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A year of composable transformation: Lessons from Levi’s, ASICS, REI and more

September 24, 2023 / 21:06 / E39

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Join us in celebrating a remarkable milestone - People Changing Enterprises is turning one! In this special anniversary episode, we're taking a journey back to where it all began, exploring our most captivating insights from the past year. And what better way to kick off this anniversary special than revisiting one of our most talked-about subjects: Composable Digital Experiences, featuring our stellar lineup of guests who've generously shared their expertise with us.

01:02 Jurre van Ruth - Strategic Program Manager, Composable DXP at the Dutch postal service, PostNL. He'll provide insights into what a composable DXP truly means.
03:48 Andreas Westendörpf - CTO of Emma Sleep explains why going composable might just be the last re-platform you'll ever need.
05:28 Kat Valdre and Jason Greely - Members of the REI Platform Engineering team explore the exciting possibilities that composable strategies unlock for businesses.
09:12 Mindy Montgomery - Senior Technical Product Manager at ASICS takes us through ASICS' journey from monolithic technology to a composable customer experience ecosystem.
12:51 Zach Crittendon - Software Architect at Levi's shares firsthand experiences of "going composable" and how this transformative journey can benefit your business.
15:51 Watchouts from our guests: What they wish they'd known before going composable.
18:18 Juliette Olah - Senior Manager of Editorial at emphasizes the importance of launching projects in a tiered approach for maximum impact.

Jasmin: [00:00:00] I can hardly believe it, but we are celebrating one year of People Changing Enterprises. That means we've spent 12 months talking to some of the smartest people we know about how to change a big business for the better. And today I'm going to share with you some of my favorite insights from that last year about composable transformation.
As you'll hear, composable is about more than just cutting-edge technology. It's about shaping the future. In fact, I consider these lessons to be secrets to future-proof your business, as well as, of course, getting to work with some pretty cool tech. So, let's get started.
First up, [00:01:00] let's define terms. What even is composable, really? We spoke to Jurre van Ruth from Dutch postal service company PostNL, which has recently been named one of the most digitally innovative companies in the Netherlands. Jurre helped the company define the meaning of a composable digital experience platform.
Have a listen.

Jurre: So a composable DXP, a composable digital experience platform, we see it as an ecosystem of technologies that aim to create and offer a consistent digital experience for all our customer segments across all digital touchpoints. And with that, it's important to acknowledge that it's based on the value that you want to deliver to the visitor.
What is really the experience that you want the visitor to have? And then from that translate it into the nine [00:02:00] capabilities of a composable DXP. Nine capabilities being presentation, content, search, orchestration, multi experience, integration, personalization, analytics, and customer. You can see these as separate lenses through which you look at your digital experience. If this is digital experience, what we want to offer, then this is what we need for content, then this is what we need for personalization, etc.

Jasmin: How many of those were in place when you started at PostNL and how did you go about acquiring the capabilities that were missing?

Jurre: In some way, we had a lot of those capabilities, but we didn't have them composable, so we could only use the capabilities within a certain touchpoint.
So we couldn't share them across all touchpoints or even across all journeys. An example of [00:03:00] this is our Content Management System. We used to be on a page based CMS, which delivered web pages, but we at PostNL we've got a journey with a lot of different touchpoints.
So it's not only web. And therefore, if we would make content within, this page based CMS, we could only use it for a web and not for our app, etc. And all those other touchpoints, we had to hard code the content in it. So a lot of double work, but also remember we said we want this seamless digital experience across all touchpoints. But if you need to change something here, there, there, and there, it might start to differ from each other. And yeah, I can tell you, it differed from each other.

Jasmin: Composable is more than just a change of technology. It's also a change of strategy. Here's how Andreas Westendörpf describes the opportunity he [00:04:00] saw when moving Emma's Sleep to a composable architecture.

