workflows they are using, what their pain points are and what they can contribute to the platform. 
  • Robust documentation to underpin a self-serve approach for the internal dev teams using the platform. 
  • Ongoing monitoring of the platform’s success against the original goals and mission. 

Ready to learn more? Our article on how to boost engineering efficiency should provide plenty of food for thought.