Composable Platforms: the What, Why & How
adam conn

Adam Conn

Co-founder, Uniform

6 min read

It’s not just your imagination. If you feel as though you’ve been hearing the word “composable” more and more lately, you have. In fact, Google’s Ngram Viewer shows a dramatic increase of its use in recent years. There’s a good reason for this. When it comes to digital experience platforms (DXPs), more and more analysts and IT experts have been touting the benefits of a composable approach. But what exactly is a composable platform, why is it preferable to other, older options, and exactly how do you go about implementing it? These are some of the key questions this article will answer.

The what

In a nutshell, composability means choice. It enables you to select the best products that suit your needs. Composable products are designed with the expectation that they will be integrated with other products. Gartner calls these “packaged business components”, or PBCs. Yes, integration is still required to get PBCs to work together, but it is a much less complex and risky endeavor than traditional integration. Unlike with a composable architecture, which is designed to be integrated, adding a component to a non-composable architecture can be an integration nightmare.

The why

As architectures go, composability is relatively new. Until recently, many companies were content to rely on a single vendor for their system. Instead of selecting their own products, they’d let the vendor do it for them. These solutions come in different varieties, but the most prevalent are the suite (a pre-integrated collection of products from a single vendor) and the monolith (a single product that incorporates a wide range of functionality).

In certain respects, this approach has its advantages. Because all the software comes from a single vendor, you don’t have to devote a lot of time to shopping around for each component. And because other companies have adopted the product before you, there are usually lots of available case studies to alert you to any potential pitfalls and to pave a path to success. Finally, should any questions, problems or issues arise, there’s just one vendor you need to deal with – for sales, implementation, support, and maintenance.

Given the convenience of a single-vendor solution, why would you even want to switch to a composable platform? There are a number of key areas where it is superior and some clear signs that the time is right for a composable platform.

Why composable beats suites and monoliths

Inertia can be a powerful force. People routinely hang on to limited or unsatisfactory solutions because that’s what they’re used to. Besides, change often means uncertainty, cost, and above all, disruption to the status quo. But if you delve into the data, you’ll find that a composable platform offers advantages that are tough to ignore.

It’s more flexible. With suites or monoliths, you’re forced to conform to their capabilities and their structure. Either that, or you have to tack on a third-party extension or build the functionality yourself. With a composable architecture, you are able to construct a system that suits your specific needs without introducing unwelcome complexities or complications.

It’s faster to market. If enough users keep demanding functionality that a suite didn’t initially provide, the vendor usually gets the message, and the requested features are included in the next update. But that takes time. Sometimes a great deal of time. Because a composable architecture consists of separate but well-orchestrated pieces, new ready-to-integrate components can reach the market much more quickly.

It’s faster to implement. When a suite or monolith adds new features, customers must endure notoriously time-consuming upgrades that require system-wide testing. When you add a new product to a composable platform, you are only changing a single, isolated part of the platform, which limits the scope of what needs testing.

It frees you from vendor lock-in. The convenience of a suite comes with an unwelcome side effect: vendor lock-in. With a composable platform, if you don’t get what you need from one vendor’s product, you can look elsewhere. For example, if you find that your business needs have outgrown the features of your commerce component, you can swap it out and plug in another from a different vendor. With a suite or monolith, you’re stuck.

It’s the future. Finally, multi-vendor environments are a reality. Organizations now realize it’s unrealistic to count on one vendor for everything. Composable platforms are embracing this new normal. That’s why now may be the ideal time to move beyond legacy monoliths and suites and boldly go into a composable world.

Why now is the right time for a composable architecture

There are certain times throughout history where all the pieces of a long sought solution suddenly fall into place. In the late 1990s, web technology offered an elegant solution to all of the limitations of client-server architectures. As a result, it was adopted rapidly and enthusiastically. Composable platforms are a similarly transformative technology. Here’s why:

SaaS has transformed the landscape. The growing dominance of software as a service (SaaS) has proved to be a game changer. In the past, one of the major drawbacks of constructing a platform out of lots of separate moving parts was that it required almost perpetual maintenance. With SaaS, these changes now happen seamlessly.

Composable has gone native. Although some suite and monolith vendors are trying to reposition themselves as being composable, they’re missing the point. Today’s products aren’t simply being marketed as composable. They have been designed from the ground up to be a seamless part of a composable architecture.

Fragmentation now spells innovation. In the past, dividing one big, all-purpose product into a bunch of smaller, more specific ones often caused more problems than it solved. It was a bit like the proverbial herding of cats. Composability has changed that. It provides a huge incentive for innovation, as vendors are able to focus on particular features to add or problems to solve, confident that the resulting component can be plugged into a composable platform.

The how

It’s one thing to appreciate the benefits of a composable system but quite another to gain a firm grasp of exactly how to do it.

Look for true orchestration. When vendors say a system is integrated, it can be hard to know exactly what they mean. It’s important to recognize the difference between integration and orchestration and to beware of products that promise the latter but are actually the former. With integration, a user can gain access to one system while working within another. In contrast, orchestration is where the integration is so seamless that users operating within one system can’t even tell that they are also making use of another system. Relieved from the distraction of shifting apps, they are able to focus on their work instead of on their tools.

Get ready for a challenge. Realize that although composability makes building a platform easier than it was in the past, it’s far from trivial. That’s where Uniform comes in. We put you on the fast track to composability by dealing with all the difficult and time-consuming tasks involved with integration. Of course, because it’s a composable platform, you still get to build a stack out of tools of your choice. We handle the orchestration.

Looking back on what we’ve just learned, if you already thought you’d been hearing the word “composable,” quite a bit, it seems apparent that you’ll be hearing it even more in the future, not just as a word, but as a solution to a long-standing problem that organizations have been struggling with. In fact, now that you understand the what, why, and how of adopting composable platforms, the only questions remaining are when, where, and who. Although these are questions that only you can answer, when it comes to the question of who, we hope that your answer is clear: Uniform.

Posted on 10/5/2021 in

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