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Is this the year of the composable enterprise?

IT professionals are experiencing growing pressure to deliver new services and that pressure is coming from all directions. While it was once the sales and marketing departments making most of the requests, now C-level executives, finance, operations, R&D, small workgroups, and others across the organisation are weighing in.

Every corner of your business now leverages technology to function and the requests are increasingly ad hoc, with the expectation of a fast turnaround in response to a rapidly changing competitive environment. Unfortunately, at many organisations, legacy systems can act as a barrier to that kind of responsiveness. With these often-monolithic systems (built up over time and comprising many different layers, governed with heavy process) it can be time-consuming and risky to add hard connections or to migrate data from them to new applications.

That’s why businesses are eager to ring in 2016 as the year of the composable enterprise, in which enterprise services are enabled by loosely connecting a variety of on-demand elements. So what’s making the connection?

APIs and microservices

APIs allow the creation of services or applications by enabling secure access to new and core business data. MuleSoft’s recent survey of 800 IT professionals from across Europe shows that, of companies with an API strategy in place, the majority are using them to 'free' data: seventy two per cent are linking new software with legacy systems and fifty five per cent are unlocking data silos.

After the ability to enable access to application data, agility is seen as the biggest benefit of APIs – identified by sixty seven per cent of respondents. Agility is also driving much of the growing interest in microservices. Respondents that are using or thinking of using microservices identified the ability to add new features or capabilities without rewriting applications as the single most important reason for doing so.

The kind of secure access to core business data that APIs allow can be leveraged in myriad ways, but, generally speaking, it enables the central IT function and broader IT functions to quickly and intelligently respond to the demands of internal and external consumers. And by using APIs to securely open up core business data to other organisations, consumers can create a relatively low-risk way for their companies to explore new markets, try out new products or services, and extend their own brand and customer base.

Indeed, companies, like Uber, Slack, and Amazon have achieved major success through an open API approach, and we can expect to see more established (read: more traditional) businesses following a similar strategy, based on responses to our survey: The ability to enable partner and affiliates was cited as a benefit of APIs by fifty six per cent of our survey respondents, while the ability to drive innovation was cited by forty seven per cent.

A cloak of invisibility

As a result of the composable enterprise, we might expect the IT department’s profile to grow within the business, but in many ways the opposite is true. For companies to realise the benefits of digital transformation, the CIO must, of course, be seen as a strong advocate and enabler of digital transformation at board level.

However, an indicator of the success of the process may be IT’s ultimate invisibility at line-of-business level. By enabling line-of-business managers to securely and easily connect to and build upon critical business data through APIs, IT enables a degree of self-service – removing the need for line-of-business managers to engage with the IT function at all. Self-service will reduce time to innovation for the business and its partners.

A true technology partnership

We are seeing a shift from traditional IT delivery models to a model whereby IT delivers capabilities to the business, allowing the consumers of those capabilities to build their own applications. This is the decentralisation of IT, where IT no longer owns the applications but acts as a governor of the data. Decentralisation of IT will go hand-in-hand with the composable enterprise, and both will contribute to the expanding partnership between business and IT. We are unlikely to see the pressure on IT to deliver new services subside, but we might start to see the business taking partial ownership of the solution. That will be a win-win situation.

Ross Mason, founder of MuleSoft

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens

Ross Mason
Ross Mason is MuleSoft’s founder. He leads engineering alignment, product strategy and direct engagement with customers at MuleSoft, provider of the leading platform for building application networks.