How to properly adopt and compose MACH-enabled commerce
Top commerce experts on the ifs and hows of migrating from monolithic legacy systems to future-proof composable commerce.
The future of technology stacks and architectures is composable. Instead of bundling all business capabilities into one system, agile companies rely on composability according to the LEGO principle. This is especially true for fast-paced environments like e-commerce.
At the MACH Haus @ NRF talk organized by the MACH Alliance in early 2023, experts shared their insights from successful migration projects to support companies making the shift from monolithic to composable tech stacks. We summarize key aspects below and provide some context.
When monolithic legacy systems for e-commerce no longer fit business requirements and cannot be adapted quickly and easily, it is time for a technological realignment.
Composable Commerce, if built on MACH principles, enables organizations to release innovations faster and allows for more customizations than rigid, all-in-one systems.
In contrast to monolithic systems, modular commerce architectures can be built and adapted incrementally, splitting effort and risk into manageable chunks.
Composable Commerce helps prevent IT sprawl by providing new capabilities to users faster, rather than requiring them to find and deploy their own solutions.
Composable architecture allows integrating multiple specific omnichannel capabilities without marketing and sales having to deal with dozens of individual tools.
Thinking in terms of composability and building a product ownership mentality are important prerequisites for the successful transition to Composable Commerce.
You can watch the full interview here:
What are warning signals that indicate companies should consider a shift to Composable Commerce?
“If developing and maintaining your legacy system over a three-year period costs more money, resources (and nerves) than investing in a new system, then you should consider switching to Composable Commerce.” - Eberhardt Weber, CEO at Emporix
This quote sums up the matter. If the rigidity and complexity of your legacy system is paralyzing your e-commerce instead of driving it, it's high time for a change. This is certainly the case if you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms:
- Maintenance and servicing of your legacy system gets increasingly costly
- Customization of front-end and back-end functionality gets more difficult and risky
- System performance and user experience worsen, meaning that sales decline
and customers leave
Companies should conduct regular critical audits of their e-commerce - processes, infrastructures, team, technology - to identify and analyze the business challenges they are facing. It is important to understand these issues before addressing solutions.
“There is a lot of technical complexity that can come along with operating a legacy monolithic platform, and you don’t want to end up with technology that doesn’t match your team.” - Julia Shkrabova - Head of Partnerships at Builder.io
In particular, the question of whether the technology fits the team responsible for the business and technical side of e-commerce and the shifting business requirements needs to be answered honestly. This is often difficult when tied to a legacy system or vendor.
Just as important as the team and business requirements are, of course, the expectations of your audience at different stages of the buying process. With Composable Commerce, you can optimize your offer in far greater granularity than with rigid monolithic systems.
How does Composable Commerce help unleash the value of speed, shorten time to market, to outpace competition?
Each transformation should start with the question of value, of what you value as a business. If your core business value is to quickly bring innovation to market to keep up with or even stay ahead of the competition, then MACH-based Composable Commerce is the way to go.
“There is great value in the speed of learning - if you can ‘out-learn’ your competition, if you can ‘out-iterate’ them, then you win.” - Darren Guarnaccia, President of Uniform
In fact, a composable tech stack not only enables businesses to increase the speed of innovating their digital commerce, MACH architecture also lets them incrementally prototype new capabilities and learn with low risk and friction due to crusted infrastructures.
However, not every business values time to market equally. There may be markets where speed as a competitive advantage is not as critical to success as it is in fast-paced environments. There are other benefits of MACHified commerce businesses can look at when deciding on their ideal infrastructure.
What is the best way to approach the transformation from rigid monolithic to flexible, composable commerce?
Unlike monolithic all-in-one systems from the web era, composable commerce architectures can be built without a big bang. Instead, businesses can build incrementally, starting with key pains and gains, focussing on the low-hanging fruits that deliver the most value.