Andreas: I once read a claim that I found really interesting, maybe a bit short, maybe a bit too simplified, but going for composable is the last re-platforming you're going to do. Why is that? It is an interesting claim and it's a bit provocative. The thing about it is if you are doing re-platforming to a composable architecture, then you're essentially re-architecting your entire landscape and you're building it in a way that you easily can attach and detach stuff and making the effort of re-platforming not a big thing that you need to do every couple of years, but actually something that you do on a daily basis.
So I don't know and for us, that means also to me, more flexible. We don't, we are doing business in more than 30 countries in the world. And if you're going for composable with open source and a good choice of vendors and, of platforms, then you have also the opportunity to [00:05:00] have multiple solutions for different, for the same use case and different geographies, for example, or also decide against a solution after some time and replace it with something that works better for you, but you don't need to redo the whole thing again. That's the difference. The amount of or the amount of work to change this in a composable is way less. Then in a highly integrated architecture.

Jasmin: So what else makes composable special?
We asked Jason Greely and Kat Waldre from REI to tell us what they are most excited about in moving to composable technology.
What are some of the exciting things that you're going to be able to do once you're moving into that more composable architecture? What are you looking forward to? Why are you embarking on that journey?

Jason: Yeah, I think just the prospect of having a modern solution in and [00:06:00] of itself, it could be anything really, is exciting. Having that technology available to us will... Unlock a lot of things that multi-channel content use, freeing up our devs to do other things like quality of life enhancements, working on the experience management portion, plugging those gaps where we've not really had that platform before because it just didn't fit with our tooling, didn't fit with our architecture, and also being pretty much fully decoupled from anything. So if we hate it someday, we can just move on with an asterisk. It always sounds easier than it is, but it's freeing us up to make more informed decisions as well as just unlock our users to be able to do more things. Like it's for us, it's pretty night and day what we're coming from and where we're going to.
So I think just having the time to work on those things instead of working on the application itself is probably the most appealing part.

Kat: It allows us to explore technologies that historically have been hard to introduce, but now come out of the box, so if we have it, can we explore it [00:07:00] further?
Another angle I like is when we started taking apart the monolith, we ended up in a situation where we have now so many microsites. That it's unmaintainable, so bringing it all back together because we can build reusable content models.
So, it also means less one-off work, developers can actually work on improvements rather than maintenance. So, yes, it goes back to people topic on my side, but it's all related to technology. So, having a content management system that can work with our design system, instead of duplicating the efforts.

Jason: An example of this, the appeal of the monolith is that everything's there, it's accessible, everything's in one place. Decomposing that, we're in a position now where, like Kat mentioned, we have a bunch of microsites, we have a bunch of different services.
Being able to free our devs from the app maintenance lets us take a look at things like federated APIs, which we would have never had time to do [00:08:00] before, which can give us a similar experience to a monolith, but help keep things decomposed to some degree. To your point, like, being able to work on that, which our devs are very excited about, very excited across the co-op to actually implement something like that. Instead of doing these little tickets, I need to change the content model, so let me just redeploy my entire stack. Yeah, it's going to be very helpful to keep them motivated, to really keep pushing forward towards the architecture that we want, and need, honestly.

Kat: Yeah, I am looking forward to the day when we no longer have Wednesday morning, 7 a. m. We have to take the CMS offline to do an update. Everybody log out. Don't do anything. That will be a very good day.

Jasmin: Composable can also impact the speed at which your business can deliver. Well, pretty much everything.
Here's how Zach Crittendon from Levi's describes it.

Zach: Going to composable has made it faster and easier for us to create essentially whatever experiences [00:09:00] our product and user experience teams are able to dream up. In a Composable architecture, we're able to very easily combine things and deliver to different channels.

Jasmin: And yes, composable changes everything for your customers. Mindy Montgomery from ASICS describes how composable is the key to completely transforming the sport consumer experience for the better.

