Commerce at MACH Speed: Taking Action

This is the third and final installment of a three-part series. In our first post we reviewed the history of online commerce systems, examined the lengthy run that eCommerce platforms have had, and looked at some of the weaknesses inherent in legacy monolithic systems that closely link back-end functions with the template-driven front-end experience. In the second post we took aim at some of the many business benefits - greater agility, DevOps support and CI/CD, lower TCO, and avoiding vendor lock-in - and reviewed each in fair detail. If you missed either of these - or would just like to review - you can do so here and here.

Throughout this series we have looked at the paradigm shift currently underway in enterprise architecture, with a special focus on the areas of digital commerce and content management. This fundamental architectural change finds both new entrants as well as incumbents increasingly embracing a more flexible, modular approach that decouples backend functionality from the frontend user experience, giving developers far more freedom to innovate. This new approach, often referred to as “headless” (though that is only one, albeit a central aspect), because it decouples the back-end server-side functionality from the front-end experience (the “head”), provides numerous technical and operational advantages, along with significant business benefits.

Many companies have become increasingly frustrated with their content and commerce platforms. They complain of a lack of agility, the inability to exert the needed control over the online experience they need to offer their customers to differentiate themselves in the market, and high costs to maintain, evolve, and grow their online business. This is hardly surprising, given that many of the leading enterprise commerce and content platforms date back to the late 90s and seem increasingly unable to provide the flexibility, support for DevOps, and the ability to support the channel diversity and new business models that are increasingly required in today’s digital economy.

What to Do?

So what are these companies to do? Clearly, swapping out core systems like an e-commerce, enterprise content management, or digital experience platform is a significant undertaking. Doing so is massively disruptive, risky, and expensive. But adapting to today’s needs and adopting some of the new concepts need not be an uncompromising, absolute proposition. Fortunately, what makes this emerging architecture - frequently referred to as MACH (Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SAAS, and Headless) - so desirable in the first place, namely the increased agility and flexibility it affords, also allows for an incremental approach to adoption.

So, while the potential impact and promise of this modular, composable, and resilient architectural change is vast, embracing and leveraging it is not an all-or-nothing proposal. Similarly, while embracing composable MACH architectures in earnest is not a trivial matter and requires a certain degree of digital maturity, including agile principles and the embrace of cloud computing, all of which necessitate certain operational and organizational changes, here too an incremental approach is possible. After all, the point of MACH is to make life easier, not confine you to some rigid, dogmatic manifest.

With that in mind, we have outlined some of the steps organizations can take to prepare for, experiment with, learn, and ultimately adopt and embrace MACH.

Identify Areas of Opportunity

The first step should be to identify areas where your current system is bumping up against its limitations, where you know you will need to make changes, and evaluate those areas for suitability. This could be something as central as a new payment service, a new pricing/promotions engine or an add-on feature like a product configurator/visualization app,

Another option is to single out one geographic market—perhaps one where you have not entered or one where you are active already but would like to reposition your brand—and pilot a MACH-driven approach comprehensively, but on a more limited scale.

Yet another option is to identify a suitable market segment—perhaps one focused on a niche such as young families, teens, college students, or cooking enthusiasts (obviously, this heavily depends on what business you are in)—and launch out a separate initiative, perhaps even a new brand, to attack this market.

The approaches taken for each of these three scenarios are as different as the scenarios themselves but also similar in some important ways. Most notably, each is separate and distinct from your core business, so that any challenges faced, delays encountered, or even the prospect of abject failure (let’s make sure it doesn’t come to this but these are complex projects using new techniques and technologies, so there is always a risk) will not affect your current revenue operations.

Obviously, the first scenario is more limited in project scope, as you are only taking aim at one aspect of your online business and layering on functionality, whereas in the other examples you are doing a full-cycle implementation of a completely new online presence using MACH technologies.

Start Simple, Small, Yet Impactful and Measurable

The first step should be to identify areas where your current system is bumping up against its limitations, where you know you will need to make changes, and evaluate those areas for suitability. This could be something as central as a new payment service, a new pricing/promotions engine or an add-on feature like a product configurator/visualization app,

Another option is to single out one geographic market - perhaps one where you have not entered or one where you are active already but would like to reposition your brand - and pilot a MACH-driven approach comprehensively, but on a more limited scale.

