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How to avoid the pitfalls of a composable architecture

The Contentstack TeamNov 09, 2022

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Digital content management is in a state of perpetual evolution. Consumers have come to expect robust, seamless digital experiences when interacting with brands, and organizations that fail to meet those expectations can quickly find themselves left behind.

It’s tempting to think the solution is to build a digital experience that satisfies the expectations of today’s consumers; unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every day brings new channels and competitors, and the digital experiences consumers want today might not look anything like the one they want tomorrow.

A composable architecture gives businesses the speed, flexibility, and scalability they need to deliver digital experiences that meet the expectations of current and future customers. However, there are complexities in the implementation process that enterprises need to be prepared for to ensure a seamless transition to composable architecture.

What is a composable architecture?

Content management systems traditionally have relied on monolithic architecture: an all-in-one system in which the front-end and back-end layers are handled by a single codebase. That approach served us well for decades; that is, until 2014, when mobile internet usage supplanted desktop usage. Since then, consumers have grown to expect a seamless omnichannel experience that a traditional monolithic CMS was never designed to deliver. 

“There are many more requirements on the customer [or] end-user side,” said Jeff Baher, head of product marketing at Contentstack. “Content that once resided solely on a website is now in many different places.”

Monolithic architecture offers a suite of functions that can be managed from one codebase, which makes for a fairly simple implementation process. But what happens when an organization’s needs surpass the capabilities of a legacy CMS?

“Can any one single vendor get their arms around it and solve for all that?” Baher asked. The answer is increasingly no. Enterprises are often forced to rely on clunky plug-ins to deliver the functionality they need, and with each new plug-in, the site gets a little slower — and the digital experience suffers as a result.

Organizations wishing to avoid plug-ins can update their CMS, but that’s time-consuming and expensive. With monolithic architecture, even minor front-end changes can require significant updates to back-end code. And, of course, that process must be repeated every time consumer expectations change or new channels emerge.

A composable architecture breaks down monolithic solutions' large and complex functions into smaller, more manageable pieces. An application programming interface (API) acts as the go-between for these smaller pieces, allowing them to communicate and transfer information more efficiently. In a composable CMS, the front-end and back-end layers are decoupled to make changes to the front-end independent of back-end functions.

The result is the same functionality found in monolithic architecture, only more efficient, more flexible, and with more freedom to build a customized or modular solution to meet an organization’s specific needs — once the new architecture is up and running, that is.

Common pitfalls of implementing a composable architecture

A composable architecture allows organizations to build rich, omnichannel digital experiences on their terms, free from any limitations imposed by monolithic architecture. But a wider range of possibilities also means more potential challenges.

What goes where, and who’s on first?

A monolithic architecture has a variety of inherent shortcomings, but monolithic solutions offer a clear benefit: simplicity. Although notoriously difficult to update, legacy architecture is fairly easy to implement, which may be attractive to some organizations depending on their needs. And since monolithic solutions are typically created and sold by one vendor, organizations benefit from a one-stop point of contact for any issues. 

A composable solution brings together the capabilities of different vendors, Baher said. This is undoubtedly a positive regarding flexibility and freedom, but if one element doesn’t work as intended, it can affect the entire digital experience. With a monolithic solution, the vendor handles identifying and fixing the problem, but with a composable one, the organization has to manage the diagnostic process. On top of that, if the issue is caused by two elements from two different vendors, which vendor is responsible for the fix?

The ‘kitchen sink' problem

The main selling point of composable architecture is its flexibility; there are few limits on what your organization can do with composable content and solutions. But just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. A composable architecture is “similar to Lego pieces, allowing you to build many different things,” Baher said. “But that’s also the challenge: What do you build? How do you do it?”

Assembling or integrating the available pieces is only half the battle. The other half is making sure each component selected is necessary to create the digital experience you have in mind. Remember, there’s “must-have” functionality, and there’s “nice-to-have” functionality — and the more you have of the latter, the less time your IT team has to focus on the former.

Disconnects between teams

As the old saying goes, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The flexibility of a composable architecture is useless if nobody can agree on the best way to use it. In organizations accustomed to monolithic architecture, it’s not uncommon for siloed teams or departments to form and operate independently of one another.

Under these conditions, each team may develop their idea of what “best” means regarding functionality, user experience, and so on, which can make for a rocky transition to a composable architecture. To overcome this challenge and to maximize content reuse, organizations need to break down those silos by clearly defining cross-team goals and making sure departments work collaboratively to achieve them. If not, the digital experience you deliver to consumers will likely resemble a camel.

The people problem

Ultimately, an organization’s ability to successfully implement a composable architecture rests mainly on its people, for it’s not only a technology shift, it’s also a mindset shift. With a monolithic CMS, all the features are included in the software, but a composable solution is essentially a blank canvas — and it’s up to your people to think through and feel comfortable and confident with how to fill it in. Eliminating disconnects between teams is a vital part of success in this regard, but organizations also need to have the right frame of mind and the right resources on the technical side to build everything out.

Overcome the pitfalls and go composable with confidence

Moving to composable architecture is more complex than many organizations realize initially, but the pitfalls are all surmountable. The following considerations are the key ingredients for success, according to Baher:

  1. Choose the right component technologies.

  2. Select vendors who view going composable as a partnership, not a dealership.

  3. Invest in automation technology to simplify integrations and automate routine tasks.

  4. Seek expertise and support to help you along the way.

  5. Run the numbers and a proper ROI analysis.

Learn more

Watch this episode of "Contentstack LIVE!" to learn strategies for implementing composable technologies from Auden Hinton, director of digital experience at Contentstack.

Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s headless content management platform and industry-leading, cross-vendor support can help your organization transition to a composable architecture today.

About Contentstack

The Contentstack team comprises highly skilled professionals specializing in product marketing, customer acquisition and retention, and digital marketing strategy. With extensive experience holding senior positions in notable technology companies across various sectors, they bring diverse backgrounds and deep industry knowledge to deliver impactful solutions.  

Contentstack stands out in the composable DXP and Headless CMS markets with an impressive track record of 87 G2 user awards, 6 analyst recognitions, and 3 industry accolades, showcasing its robust market presence and user satisfaction.

Check out our case studies to see why industry-leading companies trust Contentstack.

Experience the power of Contentstack's award-winning platform by scheduling a demo, starting a free trial, or joining a small group demo today.

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