In B2B, a common problem that companies want to solve quickly is pricing. If the pricing engine built into the existing commerce suite is no longer flexible enough to handle custom pricing models, then you can start the migration to Composable Commerce here. You can start wherever it hurts you most and gradually migrate other core competences to microservices architecture.
Moving to an event-based, modular tech stack does not necessarily mean tossing the entire legacy system at once. Rather, if necessary, critical capabilities can be retained and migrated to a new environment using the strangler-pattern approach.
In the strangler-pattern transformation, a new composable architecture is built around the existing monolith so that operations can continue. The functionalities from the monolith are successively transferred to the new architecture (Strangler).
Prioritization of features that are either migrated from the legacy system or newly added to the tech stack should always be based on an in-depth analysis of the business value they add in relation to migration effort and cost, as well as time to market.
Decompose the legacy system step by step or build from scratch on the green field - which is the better approach?
Starting from nowhere into a new market or business model following the greenfield model can be the right approach for businesses to move into Composable Commerce. Especially when no legacy capabilities need to be retained and migrated to a new environment.
The challenge with the greenfield approach is that you have to make many technology decisions at once. The risk of getting something wrong is particularly high with conventional all-in-one commerce suites, because wrong decisions are difficult to correct later.
“The penalty of failure can be very expensive. Composable Commerce allows you to decouple the ‘decision layer’ so you can make late stage decisions and not have to make all the decisions up front.” - Darren Guarnaccia, President of Uniform
True composable commerce architectures, such as those enabled by Emporix, allow new MACH capabilities to be implemented and tested with almost a single mouse click. Services that don't fit can be removed and replaced just as easily and quickly at low risk.
If decomposing the existing system proves to be the better approach for an organization, either because existing capabilities need to be preserved or because transformation is required on the fly, Composable Commerce also supports a low-risk incremental approach.
How can Composable Commerce help prevent IT sprawl in companies?
Where monolithic all-in-one systems have become too rigid and limited to quickly adapt to new business requirements, internal stakeholders such as marketing, sales, customer service and others typically help themselves and set up their own tools.
Shifting to Composable Commerce often requires migrating technical stack that has grown around a legacy system. One key advantage of MACH architectures is that not only core capabilities of a legacy monolith can be migrated, but also any tool that comes with an API.
"If they love these tools, they want to keep them. Composable Commerce makes it very easy to seamlessly integrate them into the new service-oriented environment." - Eberhardt Weber, CEO at Emporix
This is good news! In a composable IT environment, new capabilities can be integrated much faster and more flexibly, so that internal stakeholders do not wait forever for their requirements to be implemented and do not establish solutions themselves bypassing IT.
How does Composable Commerce help businesses drive "total" customer experiences across all channels?
Most legacy systems were designed for simple and more or less linear customer journeys, so they inevitably reach their limits in an omnichannel world where a growing number of digital touchpoints need to be orchestrated alongside an online shop or a marketplace.
As mentioned above, internal stakeholders such as marketing and sales tend to work around these limitations by filling in missing capabilities on their own using standalone tools if the system cannot be adapted quickly enough to meet new requirements.
Proprietary solutions outside the official tech stack help in the short term to supplement missing capabilities required for omnichannel business. However, every tool that is not integrated into digital commerce adds complexity and decentralization to the IT landscape.
A composable commerce architecture allows to integrate a variety of specific omnichannel capabilities without the users in marketing and sales having to handle dozens of individual tools on their desktops, which rarely communicate with each other.
Adoption is a key success factor when migrating to Composable Commerce
Any composable commerce strategy can only achieve its full impact if the teams in the company, the business stakeholders from marketing, sales, product, etc. adopt a mentality of product ownership and actively seize the great business opportunities of composability. Moving from commerce tech consumers, using all-in-one solutions, to owners possessing and designing their own composable commerce, can be challenging for some teams because they first need to develop a new culture and rethink technology, but it is worth it.
Read the Gartner report on Becoming Composable to learn the three pillars of adapting composable thinking as a company.