DevOps survey highlights the growing role of platform engineering

By Margaret Lee, Puppet by Perforce.

  • 2 weeks ago Posted in

Since 2010, Puppet’s annual State of DevOps Report has tracked the trends within this now well-established area of development lifecycle, including IT. In more recent years, it has also included the rise of platform engineering, part of the evolution of DevOps, which Gartner has referred to as emerging in response to the increasing complexity of modern software architectures. When executed well, platform engineering can enhance productivity, improve software delivery and quality, and lead to better security and compliance. Platform engineering can even create career opportunities or enable the C suite to move valued employees into new roles.

Gartner has also predicted that, by 2026, 80% of global organisations plan to have a team dedicated to platform engineering. Already, as Puppet’s latest survey of over 600 IT professionals worldwide found, platform engineering is well embedded, with 43% having had a platform team for at least three years and a quarter for six to nine years. Increasingly, there are dedicated platforms for different functions, especially security.

Before diving into more detail, it helps to start with some brief definitions. Platforms refer to giving end users within organisations self-service and fast access to the technologies and support they need to perform their daily roles, at the same time reducing support requests from IT operations and reducing cognitive load for end users. A platform engineering team is responsible for provisioning and managing all the workflows, toolings and self-service platforms. They are responsible for understanding end users’ needs, business needs, and blending those together to drive progress forward.

How platform engineering makes a difference

Platform engineering can significantly contribute to the essential attributes of successful DevOps: efficiency, speed and security. In addition, platform engineering can improve the developer experience (DX) by providing self-service capabilities with automated infrastructure operations. By providing these capabilities to end users, it reduces cognitive load and saves time from learning 'all the things'. Developers can focus on the value-add work for the business without getting bogged down making sure they have the right security protocols, right tooling and more. This is essential, given the rapidly changing software development environment. First, the complexity and volume of data are growing exponentially, making it hard to maintain visibility and control over everything. Second, security, governance, and compliance have all (rightly so) become priorities, creating additional demands on teams.

Finally, while there remains a need for highly skilled software developers, there is also the advent of citizen developers: people who may not even be from a technical background yet can use low-code or no-code tools to build applications, especially internally. To address all these challenges, the platform engineering team can support skilled and non-skilled developers by acting as a barrier to the chaos of tools, tasks, and information. For instance, standardising tools means that developers do not have to become tool experts so that they can focus more of their time on writing code.

Nor is this just theory: it is working. When asked what they perceive platform engineering's primary benefits for developers, 50% cited increased productivity, 40% better quality of software, 36% reduced lead time for deployment, 36% more stable applications, 31% reduced errors, and the same percentage for reduced time for product development and reduced risk of security breaches.

These are all powerful statements about platform engineering’s ability to harness IT complexity and liberate teams from what has recently been coined the ‘developer overhead’; in other words, all those tasks — often time-consuming, mundane, but usually essential — that take them away from coding time. Drilling this down into more specific use cases, the top three are increased productivity (58%), automated and standardised processes (51%), increased speed of product delivery (50%), and improved compliance and security (49%).

Security and compliance

On that last point, security and compliance are not just supporting security and compliance ; they are initiatives tackling and troubleshooting in a way that suggests this will be a much larger trend. According to the survey, 30% of platform engineering teams solve or troubleshoot fires or security issues, and 28% build and enforce security processes. One of the big shifts we saw in this year’s report is security being integrated upfront, often as a first step for platforms, which helps with maintaining a solid security posture and reducing risk organisation-wide. Previously security was something everyone knew was important, but it was left up to teams on how to implement. In turn, this supports good DevOps practice of integrating security into development from the very beginning.

So, what activities might a platform engineering team perform daily to support security and compliance? Just over half (51%) of the survey’s respondents say that platform engineering teams (51%) while a further 42% are continuously scanning for vulnerabilities. Platform engineering teams are also implementing organisational security benchmarks, according to

46%. Furthermore, when asked what is within the scope of the platform engineering team, 63% cited access control — a vital part of any robust security strategy — with a further 13% saying it is not in scope but should be.

Of course, platform engineering teams address far more than security. The survey’s respondents cited services that enable app development teams to build, deploy, and run their apps as the leading activity that should be within the platform engineering team’s scope. Provisioning and managing infrastructure to support developer teams came in second at 66%, followed by automating workflows and processes at 66%. Other activities mentioned included provisioning and managing deployment pipelines and developer environments, involvement in application architecture, and controlling costs and resources.

New job roles

Given the value of these activities, platform engineering also represents a potential career development opportunity for individuals, whether or not from a highly skilled software development or engineering background. The survey’s respondents made it clear that a platform engineering team should have full-stack IT knowledge within the team, but, in addition, over half said that a product manager is crucial to the success of a platform engineering team.

A product manager acts as the bridge to internal customers, translating needs and pain points into actionable tasks for the platform team. They also make intelligent decisions about what has to happen first while aligning with the bigger picture. This means they understand how each platform impacts the business and ensure its features directly address bigger organisational goals.

So, the top skills a product manager requires are strategic thinking, the ability to convert strategy into plans and objectives, collaboration skills, understanding product and task prioritisation, experience with qualitative data analysis, and reporting and communicating with senior leadership. In turn, this means that the role of a product manager does not necessarily have to be someone from a deeply technical background, although equally, it could be, given the right skillsets. Either way, platform engineering teams represent career advancement opportunities and a way for organisations to transition valued resources into new roles.

Value and investment

Plus, platform engineering teams are clearly valued within organisations, which is good news for anyone who wants to be part of this growth area. 58% of platform engineering teams are overseen as part of the broader infrastructure or DevOps team, 40% have direct leadership representation, and most are part of the engineering or operations function. Regardless of where they can be found within an enterprise, they are perceived as important, with 65% saying that platform engineering teams will receive continued investment.

Platform engineering will continue to flourish and is integral to the evolution of DevOps. The survey shows that many organisations already understand the impact a platform team can have on their operations. The more consistency there is across teams, tooling, and processes, the more secure, efficient, and standardised the IT infrastructure will be.

However, platform engineering teams are not just about standardisation; they should be seen as strategic partners for developers. By fostering a collaborative environment and ensuring a secure, compliant, and scalable foundation, they free up developer teams for meaningful work while helping IT leaders ensure that DevOps strategies and IT investments contribute to the organisation's success and meet its goals.

https://www.gartner.com/en/articles/what-is-platform-engineering

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