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Five Tips for Building a Modern, Composable Stack

Jon Panella is the Group Vice President of Global Commerce Alliances and Strategy at Publicis Sapient. Jon has over 25 years of technical, consulting and leadership experience in enterprise architecture planning, commerce strategy, product evaluation/selection, software development and technology implementation support.

Digital transformations describe consequential  technology changes over time. Technology stacks usually make these seismic shifts every ten or so years when new technology reaches an inflection point. This is exactly where we are today with composable stacks.

In the case of e-commerce, the best examples of digital transformation were monolithic solutions — “one-size-fits-most” stacks that helped accelerate e-commerce strategies. But today’s consumers have changed the ways they shop, how they engage with content, and what they value in commerce experiences. Monolithic technology can’t keep up with modern requirements. 

The good news is that the next digital transformation is already underway, and it elevates the omnichannel experience: the MACH stack. The MACH stack is a composable stack based on the following technologies:

  • Microservices-based
  • Application programming interfaces (API)-first
  • Cloud-native software-as-a-service (SaaS)
  • Headless

As brands embrace omnichannel strategies, they find themselves at a tipping point where composable stacks are becoming essential. Companies can approach this as either an evolution or a revolution; they can move bits and pieces away from a monolithic solution (evolution), or they can replace the entire stack all at once (revolution). Either way, there’s a real sense of urgency in making the shift.

To help your organization respond to that sense of urgency, here are five tips to keep in mind when building a composable stack. All of which, were addressed in our recent webinar “Five Tips for a Modern, Composable Tech Stack”.

Keeping up with today’s consumers requires omnichannel capabilities to deliver a consistent brand experience at every step along the shopper’s journey. For instance, retailers can target a shopper with a promotion based on in-person and online behavioral data. This is the type of omnichannel personalization that consumers expect. 

The problem is monolithic solutions aren’t agile enough to meet these expectations. Monolithic solutions were once attractive because they offered retailers a one-stop e-commerce solution. However, there was a tradeoff; while they may be capable of doing a few aspects of e-commerce extremely well, monolithic solutions can’t do everything. Furthermore, they may require entire teams of people to manage them. 

Other variables that challenge monolithic stacks include:

  • Product life cycle. Monolithic stacks take longer to update and upgrade because vendors have long product cycles. They’re also complex, which means IT is typically in charge of them, and business users can’t respond quickly enough to consumer needs (more on this later).
  • Customizations. Ongoing maintenance and customization are expensive, too; retailers typically must hire consultants or additional staff, increasing the total cost of ownership and reducing ROI. 

Given the speed of omnichannel change, monolithic stacks are a barrier to innovation and digital transformation. They’re slow, inflexible, and expensive. Retail and e-commerce teams must directly control their commerce stacks to respond quickly to customers, market changes, and other variables that ultimately impact the balance sheet.

Time is of the essence, too. Managing monolithic solutions is a manual effort since most of them lack automation and AI-based capabilities. Without the right technology, these solutions slow down the speed and scale required to innovate for today’s shoppers. 

In contrast  to these monolithic stacks, a composable stack enables retailers to:

  • Mix and match components. Companies can combine solutions from different vendors, based on what’s best for each component of the stack. Brands can use best-of-breed solutions that require little customization and are easily replaced if business requirements change.
  • Avoid vendor lock-in. A composable stack offers the ability to swap parts of the stack when needed (e.g., to improve scalability or meet the preferences of a new stakeholder). 

Customers today expect an engrossing and compelling experience — and this is where businesses can differentiate by using headless technology to create hyperpersonalized experiences.

Many brands today are going headless because it’s what everyone is doing. This is a normal phenomenon in digital transformation shifts — as soon as a new technology reaches an inflection point, everyone wants it. However, brands can’t simply follow the herd; selecting technology for technology’s sake won’t solve your problem specifically, let alone allow you to be competitive. The right reason to want to go headless is that you realize that you need to create that differentiated experience.

One way to illustrate this is to look at how companies create and manage content versus media experiences. Generally speaking, content is static and can refer to PDFs of user guides and other such documentation. While these are things buyers need, they’re unlikely a factor in their decision to purchase. 

Visual media —specifically images and videos — is how companies can shine a spotlight on their products  and entice would-be buyers to take note. But if a brand doesn’t have the right technology to create experiences to make its products shine, these buyers may never surface.

Going headless allows brands to hyperpersonalize and lets the business (not IT) take control of the customer experience. The components of a composable stack allow you to pick the ones that will most easily enable you to create hyperpersonalized experiences rapidly. 

When a retailer is ready to start its MACH revolution, a team of internal stakeholders is tasked to manage the project.One mistake these task forces typically make is ignoring the needs of smaller stakeholders who lead revenue-generation departments. For instance, let’s consider an e-commerce brand whose revenue is split 90/10 between B2C and B2B, with B2C taking the larger share. Ignoring the B2B needs due to its smaller revenue share overlooks the possibility that the B2B sales team may also help grow their business with a new technology stack.

Another consideration is whether to take a centralized or federated approach to governance. This decision can impact revenue growth. A centralized approach means a single team is responsible for the entire stack and fulfilling  any requests users may have. In a federated model, users are allowed to modify certain parts of the stack independently from a central team. This is a common approach for multinational brands that need to give regional teams the ability to tailor content for their area.

There isn’t a right or wrong approach here, but as content and visual experiences become more hyperpersonalized to individual shoppers, it’s likely a centralized approach means the business won’t be as nimble. 

One of the best ways to get started with a composable stack is to reach for low-hanging fruit first. This means starting with components that are the easiest to implement with little to no downtime, that bring end-users immediate value, and improve experiences where a brand needs to differentiate and catch up to competitors.

For instance, adding an AI-based visual media layer simplifies the work of developers by reducing the amount of manual labor required to create, optimize, and deliver rich media content. With relatively low effort on your part, customers will immediately notice that a website loads faster because the now-optimized images and videos and experiences are customized to every device, screen, and operating system. 

Optimized media also improves Google Core Web Vitals (CWV), one of the factors used by Google to calculate site ranking that is largely based on how fast visual portions of a site take to load. Better Google rankings means more site traffic and more conversions.

When it comes to composable, don’t bite off more than you can chew. This is the beauty of modern architecture: it allows brands to carefully plan and evaluate how many components they can switch at a time before selecting the pieces they need, and deploying those pieces is also much quicker.

Composable doesn’t force brands into making rash decisions under the pressure of sales pitches or accommodating every single internal use case.

Brands do need to move fast to modernize their architecture, but they can now do it at their own pace. If a composable solution doesn’t initially work out, brands’ feet aren’t as close to the fire as they would be if they had previously purchased an expensive monolithic stack.

As the MACH Alliance continues growing, more MACH-based solutions will be available for brands as they move to composable stacks.

Interested in learning more about MACH and composable architectures? Watch a replay of the webinar on-demand here.

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