How to build an agile, flexible business with composable tech architecture

By Hugo Fonseca, Head of Development at Rufus Leonard

Agility and flexibility are fast becoming the two pillars of success for the modern brand. Businesses must be able to adapt quickly, to keep up with a market dominated by seamless online and offline experiences, personalisation, on-demand services, AI and digital-first disruptors. To remain competitive requires the ability to go from idea to product launch at the drop of a hat.

Hugo Fonseca, Head of Development at design and technology agency Rufus Leonard, explores how business leaders can embrace this flexibility and agility by adopting a composable approach to tech architecture.

The API economy is booming. As more and more businesses create and embark on digital transformation strategies, APIs are critical to achieving the maximum agility and integration necessary to deliver new products and services at competitively high speed. Instead of your developers building everything, you can use APIs to leverage your existing technology, which leaves them free to focus on building what matters most to customers.

Composable enterprise is an approach to business design that embraces the API economy – delivering outcomes through the assembly and combination of modular business capabilities.

Composable organisations can make quick, reactive decisions that might only impact one component of the business, or indeed affect operations across the enterprise. How? By easily re-combining their capabilities.

But first, all lines of business must be strategically empowered by technology. Traditional monolithic structures – in which components of the program are tightly interconnected, interdependent, and must all be rewritten if one element requires an update – don’t facilitate this.

Typically, organisations invest in technology to store and maintain specific single domain data – e.g. CRM, PIM, CMS, etc. Most often, those systems are built on old legacy technology, with data becoming locked into silos within systems of records. Operating in this fragmented data setup makes it increasingly more difficult for businesses to deliver competitive, differentiated, and memorable customer experiences. To innovate, one must embark on the time-consuming and often very costly venture of continually building a new experience from the ground up. For the digital and marketing teams involved, this process results in a struggle to adapt to changing customer behaviours at competitive speed.

Microservices are better, and provide greater flexibility, but they often come with more complexity. Your teams may find themselves shouldered with the responsibility of solving problems that could be solved with modern SaaS3 solutions, instead of focusing on bringing fresh experiences to market.

The solution: a composable architecture aligned to business capabilities.

The three layers of digital experience:

Generally, we can break down digital experiences into three ‘layers’:

1.The customer journey

2.Capabilities required to support it

3.The technology stack those capabilities are built on

Capabilities are exposed to customers via the experience layer at the top of the stack. In a monolithic platform this is all tightly coupled, usually with native extensions or integrated external applications. In a composable architecture, this coupling is looser, and capabilities often integrate at or near the experience layer.

In a composable approach, the tech stack is built on cloud services and capabilities – MACH – focusing on scalability and APIs.

•Microservices: Individual pieces of business functionality that are independently developed, deployed, and managed.

•API-first: Functionality is exposed through an API.

•Cloud-native SaaS: Software as a service that leverages the cloud, beyond storage and hosting, including elastic scaling and automatic updates.

•Headless: Front-end presentation (what the user sees) is decoupled from back-end logic (how it works), communicating via an API. The headless CMS becomes a repository that delivers content and assets to any platform or device, regardless of channel, programming language or framework.

A composable architecture combines your data through APIs and empowers your front-end developers to build applications with interchangeable blocks. 

How does composability support an agile business?

Think of it like system scalability “on demand”. Within a monolithic system you have your network operating system, hardware, software, APIs, drivers, and a lot of time to build the system. New application to address a unique business need? It could be weeks before you get the resources to stand it up.

But with a composable architecture – made up of packaged business capabilities that expose APIs – you can bring those into one place; managed by the same composable structure. Teams can repurpose capabilities and compose services into new, different applications, all in a fluid environment in which you can allocate resources as needed, to get the job done. And you can add capacity freely.

With composability, you can create highly aligned platforms that integrate an experience suite with the features and flexibility of API-driven SaaS solutions. It allows you to create automated, or on-demand services, as well as self-service options for the applications and data. Shifting your resource away from time-consuming fixes or updates, over to areas of exciting development.

Being able to repeat the process securely, without human error, builds your all-important security profile and credentials, as well as freeing up teams to work on creating those new, competitive experiences.

How do APIs facilitate composability?

By sharing secure data across cloud services, business systems, and mobile applications to connect your businesses, vendors, partners etc., APIs make app integration efficient, cohesive and agile. As our cloud-native world continues its digital transformation, the need for connectivity will only increase, and APIs will help deliver it in no time.

By using APIs, you can:

•Make smart, quick decisions and deliver relevant new services adaptable to market changes.

•Combine legacy and new technologies.

•Access data across different sources and formats.

•Reuse, recycle.

In short, APIs are the glue that will allow your tech architects to coordinate and scale packaged business capabilities across a complex digital enterprise in an agile, composable way.

In the end the benefits of composability come down to commerciality. Your business could be completely agile, flexible, and future-proofed, and your teams freed up to ideate and build brand new, competitive experiences. Thus, driving profits.

Though there are some benefits to monolithic programs for the most part they cannot support the agility and flexibility needed to enable a fast-moving digital-first business. That’s why we believe composable, packaged business capabilities are the future, and you should start replacing your monolithic solutions with them as soon as possible.

However, it must be said that each business has their own level of digital maturity and should start with small, easily achievable goals that have clear business benefits:

•Create a roadmap to disassemble, or replace, your monolithic structure by adopting a gradual, modular approach using packaged business capabilities

•Develop a composable architecture to secure the future of your digital strategy

•Select delivery options that retain user control of presentation, therefore maintaining business agility and control

It’s not just about consistent online and offline experiences anymore. Consumers demand seamless and connected end-to-end journeys, across all touchpoints. Composable architecture lets businesses leverage packaged capabilities to deliver those new and exciting customer experiences, now and in the future. The result – agility, flexibility, and the ability to beat your competition.

According to Gartner, by 2023, organisations that have adopted a composable approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation2.

The time is now.

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