Mindy: When we start talking about the journey to composable, I think it really starts with the foundation of, okay, we have to have this basic e-commerce platform.
And now we're starting with the acquisition of RunKeeper. I think it was seven years, six or seven years ago. And then of these registration platforms. Now we have this greater ecosystem around running specifically that will be extending to other sports because there can be lifelong involvement in sport.
I think we have a good pattern by building out the e-commerce platform and then adding pieces around [00:10:00] that. To be able to have those digital channels and those pipelines to get to consumers in different ways. So if somebody's running a 5k If they come in through Race Roster, which is our registration one of our big registration platforms. Do we care when they come in if they're buying ASICS at that point?
No, because the acquisition happened at a race so we will engage them at that racing experience. Not only through the registration process but also offering to them training plans on RunKeeper, offering on-site commerce, be that virtual commerce or actual commerce. And I think that that's one thing that we have that's unique amongst our competition. I'm not quite seeing that ecosystem. So the opportunity to really exercise that more is really compelling.

Jasmin: Perhaps most importantly, how do you make it happen? Here's how [00:11:00] Mindy got started with the digital transformation at ASICS.

Mindy: When thinking about getting to that composable story, and building out a platform to get there. As I mentioned, we had a pretty big monolithic platform on Salesforce. And as we look for opportunities and how to make that a little bit more efficient and offering new solutions, that's where the more of the digital transformation came into play in the technical transformation. So that journey really started with, from a planning and technology perspective, of how can we open up this platform so that we have that integrated experience with RunKeeper, for e-commerce, and then Race Roster and the other race registration platforms so that we can have that omni channel experience. And so the first step in that was like, all right, how do we build out APIs so not only can all of the systems that function in our e-commerce world, talk to each other in more efficient ways and really settled on MuleSoft is [00:12:00] that integration and orchestration layer. We've implemented that for these systems to talk to each other, pull the logic out of those end systems, and centralize it so if the opportunity comes to add or change out a solution, it's really changing APIs and not getting the system and then spending all the time looking at, okay, how do we put the logic in this system when it doesn't necessarily need to be there?
It's really a scale and an opportunistic approach that we're taking. And I think that's really smart. And moving to Contentstack, really, I think, empowers us to do that by centralizing into one place our content management, but also having the open API's and the capability to then allow our own apps and trusted third-party partners to have access to that content so we can promote across, you know, have a true omni channel experience.

Jasmin: And here's how Zach at Levi's moved the retailer to composable technology step by step.

Zach: I think the most [00:13:00] important thing in composable is having a very clear idea of where you're going, make sure that you have a good idea of what a strong, powerful, flexible, composable architecture looks like in the future, think, you know, really big picture and far ahead. And then the flip side of that is make sure that what you're working on today will have business impact for today. So ideally, as you develop these capabilities, they should be developed and delivered in a way that can be put in the hands of your business users and visible to your external customers as quickly as possible, ideally in weeks, maybe months at the longest. But to have that done in a way that also ties into the longer-term architecture. So at Levi's, when we initially developed our content management integration with our PIM product content, we actually started very simple and only delivered the [00:14:00] capability to do the homepage in the CMS.
And within the homepage, we use a modular layout system. And I think we only had four different modules that could be used on the homepage when it initially went live. So fairly small and limited, but it was sufficient to do 60 percent of what needs to be done on the homepage. And that, that in itself was a win to be able to get something like that done in a few months.
But we also had a much longer-term vision that these modules would be able to not just be used on the homepage, but also within our product listing pages, within our product detail pages, in blog articles, lots of other places that this type of content could be used. And so we ensured that in that initial architecture, we structured in, in such a way that we could both expand the number of locations that this sort of modular system could be used within our site, but also that the set of [00:15:00] modules themselves could also be expanded.
And so since that initial launch with only four modules for a homepage, we have expanded to, I believe 25 different modules. We were able to do that without, for the most part, doing any refactoring or reimplementation because that initial very simple use case was structured in a way that was intended to grow to fill all these other use cases.

