A CIO’s guide to the developer platform: What it is and why you need it

BrandPost By Purnima Padmanabhan, SVP & GM, VMware Modern Apps & Management
Oct 05, 20235 mins
DevopsSoftware Development

CIOs who prioritize platform engineering will energize their teams to develop solutions faster, with greater reliability…and ultimately drive business growth.

Credit: iStock/skynesher

As today’s digital-centric landscape continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, software agility, and speed-to-market are critical to long-term success and revenue growth for any business. Modern applications and multi-cloud strategies drive digital transformations that make this success possible, and businesses are under pressure to get better and faster at delivering applications and services to their customers, employees, and stakeholders.

But all too often, an unintended consequence of this enthusiasm is uncontrolled tool sprawl. Rather than adopting key tenets of modern software delivery – develop, operate, and optimize – as a comprehensive, integrated strategy, most organizations today consider them as siloed processes. Application teams are doing similar things in slightly different ways (no common OS, services, or common security patterns, for example) and driving inconsistency, disparate tools, and operational inefficiency.

Over time, if modern methods and delivery models aren’t leveraged in a unified and well-managed way, businesses will struggle to unlock the developer productivity and innovation that drive competitive advantage and growth.

Reimagine the development process with a platform engineering approach

At its core, platform engineering is designed to eradicate these modernization side effects. These teams are responsible for building, evolving, and managing the internal development platform (IDP) and act as a conduit between developers, operations, and security teams.

Platform teams work to identify key development patterns across application teams and deliver those specific requirements with excellence on a consistent, systematic basis. This “golden path” approach removes the siloed DIY mentality underpinning tool sprawl and process complexity and instead, creates greater overall software agility. And this goes well beyond developing and deploying applications – managing those applications after they’ve been deployed is critical. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, platform teams are key to building software at scale: Gartner expects that by 2026, 80% of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams as internal providers of reusable services, components, and tools for application delivery.

Consider the developer platform a “product”

But the real secret to successful platform engineering is treating that developer platform as a product. It’s not enough to simply think of platform engineering as a new team that unifies various functions and builds a platform that supports ad hoc tasks and jobs. It requires a mindset change away from the technology itself and instead, towards identifying the target market and understanding those wants and needs. Ultimately, this helps achieve a bigger goal that serves the company’s bottom line: to deliver a standardized development approach on a platform with constantly evolving services that meet customer (read: developer) needs. 

That means asking bigger questions to define what features and capabilities this platform needs to consistently offer developers. What are their (and their apps’) requirements? What do they need on an ongoing basis? What services can speed delivery and what constraints might affect the solution? How can the engineering team maintain those requirements without a developer having to raise a ticket every time?

Foster a symbiotic relationship between developer team and platform engineering teams

In turn, the platform-as-a-product mindset will better serve the overall business. A strong developer platform with an engineering team committed to maintaining its capabilities can replace the toil of developer tasks, reduce overall cognitive load, and eliminate frustrating wait times with the freedom to solve business-critical problems faster — without sacrificing security, reliability, or adding staff. For example, a carefully architected platform built with common development patterns in mind can allow a small team of 5 platform engineers to support upgrades, services, and automation for more than 500 internal developers.

Modernization is no longer an option but a necessity for businesses. While business leaders are highly focused on doing everything possible to maximize the operational and business benefits of their company’s cloud-native efforts, many of those benefits can be easily undermined by an inability to leverage synergies between projects and teams.

Platform engineering teams empower teams to develop and deploy solutions faster

Platform teams are poised to unlock powerful new capabilities for IT organizations. As every business strives to build software at scale, an effective platform engineering team – and platform as a product mindset – can make significant contributions to an organization, from alleviating the skills crisis to improving the developer experience and accelerating app delivery. Certainly, over the next five years, we expect to see the industry invest in innovating the right designs and strategies to further enable the platform team movement.

VMware’s mission is to simplify this process for businesses. With VMware Tanzu, platform teams can standardize tooling and build golden paths to production for developers using out-of-the-box or third-party components. Platform teams, based on functional and non-functional requirements, can then ensure consistent governance, continuous improvement of cost optimization, and continuous security.

CIOs and other senior IT decision-makers who prioritize platform engineering will empower their teams to develop and deploy solutions faster, with reduced downtime and greater reliability, ultimately driving business growth and success.

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