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The Case for Dedicated Cloud-Native Application Platform Teams

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There’s plenty of blogs, technical papers, and webinars created to address the tech stack needed to build optimal application development and delivery platforms. The ultimate app platform elevates the developer experience and makes app deployments frictionless. Yet, business capabilities and outcomes are not solely tied to technology, or the tools used in this process.

Traditionally, IT teams in software development organizations have concentrated on providing developers with the tech stack they need to achieve velocity in delivering applications. However, Forrester Research has stated in Modernize with Cloud and New Computing Architectures that “Companies that have invested only in the technology but stop short of other changes will find that costs soar, with little added value and more challenges in manageability and observability.” A successful modern application platform requires a platform team that allows developers and stakeholders to experiment and solve business-critical problems faster, in more innovative ways, without sacrificing reliability or adding extra staff. The platform team brings engineering skills and a product mindset to the tools those developers use, creating value for the organization and its customers.

The responsibilities of the platform team

A platform team builds and operates a platform — keeping the toolset running smoothly and troubleshooting issues that can slow down software production — while enabling developers to be highly productive. Platform teams work to create value for your developers, organization, and customers. What the platform team focuses on is unique to each organization, as value is defined by the needs of their stakeholders and customers.

Scripting and automation of repeatable tasks within the tech stack, like security certification and compliance, create value by removing the burden from the development team, allowing them more time to create applications. Platform teams can also treat infrastructure as code to reduce configuration drift across the different platforms they are running, such as dev, sandbox environments, QA, production, or multiple production environments. Further, the platform team can ensure repeatability in non-technology processes, like creating run books to address procedures that cannot be automated.

One of the most important responsibilities of the platform team is to enable great developer experiences. This includes streamlined application development and deployment, to create new ideas and generate more revenue for the organization in the form of software. The developer experience should include training and enablement, onboarding self-service, and deploying and maintaining third-party integrations that allow the developer to move faster.

The platform team should also embrace DevSecOps. This includes implementing and maintaining security measures that reduce risk for the business and product end users. Maintaining a secure software supply chain, where your organization is using curated sets of deployment methodologies and automation, will help secure your applications and mitigate security issues in the path to production.

Building the team that operates the platform as a product

So, what kind of talent do you need to build out your platform team? While your team composition will largely depend upon your organization’s needs, there are things you should keep in mind while hiring for platform team roles.

According to Gartner research, platform owners “must have the right combination of business, interpersonal, and technical skills to optimize customer experience and ensure platform capabilities align with business goals.”1 Potential candidates should be excellent communicators and avid learners who make data-driven decisions and leave politics and personalities at the door—keeping focus on the needs of the developers and the platform. Your platform team members should also be comfortable with constant change as technology and tools are moving layers of the platform that are introduced, modernized, or retired at the end of life. Team members will need to be able to change their practices and adjust processes to support the platform and developers as more application teams are brought on to the platform.

The platform team must also adopt a product mindset, focusing on creating an internal product that will provide the best user experience for your developers. Understanding user-centric design is critical to road-mapping the work a platform team must do. Dedication to the developer experience means that your platform team should be able to think like product managers, using data derived from testing and user feedback to provide the optimal platform as a product for them. Platform teams must understand both the developer and end-user needs of an organization’s products and the requirements for those products. Knowing these needs can help platform teams narrow the scope of their work to what will provide the most value. By integrating user-centric design with fast feedback loops into the platform team’s application delivery practices, an organization will be rewarded with happier, more productive developers and reduced organizational friction, leading to more business value.

Continuous communication is key to platform and business success

Your platform team should have excellent communication skills. Communicating to stakeholders is essential to building an optimal development organization. Building feedback loops with developers will help the platform team to understand how best to meet dev teams’ needs. Effective communication can help with executive buy-in and sponsorship which are critical to the success of any developer experience initiative. It is also important to keep stakeholders informed and allow them to contribute to the overall health of the platform, the platform team, and development teams. Effective communication also helps set expectations and meet the needs of various stakeholders including line of business owners, and internal teams such as HR, Marketing, etc.

Building a platform team requires significant investments – in the form of budget, time, and talent which is highly dependent on the executive sponsorship mentioned above. It will also require rethinking your organizational structure – a daunting task, but one that can result in exponential value. Thus, it is important to take time to understand your organization’s needs before developing a platform team. When done well, creating a platform team to support your modern application development platform can be one of the best investments you make.

  1. [SOURCE: Gartner – Why DevOps Success Requires Platform Teams; By Daniel Betts, George Spafford, Manjunath Bhat; March 2021] GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Author: Colleen Green, Senior Product Marketing Manager
Bio: Colleen Green is a product marketing manager focusing on platform services at VMware Tanzu Labs, the software consulting services branch of VMware Tanzu. Previously, she handled product marketing for various managed services and managed security services providers. Colleen also has a background in graphic design and education. She holds a BFA from Syracuse University, an MAT from SUNY Oswego, and an MS in Marketing from Texas A&M University – Commerce.
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