To truly understand composable architecture, it helps to reflect on the history of web development. Tech terminology changes and gets repackaged over time, but often, new terms describe old patterns in fresh ways. In the early days of the World Wide Web, HTML was used to structure content in specific ways. HTML then evolved into content management systems (CMS) that made frequent changes and global updates easier. The same is happening now with composable architecture.
“Composable” evolved from notions like "best-of-breed” and “headless” architectures, which were developed to create interactive and user-friendly web experiences. This separated back-end content management from the front-end display, creating a truly headless CMS.
Pursuing best-of-breed tools led to specialized systems for different functions, providing unparalleled levels of control and simplicity of use. This pursuit is where composable architecture began. The overarching goal of composable architecture is to enable non-technical users to effortlessly navigate application management, reflecting the most up-to-date practices in cloud-based architecture.
That all sounds great in theory. But inside organizations, new technology is sometimes met with skepticism. New tools can mean new processes, new training and a host of new problems. Tools can also be challenging to use or onboard, resulting in only a fraction of the CXM capabilities being used and negating the reasons the architecture was chosen in the first place. When composable architecture implementation fails, it needs to be fixed fast. Here are five ways to avoid the most common dangers of composable architecture done wrong.
One of the biggest problems companies face is getting wrapped up in marketing speak and treating composable systems as just another CMS. This misconception can lead to inadequate planning and a misunderstanding of the fundamentally different environment that composable architecture represents.
Companies might choose a CMS that appears composable on the surface but offers no real architectural value, i.e., a “band-aid” solution. This can lead to underestimating the skills and expertise required to effectively deploy and manage composable systems. Without proper architectural planning for things like server-side rendering, client-side rendering or static site generation, companies never get to experience the benefits of modern, cloud-based architectures.
Failure to plan for these complexities may lead to forfeiting the benefits of migrating to a composable platform and incurring higher costs. This could happen as you strive to deliver on the promised capabilities that justified the budget in the first place. Without adequate foresight, you might need to bring in additional resources to correct course, requiring even more investment.
The goal of using any new technology is to solve business problems, not to indulge in the technology itself. Composable architecture is no exception; it’s about improving business operations, not making programmers happy.
“If you’re spending your money wisely, composable architecture should be a way for non-technical people to manage the experience of their application that is representative of the most modern cloud-based architectures,” says Jerry Hill, Chief Technology Officer at Concord.
To that end, preparation needs to start well before the training. This involves understanding the technology and the specific business processes it is meant to support. Operationalizing the business should be at the forefront of implementing composable architecture. The focus should be on enabling marketing teams to deliver their messages effectively and maintain the brand experience without needing deep technical expertise. Both the look of the platform and its usability for non-technical staff must be considered in the build-out.
A comprehensive implementation strategy should include creating detailed specifications and documentation. This documentation will be crucial for training new staff later. It’s also vital to integrate training into the company’s ongoing processes, which might involve mentoring, creating workflows that include approval steps, and limiting the scope of actions for newcomers until they’re adequately trained.
“Planning for training and onboarding early on is vital,” Hill explains. “And while effective training is critical to running a composable stack. You’ve done it right if you implemented it in a way that is intuitive to people within your business and minimizes the need for training.”
Successfully implementing a composable system that maximizes customer outreach involves building a fully operationalized business system, including a website, feedback cycles, marketing funnels, customer interactions, and more. The intricacies of these business systems underscore the importance of effective communication across the entire team.
Everyone must understand the complete cycle—from customer acquisition to keeping them happy to earning repeat business—to ensure that all components work harmoniously. When team members see their part of a project as just another cog in a larger machine, inefficiencies and errors occur. Effective communication can shine a light on the bigger picture and reveal interdependencies.
For complex, mission-critical implementations—like those required to adopt composable systems—having skilled engineers is not enough. Engineers must be supported by a robust framework of project managers, business analysts and product owners to provide context and enhance communication. Good communication prevents problems by allowing team members to question and clarify requests in the context of the broader business objectives.
“These roles are crucial because they bridge the gap between technical implementation and business strategy,” Hill says. “This ensures that all stakeholders, including senior ones, are on the same page.”
Vulnerabilities can emerge at any stage of the software development life cycle but are particularly prevalent at implementation. This is especially true with composable architecture, where multiple systems communicate across the cloud.
Design errors during implementation can inadvertently expose sensitive data during transactions between third-party systems. For example, integrating a commerce engine with a loyalty portal without proper security could lead to significant breaches involving payment and personal information.
Hill says it is crucial to establish security standards such as OAuth and OpenID Connect to authorize transactions and to avoid deviating from proven security protocols. He says security should be a top priority, especially when integrated architectures where managing tokens and classifying data are crucial.
“I recommend people to do a little bit of research. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has great documentation around data security and required authentication levels,” Hill says. “If we can define something, then we can track it. Having a token to self-serve on my behalf is one thing. But an admin having a token that can place an order on behalf of every customer in your database is a totally different level of risk.”
Hill also stresses the importance of not overlooking human factors. The temptation to take shortcuts due to time constraints, budget issues, or the perceived non-sensitivity of data, is real and can lead to vulnerabilities. “One-off decisions and complacency can lead to systemic weaknesses,” he explains. “Compromising on security for expedience can have long-term detrimental effects.”
The value of partnering with experts who can navigate the complexities of composable architecture effectively is hard to quantify. An expert can provide insights and guidance that prevent costly mistakes and help organizations achieve their goals quicker and with less risk.
“There’s this whole idea of the Dunning-Kruger effect,” Hill explains. “It says that the skills necessary to estimate the complexity of an endeavor very closely approximate the skills required to do said endeavor. Or put another way, if you’re dumb, everything looks easy. I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
In composable architecture’s complex and multifaceted world, investing resources in expert partners is far more efficient than suffering through an expensive and time-consuming trial-and-error approach. That’s just bad business. Experienced partners can impart their knowledge and expertise, helping companies avoid the most common pitfalls while achieving timely results.
While composable architecture offers transformative potential for business agility and user experience, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and it’s not without its pitfalls.
To avoid a poor and potentially dangerous implementation, companies must approach composable systems with a clear understanding of their complexity, embrace cross-functional communication, and provide comprehensive training. Perhaps most importantly, companies must acknowledge and appreciate when they need help. Going it alone on a complex composable architecture implementation can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.
After all, the true power of composable architecture is not in the technology itself but in the strategic advantage it can provide when executed correctly.