This article was originally written and published on HS Today.
Technology plays a crucial role in executing the mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Enterprise systems, applications, and data provide the digital backbone that enables the agency to safeguard citizens and the homeland, but the rapid pace of technological advancements requires continuous upgrades. For the next level of IT modernization, platform engineering offers the agency a solution to maintain efficient service delivery and enhance citizens’ trust in government.
Platform engineering allows for better use of cloud platforms with reusable services, tools, automation, and embedded security. By leveraging shared resources, operations teams and developers can focus on customer experience and application features. This reduces development time, increases code quality, and makes applications more reliable. It also provides a strong foundation for an application development process that is efficient, more secure, and scalable. The end result is better delivery of government services.
The federal government classifies DHS as a high impact service provider (HISP) due to its interaction with many individuals. On a daily basis, agencies such as U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) process more than 26,000 requests for benefits, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees oversee $6.6 billion worth of imported goods, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages passenger operations at 440 airports. Platform engineering can support these agencies by delivering expected services with a development capability that results in high-performance software applications.
Platform engineering in a test environment enhances modern software development by rendering the same tools, processes, and best practices across different teams for consistent performance. For example, developers leverage infrastructure as code to order a database with specific performance requirements. They can load an operating system without engineering or help desk tickets, and they can securely request and deploy an application programming interface with a few clicks. In a traditional DevOps environment, these steps would take several back-and-forth discussions with engineers to determine how to connect and present information. Moreover, security gets top priority because the consistent reuse of tools means there is a smaller attack surface to protect, and role-based permissions in the workflows limit access.
DHS presents numerous opportunities for platform engineering to be successful. Airport services can be reimagined, such as aircraft boarding and luggage handling. Processing inquiries for disaster assistance, shipping requirements of goods, and collecting applications for benefits can continue to become easier with platform engineering as a foundation under the DevSecOps model.
According to a recent Gartner forecast, 80 percent of all software engineering organizations will establish platform teams by 2026. Federal agencies such as the Department of Defense (DoD) have already aligned with this direction in programs such as Platform One. It supports software factories with DevSecOps capability, databases, development tools, continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD), and cybersecurity. At the core of Platform One’s ability to deliver efficient applications lies platform engineering. The success of this program in the Air Force led the DoD to make it available for all of the software factories in the department.
Federal agencies best suited to derive value from platform engineering generally need to meet a few basic criteria. They are multi-mission departments that need to modernize their applications, and they have at least 30 developers on an application development project or a planned migration. They also encounter multiple repetitive tasks when working with the underlying infrastructure of an application, which can be addressed by automation. As a final consideration, agency developers have the ability to deploy a microservices architecture that breaks down application development into manageable components.
For DHS’ complex mission of safeguarding the homeland, platform engineering will play an increasingly crucial role. Its ability to deliver efficient and reliable applications are why 94% of organizations have adopted this approach. It keeps developers focused on development, accelerates the process, and brings modern development practices to a new level of capability. More than offering incremental improvements, platform engineering creates innovation that increasingly will get adopted throughout the government.