Mar 07 2024

Platform Engineering Elevates Public Sector Systems Development

Engineers design the infrastructure that enables application development and deployment.

To streamline application development in support of everything from back-end business processes to constituent-facing services, state and local governments have embraced DevSecOps. This combination of development, security and operations helps to streamline and speed the development pipeline.

An emerging methodology known as platform engineering takes things to the next level. By delivering a common platform for new applications, it promises to accelerate the development of new digital services, drive cost savings and elevate security.

What Is Platform Engineering?

Platform engineering delivers the technical infrastructure and consistent processes needed to support application development and deployment. A shared platform frees developers up to focus their efforts less on the nuts and bolts and more on delivering a consistent and secure end product.

“People are starting to realize that there’s an efficiency benefit to having Platform as a Product in place,” says Francisco Ramirez, chief architect of state and local government for the Red Hat North America Public Sector partner program.

With this approach, “you are not only breaking down the silos between your development environment, your security environment and your operations environment, you’re also providing a unified platform for the three entities to use,” he says.

“There’s an efficiency that can be gained there, from the infrastructure perspective and in the tooling and the environments that can be set up,” he says.

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What Does a Platform Engineer Do?

While developers focus on building an end product, platform engineers ensure that those developers have the tools and processes to do their jobs effectively.

“Platform engineers are primarily responsible for designing and maintaining an internal developer platform that supports software delivery systems’ seamless operation while monitoring for performance issues and patching them up as needed,” says Bill Rowan, Splunk’s vice president of public sector.

Much of their efforts are aimed at ensuring that state and local applications meet the highest levels of security.

“A badly constructed IT infrastructure is an open door for bad actors,” Rowan says. “To mitigate security threats, platform engineers implement security protocols and best practices, such as debugging applications, updating internal systems and assessing potential risks, to ensure that the organization can continue operations amid a cyberattack.”

Platform engineers ensure that the wheels all turn smoothly. This may include, for example, “automating the product development lifecycle, such as testing, deployment and configuration,” he says. “Automation enables teams to accelerate infrastructure design, reduce errors and improve efficiency in an otherwise tedious, manual process.”

When application failures or security risks arise, “automated processes empower platform engineers to take the time necessary to find the root cause of an issue and address it swiftly,” he says.

Typically, these engineers will bring a mix of skills to the table. Platform engineering requires people who know “how to operate the infrastructure and maintain it, but who also understand the developer, since the platform they’re building is for the developer,” Ramirez says. “So, you’re starting to see a mix of folks that are hardware savvy and software developer-capable.”

Platform Engineering Versus Software Engineering Versus DevOps

As state and local governments pursue this path, it’s helpful to understand the difference between software engineering, DevSecOps and platform engineering.

A software engineer’s focus is on application and software development, Ramirez says. They are “primarily concerned with designing, coding, testing and maintaining software applications.”

DevOps is more of a “culture and operational approach,” he says. It aims to improve the collaboration between development and operations throughout the software development lifecycle.

As a development methodology, DevOps prioritizes maintaining an IT infrastructure while simultaneously producing and deploying new services, Rowan notes.

Platform engineering enhances that approach. “The idea behind DevOps is to make sure that we’re not running in silos,” Ramirez says. “With platform engineering, now you have a platform that aids that.”

“When you look at a platform engineer, you’re really looking at designing and maintaining the underlying infrastructure and the tools and frameworks that enable the development, deployment and operation of software applications,” he says.

While both platform and software engineers are responsible for IT operations and software production, they have distinct roles in organizations, Rowan says: “Platform engineers build infrastructure with tightened security in mind, while software engineers’ main focus is on building and designing functional software compatible with other platforms. They don’t have security as a No. 1 priority.”

READ MORE: DevOps is evolving with platform engineering.

Can State and Local Governments Benefit from Platform Engineering?

For state and local governments, platform engineering drives efficiency, and “efficiency benefits service delivery,” Ramirez says.

With integrated systems supporting consistent development practices, “you get automation of repetitive tasks and workflows and streamlined processes, so you’re reducing manual effort,” he says. This leads to more efficient service delivery and improved collaboration.

Many state and local governments are looking to adopt a shared services model, where applications used by one department or agency can be leveraged by others with similar needs. “Platform engineering supports the idea of shared services,” Ramirez says.

“When you allow different departments and agencies to leverage common tools and infrastructure, that fosters collaboration, and that collaboration can lead to more cost-effective solutions that benefit the entire government ecosystem,” he says.

There’s a potential cost benefit for state and local governments. “They all have constrained budgets. Platform engineering offers economies of scale,” he says. “If you were to take your budgets and add them together, think of the platform that could be built, which could sustain the business that the state or local government is trying to deliver.”

Bill Rowan
If the infrastructure continues growing without continuous monitoring, exploitable vulnerabilities will appear faster than teams can realistically address.”

Bill Rowan Vice President of Public Sector, Splunk

Can Platform Engineering Boost Government Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a major concern for government, and platform engineering elevates the security of state and local applications.

“Gaps in an IT infrastructure, particularly in state and local governments, expose vulnerable applications and networks to cyberattacks. Platform engineers come in to fortify state and local agencies’ networks and do what’s necessary to shield against security threats,” Rowan says.

As cyberattacks become increasingly prevalent, platform engineering can ensure that government development teams have the centralized tools and automated processes they need to operate seamlessly.

“If the infrastructure continues growing without continuous monitoring, exploitable vulnerabilities will appear faster than teams can realistically address,” he says. “With platform engineers, state and local agencies can proactively defend their systems.”

The net result is a development methodology that makes state and local government more responsive.

Ultimately, platform engineering supports state and local digital transformation initiatives in support of enhanced citizen engagement. “For state and local governments, platform engineering facilitates the development of user-friendly digital services, which makes it easier for citizens to interact with the government agencies online,” Ramirez says.

Laurence Dutton/Getty Images

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