What Is Platform Engineering?

October 26, 2023

Contributor: Lori Perri

Platform engineering is an emerging technology approach that can accelerate the delivery of applications and the pace at which they produce business value.

Platform engineering improves developer experience and productivity by providing self-service capabilities with automated infrastructure operations. It is trending because of its promise to optimize the developer experience and accelerate product teams’ delivery of customer value.

It also falls in line with the pattern of opening up technical work and knowledge across a broad set of roles and business functions. Generative AI has helped level the playing field in this manner.

“Platform engineering emerged in response to the increasing complexity of modern software architectures. Today, non-expert end users are often asked to operate an assembly of complicated arcane services,” says Paul Delory, VP Analyst at Gartner. “To help end users, and reduce friction for the valuable work they do, forward-thinking companies have begun to build operating platforms that sit between the end user and the backing services on which they rely.”

By 2026, 80% of large software engineering organizations will establish platform engineering teams as internal providers of reusable services, components and tools for application delivery. Platform engineering will ultimately solve the central problem of cooperation between software developers and operators.

How platform engineering works

Platform engineering is an emerging trend intended to modernize enterprise software delivery, particularly for digital transformation. A dedicated product team creates and maintains the engineering platform, which is designed to support the needs of software developers and others by providing common, reusable tools and capabilities, and interfacing to complex infrastructure. 

The specific capabilities of an engineering platform depend entirely on the needs of its end users. Platform teams must understand the needs of their user groups, prioritize the work, and then build a platform that is useful to the target audience. 

Initial platform-building efforts often begin with internal developer portals (IDPs), as these are most mature. IDPs provide a curated set of tools, capabilities and processes. Subject matter experts select and package them for easy consumption by development teams. The goal is a frictionless, self-service developer experience that offers the right capabilities to enable developers and others to produce valuable software with as little overhead as possible. The platform should increase developer productivity, reduce the cognitive load, include everything development teams need and present it in whatever manner fits the team’s preferred workflow.

The development of a new generation of tools has made platform engineering one of the hottest topics of conversation within the DevOps community. These tools aim to make building and maintaining platforms easier.

What platform engineering is used for

What is the ideal development platform for one company may be useless to another. Even within the same company, different development teams may have entirely different needs. 

The overarching goal of the engineering platform is to enhance user experience and productivity. For the organization, such platforms encourage consistency and efficiency. For the developer, they provide welcome relief from the management of delivery pipelines and low-level infrastructure.

Paul Delory is a Research VP with Gartner for Technical Professionals, and the agenda manager for the Data Center Infrastructure for Technical Professionals and Cloud and Edge Computing for Technical Professionals agendas. Mr. Delory provides deep technical expertise to systems administrators and the vendors who serve them.

Experience CIO and IT Executive conferences

Join your peers for the unveiling of the latest insights at Gartner conferences.

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.