Yet another option is to identify a suitable market segment - perhaps one focused on a niche such as young families, teens, college students, or cooking enthusiasts (obviously, this heavily depends on what business you are in) - and launch out a separate initiative, perhaps even a new brand, to attack this market.

The approaches taken for each of these three scenarios are as different as the scenarios themselves but also similar in some important ways. Most notably, each is separate and distinct from your core business, so that any challenges faced, delays encountered, or even the prospect of abject failure (let’s make sure it doesn’t come to this but these are complex projects using new techniques and technologies, so there is always a risk) will not affect your current revenue operations.

Obviously, the first scenario is more limited in project scope, as you are only taking aim at one aspect of your online business and layering on functionality, whereas in the other examples you are doing a full-cycle implementation of a completely new online presence using MACH technologies.

Don't Go It Alone

It is said that one is the loneliest number, so do yourself a favor and find some folks that can help you along. A great place to look are others in your industry who might be facing similar challenges but may be further along in their journey. Remember, experience is the best teacher but it’s usually a lot easier—and cheaper—to learn from the experience of others.

Another great place to turn for advice and counsel are vendors in the space, in particular those who are members of the MACH Alliance. Depending on what you’re looking for, companies like commercetools and Fabric can offer insight around commerce, while Amplience, Contentful, and Contentstack can advise on all things related to headless content management.

When it comes to specific functional extensions like pricing and promotions or product configurators and visualization tools, there are companies like Bold Commerce and Salsita offering just that, along with insights, experience, and services related to transitioning to a new headless or decoupled approach.

Next, if you are looking to do a ground-up implementation rather than extending your existing platform, there are vendors offering entire frameworks for crafting frontend experiences and even prebuilt storefronts that get you up and running quickly while still preserving the flexibility to modify, personalize, and extend the user experience incrementally later. Shogun and Vue Storefront are two companies that do just that and their sites have a slew of helpful information.Finally, there are many service providers, consultants, agencies, and integrators out there who have begun to focus on MACH architecture and who are also experts at crafting digital solutions around commerce, content, and community. Salsita is probably my favorite here, thanks to their technical expertise, professionalism, and very competitive rates (but I may be unduly biased since I work for them).

Build a Center of Excellence, Expand Gradually

Rome wasn’t built in a day (I promise that’s my last cliché for today), it is said, but rose gradually. Even today, after three millenia, it continues to grow, evolve, and change. I can’t say if your solution will endure as long as the Eternal City, but it never hurts to plan ahead for the future.

MACH architecture will provide the strong foundation coupled with the flexibility to expand as needed. Starting small and expanding gradually, while developing in-house expertise and building a center of excellence around MACH, will ensure that your organization doesn’t outstrip the needed human resources and skills required for future growth along the way.

Over time your team will take to these new technologies, concepts, and practices and the payoff will be significant. Like a great city, your IT landscape will be strong, yet flexible and resilient, able to adapt to and weather whatever changes may come your way.

Want to Talk MACH?

If this series has piqued your interest and you would like to learn more about MACH Architecture or discuss a current project or business challenge you’re faced with, feel free to contact me at danielb@salsitasoft.com or schedule an appointment by clicking here.

Thank you for your interest and best of luck in all your endeavors.

ABOUT SALSITA

Salsita is a digital product agency that designs and develops exceptional web and mobile solutions which differentiate our clients, engage their customers, and grow their business. We provide design-driven development services that cover the entire software development cycle.

Our areas of specialization include eCommerce, web and mobile dashboards, online content editors and data visualization. We leverage the Salsita 3D Product Configurator Framework to develop slick, cost-effective 3D product configurator, visualization, and design solutions for brands and retailers across industries from consumer electronics to furniture, fashion and more.

We have developed award-winning digital solutions for dozens of companies, ranging from household names like eBay, SAP, Texas Instruments, and First American Financial, to innovative startups across Europe and North America.

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