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Platform Technical Management – Data Engineering View

  • Soumen Sarkar 
For visual inspiration please visit Transocean offshore drilling rigs – they are indeed a Platform!

A data platform is an integrated set of technologies that collectively meet an organization’s end-to-end data needs. It enables the acquisition, storage, preparation, delivery, and governance of your data, as well as a security layer for users and applications. A data platform is a key to unlocking the value of your data. But data platforms can be a complex subject. What exactly is behind a data platform? How do you approach designing one? And what’s the difference between a customer data platform, a big data platform, and an operational data platform?

In order to approach this complex topic, it is better to start a simpler yet abstract inquiry:

What is a Platform?

A Platform is a set of complex capabilities so as to serve a wide user base with varying needs. Let’s parse this:

  • A Platform needs to have a set of complex capabilities. If the Capabilities are not Complex then Users can develop those capabilities themselves instead of depending on the Platform.
  • The core capabilities form a Set or Collection. In other words, Platforms generally do not offer only a small number of capabilities – the Set cardinality needs to be an appreciable number.
  • The Platform, due to the fact of possessing a set of Complex Capabilities – is able to cater to a wide user base.
  • The Platform also withstands the test of time – it is able to meet the varying needs of its wide user base.
  • Platforms are often self-service. To enable self-service, Platforms come with excellent documentation.
  • Platform Architecture supports Extensibility. Without extensibility property, Platforms risk irrelevance due to not being able to adapt to the varying needs of a wide user base.

How does a Platform achieve all this?

One key strategy is well-defined Interfaces to allow access to the Capabilities. That is why Digital Platforms are also defined by Application Programming interfaces (API). Another key strategy is Tooling to help Users get on board the Platform. Remember that Tooling includes excellent Documentation. Finally, a Platform may offer utilities (a helpful repackaging of capabilities via well-defined interfaces) to offer easy access to the common patterns of API (Capability) usages.