Jasmin: So composable technology has the potential to transform how your teams do their work, how your customers interact with your business and how your business meets the demands of the ever-changing digital landscape. Phenomenal. But of course, the entire reason that we do this podcast is that transformation doesn't always happen in an easy, linear way.
There are always hurdles to overcome. Some foreseen, others not so much. And we asked our guests, what do [00:16:00] you wish you had known before you started down the path of composable transformation?
Here's Jason Greely and Kat Waldre

Jasmin: What advice would you give someone in a similar organization to yours if they were starting on their composable journey?

Kat: Build your core team. So it is very tempting to include everybody in every decision-making process. Build your core team that will be the decision makers because a lot of people have opinions, but then there's a core group of people whose opinions and directions should matter. It is very tempting to include everybody. That takes a very long time. Sometimes you just have to make a decision which way to go.

Jason: On that note, people with differing opinions going into the evaluation being one as educated as possible before engaging those people, showing that you understand the problem case, showing that you [00:17:00] understand why there's resentment or angst for any given solution before you go and say, here's a new thing that we want to do, I think helped us quite a bit. And starting with that core team, it's all about alignment, right? So starting with that core team, making sure we have our criteria, making sure we know what we're talking about before bringing to that wider audience really helped rebuild that trust where they might think now, okay, they know what they're talking about.
They know why we're upset. Maybe there's some glimmer of hope that they're going to make an okay decision. And then trying to bring them into that decision-making process early and often, I think helped quite a bit. To ensure that we're all on the same page and we can shoot for the same goal. They might not care about the IT side or the architecture of it all. One is pretty much unlocking the other.

Kat: I think what also helps, especially when you're working on a larger org with a lot of stakeholders is documenting your process and how you approach things. So we are now a year [00:18:00] post our POT with it last year, and I have gone back and referenced those documents multiple times.
So having that track record It's very useful. It's a lot of extra work to maintain it, but it's worth it.

Jasmin: Juliette Olah from had this advice to add.

Juliette: I'm also very conscious of, and I've experienced this in previous roles too, where when companies want to launch a new platform, there's sometimes a tendency to launch about 10 other things at the same time.
Let's also launch a new platform plus brand new brand guidelines or a brand new kind of content strategy, or let's just refresh everything that is associated with and around this particular platform. I was also very conscious of not doing that because that is extremely stressful and in my opinion, unnecessary, if things do need to be changed, you can absolutely take a tiered approach to this, but, I'm very much about focusing and doing things hopefully in the [00:19:00] best way possible per, chunk this out, take kind of not small steps or big steps, but definitely don't try to do everything at once. So one of the things I was conscious of is, the workflow. So obviously headless CMS has a fantastic support for different types of workflow that can be very, very efficient. However, at Booking, we already had a workflow that the creative teams really loved through a different product.
It worked very well for us. All the teams were used to using this, it was smooth for us. And even though I could see the possibilities that headless could provide. I decided that this would not necessarily be something I wanted to roll out right now with this build. Maybe in future we will, but really thinking, okay, I am not going to try to change everything under the sun at the same time.
If something is working for us, let's keep it. Let's keep the business case focused on the current challenges, that we need to solve.

Jasmin: So there you have it. Composable can change everything for the better. Just [00:20:00] remember. Don't do everything at once, document everything, and keep a mindset of moving towards a vision for your business.
Not just a technological change. Thanks so much for being with us for a whole year. We have so many more exciting things on the horizon coming up next week. Join us for a recap of the best business lessons we've learned from our guests so far. We'll see you then.

Thanks for listening to People Changing Enterprises. This show is brought to you by Contentstack, the leading composable digital experience platform for enterprises got a question or suggestion? Email us at If you like the show, please leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts.
We'll be back next week with a new episode, helping you make your mark.[00:21:00]

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