The role of platform engineering for successful, resilient, and sustainable software products


Platform engineers strive to deliver a seamless and user-friendly self-service experience for developers. While there has long been a conflict between developers’ pursuit of independence and adaptability and the organization’s need for oversight and control, the role of the platform engineering program is to find the ideal middle ground. This involves adopting an adaptive delivery model that facilitates the integration of security and usability with the constant intention to enhance the overall developer experience.

1.   Defining experience for security, usability, and developers

Creating an inclusive and appealing experience for various stakeholders is essential. This can be achieved by focusing on three key areas: User Experience (UX), Developer Experience (DX), and Cybersecurity Experience (CSX).

User experience (UX): UX encompasses the emotions and perceptions users encounter while interacting with a product, application, system, or service. UX strives to deliver meaningful and relevant experiences, focusing on the users’ interpretations of utility and efficiency while interacting with a company’s offerings, including navigation, ease of use, content relevance, and outcomes.

Developer experience (DX): DX refers to the reactions and observations a developer encounters while interacting with their software development environment, focusing on their experience working with code to achieve a specific application delivery goal. DX aims to alleviate the complexities in the development process that ultimately enables engineers to create functional and valuable applications efficiently and effectively.

Cybersecurity experience (CSX): CSX is an expansive concept that includes the interactions, acuities, and overall satisfaction of stakeholders when dealing with cybersecurity tools, processes, and policies. Similar to user experience (UX) and developer experience (DX), CSX aims to address the challenges often experienced by the target audience while fostering a secure, user-friendly, and efficient environment for users, developers, and administrators at all stages of the lifecycle from delivery to deployment to management.

2.   The importance of security, usability, and developer experience in modern software development

Having three separate programs that focus on the experience of the key stakeholders is a good start. The compound value comes when your platform engineering program finds its ability to integrate security, usability, and developer experience into a modern software delivery lifecycle. Integrating and striking this balance is essential for creating high-quality, reliable, and successful software products. This integration and balance fosters trust, enhances user satisfaction, and ensures that the software meets the needs of all stakeholders with minimal team angst and less developer burnout. Some of the core benefits of this integration and balance include the following. 

Boosts Adoption: When software strikes the right balance between security, usability, and developer experience, it becomes more appealing and accessible to its target audience, leading to higher adoption rates.

Fosters Trust: A secure, user-friendly software product that is easy to update helps build trust among end-users and organizations, enhancing brand reputation, loyalty, and application stickiness.

Reduces Costs: A well-balanced application shifts this three-component set of requirements left in the development lifecycle, minimizing delivery friction, security incidents, and usability issues. Finding this balance early in the process reduces vulnerability remediation, support, and maintenance costs.

Simplifies Compliance: When the platform considers security and usability from the beginning and throughout the entire delivery lifecycle, applications are more likely to routinely meet various regulatory and industry-specific compliance requirements.

Encourages Innovation: A seamless and secure developer experience enabled by a platform engineering program can promote a collaborative and creative environment that reduces risk, advances innovation, and enables teams to stay ahead of the competition.

The value of striking this balance is evident. But there can be conflicting priorities between platform, product, and security engineers that can’t be swept under the carpet.

3.   It’s about the chemistry between security, engineering, and usability

Successful platform engineering programs have a unique opportunity to create an experience that promotes a security-conscious culture, encourages the adoption of best practices for delivery and compliance, and ultimately focuses on delighting the end user. The following principles can be applied to application design, product engineering, and application security to consider when creating your platform engineering program.

Accessibility: Design cybersecurity capabilities that are always available to engineers and users with diverse abilities, backgrounds, and levels of expertise.

Usability: Ensure that your cybersecurity tools, processes, and data are easy to understand, use, and navigate, regardless of team structure and individual team member maturity. 

Adaptability: Implement application delivery systems and processes that can quickly evolve and adapt to the changing landscape of threats, user needs, and technological advancements.

Efficiency: Streamline and optimize cybersecurity tools, processes, and tasks to minimize friction between teams to maximize performance and reduce the time and resources required to maintain a desirable security posture. 

Communication: It’s paramount that your platform engineering program provides clear, concise, and timely information about security threats, policies, countermeasures, and incident response plans to ensure the development and operations teams can stay informed and make timely decisions if something terrible occurs.

Education: As noted, staying informed is of utmost importance. With this in mind, consider offering relevant and engaging training programs and materials to ensure the effective use and application of your cybersecurity tools, processes, and data.

4.   Strategies for striking the perfect blend

When striving to strike the perfect blend between security, usability, and developer experience, it’s essential to consider a few key strategies.

By integrating security and usability specialists within your platform engineering program, you encourage cross-functional collaboration and foster the creation of innovative features and solutions. By leveraging the diverse expertise of team members throughout the platform and supporting teams, you can balance the requirements and objectives of each team to address security and usability concerns simultaneously while ensuring continuous communication to prevent one aspect from competing with and hindering the other.

You can create an engaging application design, functionality, actions, and outcomes by focusing on user satisfaction. Conduct thorough user research to understand your target audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points. Develop user personas and use case journey maps and flows to guide the design and development decisions at the platform and product levels. This will help you prioritize features effectively while embracing user-centered design principles within the platform to create intuitive interfaces and smooth user flows that touch multiple applications throughout the organization.

Finally, consider adopting IEEE’s eight principles for designing usable security mechanisms for end users. These principles emphasize systematic yet flexible security, informed consent, customization, minimal user effort, layered security, functional error messages, appropriate default settings, and continuous evaluation and improvement. By implementing these guidelines within your platform engineering program, you can develop a well-rounded approach to application development, delivery, and operations that balances user convenience and system protection, ultimately providing a seamless and secure experience for all stakeholders; security, developers, and end users.

Finding your balance in the platform

It’s possible to strike the perfect blend between security, usability, and developer experience. A platform engineering program can give you an excellent chance to create that ideal blend in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

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