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How to recognize true Composable Commerce (and debunk fake)

Emporix discusses what makes commerce truly composable - worth knowing when choosing a future-proof e-commerce platform.

“The future of business is composable,” states Gartner. So true! “Composable business means creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks. The building blocks of composable business enable organizations to pivot quickly.”

Since today's markets, regardless of the industry, can change unpredictably at any time, commerce businesses must be able to respond quickly and flexibly to new requirements. Composable technology helps achieve this, but is only one building block of composable business. According to Gartner, thinking and business architecture must be composable, too.

The building blocks of composable business

  • Composable thinking: Overcome traditional thought patterns and principles of building and adapting by yourself and replace them with conceptualizing what to compose and how to use low-hanging fruits to add maximum business value.
  • Composable business architecture: Build and organize for flexibility and resilience, not to preserve and maintain existing structures and processes for their own sake. Consider change as an opportunity, not a risk.
  • Composable technologies: Build your technology ecosystem as a reflection of your composable business architecture, designed for continuous change and adaptation to new market challenges and requirements.

Not every organization and technology that calls itself composable meets the requirements for flexibility, modularity and scalability, modern commerce requires. The reason is simple: composable principles are conquering digital commerce faster than many vendors can tailor their products to customer expectations. It is hardly surprising that even solutions that are still monolithic at their core are labeled as "composable".

The challenge for digital commerce managers is to separate real from fake composable technologies when planning to build a reliable foundation for future-proof commerce.

From Monolith to Composable Commerce

Leaving monolithic commerce behind

Unlike distributed systems, monolithic architectures combine functional elements in a single homogeneous entity. All system components are deployed as a whole and operated in a unified process. Accordingly, they can only be scaled as a whole. That’s why monolithic systems tend to become rigid, difficult to maintain and customize, or unstable over time due to countless adaptations and extensions.

Monolithic systems are not designed for continuous change.

A classic example of a monolithic system is an e-commerce suite that, designed as an all-in-one system, offers a lot of functionality and customizability. These systems provide some flexibility to connect functions and systems via API, but only to the extent that their architecture permits. Customizing a monolithic system is per se limited, while truly composable architectures allow connecting services with almost no constraints.

Even hybrid monoliths built from fixed and flexible components don't offer the level of design freedom that composable commerce systems do. For companies seeking full flexibility to build a sustainable system that grows and changes with their business, don't compromise.

Want to leave your monolithic commerce system behind?
Here’s how to transform the right way: Transform or rebuild from scratch - what’s the best way to Composable Commerce?

Terms often confused with (or equated with) "composable”

Just as many software manufacturers associate their solutions with artificial intelligence, although in reality only machine learning is involved, commerce platforms are often described as "composable" although they do not live up to this claim. Especially vendors of modular, service-oriented and API-first solutions love to crowd the “composable” stage. The following terms should be technically distinguished from "Composable".

Modularity: “Ninety-nine percent of the time you hear the word “compositionality” you are being (intentionally?) lied to. What people really mean is “modularity,” says Fabrizio Romano Genovese, head of research at Statebox. “We call a system modular when it is composed of various parts that can be linked to each other.” This also applies to a modular monolithic system that is organized into components, but is still deployed and maintained as a single entity. In a composable system each individual part is handled as an individual entity.

Service-oriented: Service-oriented software architecture (SOA), here used synonymously with microservices architectures for the sake of simplicity, is a software engineering approach that focuses on decomposing an application into single-function modules with well-defined interfaces. In this respect service orientation is an essential prerequisite for composable commerce, but it does not per se enable digital commerce to be assembled and scaled quickly, easily and flexibly in the way that truly composable commerce does.

API-First: Like modularity and service orientation, the "API-First'' principle also plays an important role in Composable Commerce, but is also only one part of this concept. As the name suggests, "API-First'' considers application programming interfaces (APIs) before anything else. APIs allow services to connect and communicate with each other, no matter if they are homemade or provided by third party developers. That's why at Emporix we strictly follow an API-first strategy. No composable commerce without APIs.

Each of these approaches, modularity, service-orientation and API-First, is a critical building block of Composable Commerce, but by itself is not enough to provide the high level of design freedom and scalability that companies should expect from Composable Commerce as we understand it at Emporix. We combine modularity, service-orientation and API-First to build a platform that enables true composable commerce.

How to recognize fake composable commerce

Moving into composable commerce means a paradigm shift in most companies, involving a fundamental transformation not only of technology ecosystems, but also of entire organizations. Therefore, it is critical to choose platform solutions that provide maximum design freedom long-term. If you fall for fake composable solutions, you could get some nasty surprises at some point. Be warned if you encounter the following characteristics.

  • The number of services you can compose is limited.
    True composable commerce allows you to connect services on an open API platform without any limitations, no matter if you choose services you have developed yourself, compose ready-made services on a best-of-breed basis, or mix both.

  • Only services provided by the vendor can be used (vendor lock-in).
    This is a typical symptom of traditional all-in-one solutions that have dominated the last decades of e-commerce. Trying to add your own or third-party functionality can be painful and result in costly customizations.

  • Complex custom setup needed to test the platform before buying it. A true composable commerce platform allows you to quickly and easily put together some services to test your business model without any risk. If this isn't super easy to do without vendor support, the system isn't as composable as promised.

  • Scaling with online demands is limited or expensive. Monolithic commerce usually can't scale automatically and flexibly, for example, to respond to event-driven or seasonal peaks in online shop traffic. Cloud-based composable commerce, equipped and aligned properly, can.

  • No true separation of frontend and backend. “Headless” refers to a commerce architecture where data management and business logic are technically separated from the business frontend, including all marketing- and sales touchpoints. Platforms lacking this architecture are generally not fully composable.

Conclusion: It pays to check carefully

Digital commerce that can grow with new challenges and adapt flexibly to new market requirements at any time needs an equally dynamic foundation. Commerce platforms that claim to be composable but are monolithic at their core, even if they are modular and equipped with rest APIs, won't meet today's requirements for flexibility, scalability and resilience in the long run. When going for Composable Commerce, choose a platform that is truly Composable!

To find out more about how Composable E-Commerce can help grow your business, get in touch with Emporix today by clicking here.

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