Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s the pace of change that commercial businesses are up against when it comes to honing their e-commerce strategies. Businesses are used to taking a customer-centric approach to innovation, gradually adapting their services to accommodate new trends and behaviors, but we’ve now reached a point where customer needs are in a near-constant state of evolution. That means businesses themselves need to constantly evolve in order to keep up, rendering legacy monolithic architecture not only ineffective but actively damaging to a company’s long-term goals.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the drawbacks of monolithic architecture in a little more detail. We’ll also explain why re-platforming to a composable solution is 100% worth it and not nearly as difficult or daunting as it might at first seem.
But first, let’s outline what we mean by monolithic architecture and why e-commerce companies are gradually beginning to leave it behind as it outlives its usefulness.
What do we mean by monolithic architecture?
A monolith can best be described as a standalone platform with a single base of code that can be deployed as a lone entity. A monolithic platform will usually have a user interface (most commonly a website), some business logic, a database, and a business-facing interface often referred to as a backend. There was a time when this standalone, monolithic approach was all that was needed to facilitate a cutting-edge e-commerce solution.
In the late 90s, when the vast majority of consumers accessed the internet via their desktop computers and you could count the number of customer touchpoints, on one hand, a static, standalone platform was more than adequate. It was also simple, affordable, and a perfectly effective way for businesses to get online in a slow-paced, website-oriented world.
Monoliths are a one-size-fits-all solution that tends to work off-the-shelf without too much need for customization, but therein lies the problem. In order to be successful in the current e-commerce landscape businesses have to be able to customize. They need to add new features and services, adapt existing ones, be present across a plethora of devices and touchpoints, and offer each customer a personalized, holistic, and joined-up brand experience. That’s why the drawbacks of monolithic architectures are becoming increasingly exposed.
What are the drawbacks of monolithic architecture?
Monolithic architectures were once hailed for their out-of-the-box simplicity. They were a long-term investment that would give businesses the e-commerce capability they needed for years to come, allowing them to focus on other things. However, as times have changed, these perceived advantages have morphed into disadvantages. Businesses may still be attracted to the relative stability of a monolithic platform, but to invest in a monolith these days would be akin to nailing your shoes to the ground in a race while your competitors take off into the distance. Monolithic architecture doesn’t just handicap a business, it actively halts innovation.
Today, it’s widely accepted in the e-commerce community that no single vendor is capable of providing the absolute best functionality across all services and applications at the same time. It’s given rise to a ‘best of breed’ mindset, which we’ll touch on in more detail in a moment.
A monolith ties a business to a single vendor, artificially capping its capabilities long-term. While competitors are out mixing and matching solutions, perhaps teaming up with an open-minded technology partner that adopts the best solutions in the industry, a monolith-based business will be stuck with the same services, the same features, and the same capabilities for years, often tied to a contract or hampered by the expense involved in upgrading. With monolithic systems, new versions are likely to be rolled out every 3-5 years just to maintain the solution that’s already in place, without necessarily adding any new features or additional value.
That’s why, as customers started using mobile apps, voice recognition technology, live chat functionality, new payment methods, and other new services, monolithic businesses were left behind. Even if a monolithic business paid over the odds to add in a new feature or service, system crashes would almost be expected as part of the process, leading to downtime and frustrated customers.
So it’s safe to say that monolithic architecture is outdated by today’s standards. It’s also inflexible, difficult or impossible to scale, and prone to long periods of downtime.
Re-platforming away from monolithic systems
It used to be commonplace for businesses to simply swap one monolithic system for another, effectively re-platforming, often with another vendor and updated solution. It was a daunting process, requiring businesses to lift and shift their data and adapt to new processes, technologies, and interfaces all at once. For that reason, a number of businesses were keen to stretch out a legacy system as long as they possibly could before upgrading to the next one.
It’s time to re-platform again, but this time away from monoliths and toward something far more agile, scalable, and resilient. In fact, if done correctly, businesses might never need to think about re-platforming ever again, but will instead be futureproofed by the freedom to add new features and services onto their existing solution whenever they are required.
The solution? A digital platform that puts composable commerce front and center. Remember our ‘nailing shoes to the ground’ analogy in the previous section? Well, by 2023, organizations that have adopted a so-called “composable” approach to commerce will outpace their competition by more than 80% when it comes to the implementation and rollout of new features. Gartner in fact coined the term ‘composable commerce’ when it saw more and more technology providers adopting a ‘best of breed’ approach to their platform solutions.
No single vendor can create market-leading services and capabilities in every aspect of the modern e-commerce experience; so instead, technology companies are partnering under umbrella agencies that offer the best of all worlds. In other words, businesses that forge a relationship with a composable commerce partner will be able to effectively ‘compose’ their own solution using open-API integration and microservice technology. Instead of buying a pre-built house and paying it off until it’s time to move, businesses can effectively build their own house brick by brick, changing it and expanding it as they go.
To find out how Emporix’s digital commerce solution provides a gateway to incorporating the best-in-class technology vendors into your next project, register your interest here.