The Mess of DevOps and SRE: The Rise of Platform Engineering and Product Managers | Blog

Platform engineering and product managers appear to offer a solution to some DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) woes. But technology service providers need to morph to meet the changing requirements in this new environment. Learn five actions service providers can take to succeed with the platform engineering and product management model in this blog.

Since we made an argument that DevOps would eventually face problems in a blog half a decade ago, the issue persists. While enterprises assumed they had found a panacea with engineering teams (developers) and operations increasingly collaborating as they learned more about DevOps, this has not been the case. Let’s explore what has happened.

As the infrastructure and development landscape has become more complex, enterprises are demanding more value from software. With developers in short supply, engineering and operations both believe they are working more and end up taking on the other teams’ workloads.

This lack of work demarcation is causing meaningful friction. Enterprises erroneously assume that by having developers at least partially run operations, they can make everyone do everything. This does not work. Rising tech talent attrition, cloud engineering complexity, and the perception of SRE being a euphemism for next-gen ops have only worsened the situation.

In addition to engineering headaches, operations teams’ workloads have gone through the roof. Not only are they continuing their regular tasks, but they also are building and maintaining system pipelines and common platform capabilities and cross-training and upskilling talent in a budget-tightening environment. This cannot be sustained.

Enter product managers or owners

Some enterprises are attempting to build platform engineering teams that make common services within organization guardrails available to developers. Platform teams run and manage the platform, and the work between devs and ops seems to be demarked.

Product owners or managers own these teams and are responsible for setting their platform agenda and providing needed application programming interfaces (APIs), microservices, and other out-of-the-box services such as knowledge management to developers.

Impact on technology service providers

This approach seems to have worked for some enterprises, but the jury is still out. Technology service providers need to take the following actions to succeed under this model:

  • Better understand the new world: Technology service leaders lack the expertise to engage this new world of product managers. Although DevOps pushed them to view technology as a stack rather than silos of application, infrastructure, and data, they continue to contract and serve in siloes. Service providers need to rehaul their go-to-market (GTM), partnership, talent, and solution-building approach to serve this reality. We already see many service providers restructuring, but that may not be enough. Not only do they need to continue to deliver end-to-end (E2E) capabilities, but they also must be more proactive, cohesive, and prioritize strategic clients
  • Augment talent retraining: As business teams leverage product management leaders, the ask from service partners will be very different. Technology service leaders have often relied on retraining and stretching their teams to serve newer business realities. This will no longer work. Building the “pi or comb” skill set has increasingly become a mirage, especially in engineering organizations. They need to build deep technical depth in select cloud platforms to communicate their value to product managers. This cannot be done just by in-house retraining. Service providers need to hire from the industry and pay top dollars. In addition to getting technical resources certified, they need to give them project experience and somehow convince these product managers of their capabilities. They also need to continue to retain their talent and holistically address this challenge across the various dimensions described here
  • Engage newer client stakeholders: Technology service leaders need to have access to product managers who are often hired from outside and may not value long-term service relationships. Service leaders also should have a ready pool of talent and assets to demonstrate how they can enhance reliability, security, and time-to-market for these product managers. They should realize these product managers are more focused on building the foundation for applications than on engineering applications themselves. Depending on the organization structure, these functions may roll into other product owners who take care of the entire application stack. Therefore, demonstrating end-to-end capabilities will take a different notion in this new reality
  • Uplift the brand perception: Many service providers are scrambling to build platform engineering teams in their operations practices. They realize they don’t know how to do it and can’t afford this type of talent because their clients have bucketed service providers in a specific price range. The investment in building such talent is not commensurate to the pricing service providers receive from clients. Successful service providers will have to break through this shackle and change their brand perception to be seen as innovative engineering and operations partners
  • Change the operating model: Many large service providers do not get invited to such discussions because they are considered more suitable for commodity work than strategic initiatives. In addition, most enterprises plan to engage in a time and material (T&M) model for such initiatives. This is not aligned with most large service providers’ strategic visions. Therefore, enterprises are increasingly working with cutting-edge service providers on platform and engineering initiatives. Large service providers need to reexamine their obsession with managed service engagement to serve this new reality. They will also have to relook their expectations of margin from infrastructure services, talent compensation, and various similar aspects that hinder their capabilities to serve clients

Eventually, technology service providers will understand this newer market and learn how to effectively serve it. However, much like any competitive industry, there will be winners and losers. We have already seen some infrastructure heritage service providers struggling due to cloud adoption.

Service providers who embrace these changes, invest proactively, better understand clients, and enhance their brand positioning will most likely succeed. With the platform engineering and product management model gaining traction in enterprises, now is the time for other service providers to proactively prepare.

What has your experience been like with platform engineering and the product management model? Please write to us at [email protected] or [email protected].

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