Your Complete Guide to Getting Started

Here’s a riddle: what does a box of Legos and the future of technology suites have in common?

They’re both full of modular building blocks. 

Composable, cloud-based software solutions are the bricks in the box of Legos, which is the SaaS industry. Much like assembling Lego bricks to create unique structures, composable software can be assembled and customized into an agile tech stack that addresses your business needs. 

Instead of relying on a single piece of software to support product experiences across various channels, composable commerce enables organizations to integrate specialized, best-of-breed technology that creates an ecosystem customized to meet their specific needs.

There are two key characteristics of a composable architecture that make it unique—one, all of your software solutions will communicate via API, and two, your front-end and back-end technology will be decoupled.

What does this mean in practice?

Your team can update or replace every individual solution whenever it’s required without disrupting the entire system, providing greater agility and control while also requiring less technical expertise than a traditional system.

The 3 principles of composable commerce

At its core, composable commerce is built upon three fundamental principles: modularity, flexibility, and an open ecosystem.

1. Modular

This principle advocates for breaking down complex systems into smaller, manageable components or modules. Every component of your tech stack is replaceable and, therefore, scalable.

2. Open ecosystem

With the freedom to choose individual software solutions that meet each unique business requirement, an open approach like this fosters innovation and teamwork. 

It also facilitates seamless communication among different systems and applications but also ensures that your organization works with best-in-class SaaS vendors across the board.

3. Flexible

Unlike rigid monolithic systems, which often require extensive customization to accommodate new features or functionalities, composable architectures offer unparalleled agility.

Whether adapting to meet the needs of new customer markets, new global locations, new products, or new e-commerce channels, decoupling different layers of the commerce stack means that organizations can easily swap out components or add new ones as needed. 

What is monolithic commerce?

A monolithic approach, sometimes referred to as “traditional” architecture, typically comes from a single vendor and provides the basic capabilities needed to create an initial e-commerce offering.

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While initially it may sound easier to use an all-in-one system such as this, monolithic systems are a bit like a different block toy — Jenga. One wrong move can topple the whole system.

A traditional architecture features tightly-coupled front-end and back-end systems, meaning that replacing or removing a single solution can disrupt the entire system, and it only grows more complex and unstable as time goes on.

Composable vs. monolithic architecture

Let’s further dive into the differences between composable and monolithic architecture, focusing on the features each one offers.

Composable architecture vs monolithic architecture

Source: Akeneo

Features of composable commerce architecture

The following are the features of composable commerce architecture. 

  • Decoupled front-end and back-end: In a composable architecture, the front-end (user interface) and back-end (server-side logic) are decoupled, enabling greater flexibility and agility in development and updates. This type of infrastructure is often referred to as headless, but more on that later.
  • Customizable technology stack: The plug-and-play nature of composability means that your organization is able to customize your tech stack to meet your specific needs and can be updated as your goals shift and grow. 
  • Simple to incorporate new technology: With its modular structure, composable architecture facilitates the integration of new technologies or features without major disruptions to the existing system. 
    For instance, if a new AI tool enhances product recommendations, it can be seamlessly integrated into the existing infrastructure.
  • Easy to replace obsolete solutions: Components in a composable architecture can be easily swapped out or upgraded as technology evolves, preventing the system from becoming outdated and ensuring that it remains efficient and competitive.
  • Diversifying vendor risk: It’s investing 101—diversify, diversify, diversify. By leveraging a range of technologies and vendors, businesses can mitigate the risk of dependency on a single vendor, reducing the impact of potential vendor issues or disruptions.
  • Doesn’t require extensive IT knowledge: Composable architectures are designed to be more user-friendly and accessible, requiring less specialized IT expertise to manage and maintain. 
    This not only makes composable a competitive option for younger organizations, but it also democratizes the development process and fosters innovation across teams.
  • Supports quicker market reactions: Due to its flexibility and agility, composable architecture enables companies to respond rapidly to market changes and ever-changing customer demands.

Features of monolithic commerce architecture

The following are the features of monolithic commerce architecture. 

