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How to future-proof your digital experience ecosystem with headless

(Image credit: Shutterstock / issaro prakalung)

With technology enabling the efficient creation of value to customers, having the right platform architecture in place is business critical. It is the platform that facilitates growth and efficiency, allowing you to more easily create new highly personalized services and expand with new partners or new channels. In a world of accelerating disruption, organizations are looking for ways to rapidly create sustainable competitive advantage. Sandro Petterle, Technology Director at Rufus Leonard, explains why cloud based headless and API-first architectures are fast becoming common place in the race for achieving sustainable competitive advantage, and how to evaluate if it is right for your business.

What are the benefits of cloud based headless and API-first?

This type of architecture is efficient as upgrades and new features can be released with less effort. Allowing you to focus on the value you want to deliver to customers, now. Plus, building your ecosystem in independent areas, means you can make your infrastructure work harder for your money. The benefits of headless are well documented; it is decoupled, composable, fast, flexible, and efficient. This means, you benefit from agility and design freedom, the ability to choose from best-of-breed continuously, accelerated time to market, and a faster customer experience; all while only paying for what you need.

As the name suggests, a headless architecture allows you to separate the head/front-end from the body/back-end. API-first means that your content is powered by an API, but to extend the benefit further you should split up, or compose, your functionality into separate APIs so that they are independent and powered by an elastic micro-services architecture.

What are the key use cases for cloud based headless and API-first?

Although the benefits are vast, this type of architecture is not for every business. There are three common use cases:

  1. Increasing ambition: Organizations with fast changing business models and markets. They are likely to have a wide variety of channels or touchpoints and want to deliver a brilliant experience at every customer interaction.
  2. Driving agility: Organizations with complex systems and multiple integrations, managed by different teams. These businesses are being slowed down by their current architecture; particularly when releasing new features and regression testing.
  3. Reducing operational costs: Organizations that are paying for infrastructure they hardly use, just to be prepared for a peak that might happen once or twice a year.

Reducing operational costs: Organizations that are paying for infrastructure they hardly use, just to be prepared for a peak that might happen once or twice a year.

Is the investment worthwhile?

More and more businesses are embracing the power of this type of architecture. Still, you need to evaluate if it is the right architecture for your business and whether the investment is worthwhile. But how do you go about making the case for changing your architecture to be composable, headless and API-first?

It’s advisable to evaluate the opportunity cost of staying on your architecture versus moving to headless, to determine if the difference is worth the investment in transition. To highlight the costs, challenges and opportunities for your business, you should compare both architectures against:

  • Operational costs: The things you do every day to keep your business operating as is.
  • Performance: How your searchability, conversion rates and experience across all your target markets is being affected by slowness.
  • Flexibility: How easy it is to deliver new features and business models.
  • Experience: The ease of delivering value at each touchpoint or channel in a way that exceeds customer expectations.
  • Brand perception: The impact your experience has on your reputation with both new and existing customers.

Taking this a level further, you should create a list of questions under each focus area to challenge your thinking and help you identify the opportunity cost in detail. Here are some examples questions to help you. For operational costs: how much effort (and therefore cost) is it to maintain, patch and keep secure each architecture? How much of your people costs are targeted towards maintenance instead of adding new features? For performance: if your site slows down when you have a successful burst of traffic, does it affect your reputation? For flexibility: does a new feature require tremendous regression testing? Can you launch a new channel by composing existing features from somewhere else? For experience: is it easy to add a new channel – even one that doesn’t have a screen? Is your design and UX limited by the technology? And finally, for brand perception: would being able to respond quickly to your customer needs as new opportunities and channels become available affect the value of your brand? This is not an exhaustive checklist, rather a starting point. 

How The Student Hotel future-proofed its digital experience ecosystem with headless

The Student Hotel, recently completed the first phase of its digital transformation program, designed and implemented by Rufus Leonard. They needed to redefine their digital experience and overhaul their infrastructure to enterprise-standard solutions, in response to rapid expansion and an increasingly complex product mix. Crucially, the new infrastructure had to be scalable, robust and enable innovative digital experiences that blend seamlessly with physical environments. In turn, driving sustained competitive advantage, resilience and growth.

The result is a new website; the first transactional website to be built on Episerver DXP and React. (The Student Hotel’s choice to build using React puts them in good company alongside Airbnb, Dropbox and Netflix, who all use React JS libraries.) The new website delivers a differentiated brand experience for a complex mix of hospitality products and an enriched booking journey. The headless content approach future-proofs the site and enables The Student Hotel to create and manage content in the Episerver CMS and serve it to any number of channels: website, apps, voice interfaces, hotel lobby screens, in-room TVs and more.

The immediate impact has been 71 percent increase in Google Search impressions, 21 percent faster page downloads, 99.9 percent availability and, most crucially, 122 percent increase in direct bookings. The new website launch is the first milestone of an ambitious program of work to deliver next level digital experience at all touchpoints.


Cloud based headless and API-first could be the architecture that enables your business to achieve sustainable competitive advantage and growth. The benefits are clear. But ultimately, the question is how do these benefits compare and what are they worth to your company?

Sandro Petterle, Technology Director, Rufus Leonard

Sandro Petterle
Sandro Petterle is the Technology Director at Rufus Leonard.