In 2020, Gartner made a bold prediction: “the future of business is composable.” They recommended businesses structure themselves according to composable principles–creating systems out of “interchangeable building blocks” to more quickly and easily adapt to global changes like the COVID pandemic, market changes, and shifts in consumer tastes.
Gartner coined a term that helps us think differently about how we architect our businesses and digital systems. But what exactly does composable mean?
When it comes to technology, composable is simply a modular approach to building digital solutions, such as websites. You match specific software to specific business needs, unified by a front end that provides a seamless user experience. This allows your business to leverage the right tools at precisely the right time and is typically accomplished using API integrations and headless content management and commerce systems, all operating in the cloud.
With composable architecture, instead of building a site on a monolithic, all-in-one platform, you can assemble your own technology “dream team” to meet the needs of your specific business, for example, using Contentful for content management, Algolia for search implementation, and Netflify to handle DevOps.
While a fully composable tech stack might not be right for every business, you’re doing yourself s a disservice if you aren’t considering how a composable approach might be right for you. Need more convincing? Weighing architectural approaches? Let’s look at four major benefits of building composable digital systems.
1. Composable is highly adaptable. It allows you to match technology products to your specific needs. If you are launching a marketing site, you can use Contentful and Netlify to deliver a blazing-fast site that the search engines and your users will love. If your business grows to need site search or personalization, you can layer in Algolia or Ninetailed. You’re not back to the drawing board with a new CMS because your all-in-one monolith doesn’t have what you need. And, best of all, combining your composable architecture with a mature design system means you can break the build-replace cycle of your website and iterate, swapping out different components of your composable stack when you need to pivot.
2. Composable offers best-in-class innovation. Composable empowers you to build the perfect system drawing from software specializing in particular business functions. For example, Contentful just does content management and delivery, so they’re really, really good at it. They are constantly innovating and adding new features to meet the needs of content management teams. Similarly, Algolia is the best of the best when it comes to search implementations. They offer advanced tools like dynamic re-ranking and personalization and analytics that drive a deep understanding of user behavior. A composable system benefits from this investment in specialized functions, and so do your internal teams and customers.
3. Composable saves you time and money in the long term. Here’s the reality. You’re either spending a significant portion of your IT budget on system upgrades and dev ops, your website is continuously falling behind your competition, or you’ve already made the choice to invest in composable architectures, iteration, and design systems. With the latter, your budget no longer breaks under the combined weight of technology upgrade costs, dev ops time, and endless amounts of server resources thrown at your Google Pagespeed problem. Instead, your investment in the right platforms allows your marketing and development team to focus on moving your website forward.
Not having to upgrade and manage infrastructure significantly reduces costs, time, and hassle. Because you’re matching applications to specific business requirements, you only pay for what you need. In cases where you’ve built your own composable components, the individual upgrades happen in isolation. You’re able to upgrade or iterate on individual components without dragging the entire system into the project.
There’s an upfront investment, of course, but the long-term savings are significant. Time previously spent on site maintenance can be reinvested in innovation and strategic initiatives to grow your business.
Iteration becomes possible. This brings me to the last point…
4. Composable future-proofs your site. There was a time when we built everything into our content management system (CMS). A CMS was a platform that promised to handle everything your site needed: auth, membership, commerce, events, search, and whatever new business idea your CEO dreamed up over the weekend. All of it was supposed to fit nicely into the CMS. Only, in reality, it never did. All of the stuff we spent time adding to our websites made them incredibly difficult to update, extend, and iterate on. They were, by their very nature, fragile monolothic beasts that sat in production until they were ready for replacement. Now, users and businesses expect something different. If you’re not iterating, you’re falling behind. Fast.
As I mentioned above, composable extends the life of your site by decoupling the systems and allowing your organization to iterate on indvidual components. When your business and users demand change, you pivot components, not the entire platform.
This is huge. Today, leveraging composable is an advantage. In time, failure to leverage composable will become a disadvantage. You simply won’t be able to iterate at the scale and pace of your competitors. (In fact, Gartner predicts businesses with composable systems will outpace their competitors by 80% in their ability to introduce new features.)
How do you know if composable is right for you? I would argue, composable is right for everyone. That being said, there are clients ready to jump in with both feet and those who may prefer to transition more gradually.
If a client is ready, willing, and able to invest in an all-composable tech stack right out of the gate – great! These clients are usually fully onboard philosophically with the composable approach and have the right budgets to make the move. These tend to be larger enterprise businesses that will immediately realize the at-scale benefits. They may also be smaller, forward-thinking organizations that feel a brand affinity for the composable approach and anticipate rapid growth.
Clients nervous about the up-front cost of building a fully composable system, or about transitioning away from an existing system that meets their current needs, may sleep easier at night knowing the shift can be gradual. We can work closely with internal teams to understand what is working or not working for your business. For example, if a client is currently happy with content management through Craft, it may make sense to shift secondary functions first, such as search or DevOps.
Either way, Foster Made believes in tailoring our services to the needs of each individual client. Although we believe strongly that composable is the future, we also believe in working closely with our clients to understand their needs and challenges today. We can help you navigate all the choices available, and move you towards exciting, best-in-class technology solutions that deliver.