  • Front-end and back-end tightly coupled: In a monolithic architecture, the front-end and back-end components are tightly integrated into a single unit. Changes in one part of the system often necessitate modifications across the entire application.
  • All-in-one solution: Monolithic architectures are characterized by their all-in-one nature, where all functionalities are bundled together. While this can be a lower barrier of entry and a cheaper initial investment, this system is less adaptable to change, quickly becoming out-of-date and cumbersome.
  • Introducing new tech disrupts the entire system: Adding new technologies or features to a monolithic system can be challenging, as it often requires extensive reworking of the existing codebase. This slows down development and increases the risk of errors or regressions.
  • Obsolete software requires replatforming: When components in a monolithic system become outdated or obsolete, migrating to newer technologies or platforms typically involves replatforming the entire application, a process that is time-consuming, costly, and often requires extensive IT know-how.
  • Reliant on one single vendor: Monolithic architectures often result in vendor lock-in, where businesses are heavily dependent on a single vendor for support and updates, which can pose risks in terms of service quality and pricing.
  • Slow to adapt to new market trends or tech: The rigid structure of monolithic architectures makes them slower to adapt to emerging market trends or technological advancements, putting businesses at a disadvantage compared to more agile competitors using composable architectures.
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Challenges of migrating to composable commerce

Transitioning from traditional to composable architecture can be a significant undertaking for any business, requiring careful planning, resource allocation, and strategic decision making.

Despite its long-term benefits, migrating to composable commerce presents significant initial challenges.

Legacy systems and infrastructure

Many businesses have invested heavily in traditional monolithic systems over the years. Rewriting or refactoring these systems can be time consuming, costly, and risky, especially if they are critical to core business processes.

Cultural and organizational change

Adopting a composable architecture requires a shift in mindset and culture within the organization. It involves embracing principles such as microservices, API-first, and cloud-native development, which may be unfamiliar to teams accustomed to traditional development approaches.

Skill and expertise gap

Building and managing a composable architecture requires specialized skills and expertise in areas such as cloud computing, DevOps, microservices architecture, and API management.

Many businesses may lack the internal capabilities to design, implement, and operate such architectures effectively, and hiring or training staff with the necessary skills can take significant time and resources.

Integration and interoperability challenges

Composable architectures rely on the seamless integration of disparate systems and services via APIs. Ensuring compatibility, consistency, and reliability across these integrations can be challenging, especially when dealing with legacy systems, third-party vendors, and evolving technology standards.

Plus, managing the complexity of interconnected services and dependencies requires robust governance, monitoring, and testing practices.

Security and compliance considerations

Introducing composable infrastructure can sometimes create new security and compliance challenges for businesses.

Distributed architectures increase the attack surface and complexity of security controls, requiring a holistic approach to security encompassing identity management, data encryption, access controls, and threat detection.

Cost and resource constraints

While composable architectures offer scalability and cost efficiency benefits in the long run, the initial investment and resource requirements can be significant. Businesses may need to allocate a budget for infrastructure modernization, software development, training, and ongoing maintenance.

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In spite of these challenges, partnering with MACH-certified technology can greatly ease the migration process.

The MACH Alliance

Established in 2020, the MACH Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting open ecosystems and best-of-breed technology.

As a vendor-neutral institution, the MACH Alliance offers resources, education, and guidance to companies migrating from a traditional to a composable architecture and provides certifications to certain best-of-breed vendors.

While maintaining vendor neutrality, the MACH Alliance offers certifications for certain best-of-breed software solutions that meet their requirements for flexibility and scalability.

Organizations that receive this certification can often facilitate and support your transition to a composable architecture by focusing on modularity and embracing the composable mindset.

The first step: product information management (PIM)

The journey towards adopting a composable commerce architecture can be exciting and daunting for businesses looking to modernize their digital infrastructure. However, before diving headfirst, laying a solid foundation is essential.

This is where product information management (PIM) comes into play as the recommended first step.

At the heart of every piece of software in your tech stack is data and information. As the adage goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Regardless of the architecture employed or the channels through which products are presented, the quality and consistency of product data directly impact the ability to communicate and syndicate information and, ultimately, the overall customer experience. 

Without a centralized system to manage and govern this critical data, businesses risk inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and inefficiencies across every customer touchpoint.

This is where a robust, cloud-based PIM solution plays a crucial role, acting as a central repository of reliable and up-to-date product information and a foundation for the rest of your technology stack.

Future-proofing with composable commerce

Despite the comparisons to simple toys like Jenga and Legos, transitioning from a traditional monolithic architecture to a composable commerce ecosystem is undoubtedly a complex journey filled with challenges and opportunities.

The rise of composable architectures, characterized by modularity, flexibility, and openness, reflects a fundamental shift in how organizations use technology to meet evolving customer demands and market trends.

It’s not just about adopting new technologies; it’s about embracing a new mindset that prioritizes flexibility over rigidity, collaboration over silos, and innovation over stagnation. 

By embracing this mindset and leveraging the power of composable architectures, businesses can position themselves to be adaptable in a digital market where the only constant is change.

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Edited by Jigmee Bhutia