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In a composable world, front end as a service is the true differentiator

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It is time for business to business (B2B) firms to embrace FaaS, says e-commerce expert Alexander Graf.

Soon “Front-end-as-a-Service,” or FaaS, will be a key differentiator for B2B e-commerce. In this short discussion I want to show a bit of both how and why that matters. 

As with so many important enterprise IT trends, the seal of approval for what has been bubbling away out of sight is the analysts getting on board, and with FaaS, that has just happened. In August, Gartner predicted a coming paradigm shift away from monolithic commerce platforms toward modular ones. This is a move a Gartner paper on the topic defined as meaning “composable” commerce must be adopted for the future of applications.

“Platform-centric” to “customer-experience-centric”

I’ve now introduced two potentially novel terms in as many paragraphs—FaaS and composable. The claim is that the former has emerged out of the latter. But what is composable? All that composable means is that the way we build platforms to provision e-commerce as a deliverable has started to break up or decompose. As it does, some providers have switched their attention to the back end, positioning themselves as focused on the product information management (PIM) end. We won’t talk in this overview about the middle, but things are changing there too. This leaves the front end, which needs to become an application layer in its own right. Developers are able to link these three modular layers of an e-commerce solution together, and in a true “best of breed” fashion. Gartner talks of “a shift in thinking from an inward-looking ‘platform-centric’ view to an outward-looking customer-experience-centric view”.

The future is modular. But that’s abstract software architecture talk. What’s the business motivator for having a cloud-based front end you can swap in and out as you wish? Gartner tells us that a “growing reality” for digitally mature organizations is that digital commerce does not stand alone, and should no longer be a monolithic silo of engagement. “This goes beyond consistency across channels,” it says, “to mean a unified end-to-end customer journey, including engagement and post-sales relationships and support.”

E-commerce front end delivered as SaaS 

What is the outcome of this unified approach? Simple, it’s speed. With composable merchant and payment software, implementing innovative new features like a new checkout option in your online store, or going from multi-page checkout to a one-page checkout is highly straightforward in a front end as a service environment. In the monolithic, older e-comm world rapid pivots and extensions like that would have taken considerable developer time and resource. Whenever you wanted to deploy a new customer experience, you had to do it via the back end plus front end. In a world where those teams are separate, each can have its own area of responsibility and can therefore work independently, leading to a higher speed of development and more innovation. In short, an e-commerce front end delivered as SaaS makes the development of the product’s front-end reliable and organized. The focus is on serviceability, so every nuance of the front-end becomes deliverable, and the approach is emerging as a crucial part of faster solutions.

As a result, Gartner says by 2023 50 percent of all new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services. By the same timeframe, organizations that have adopted a composable approach will be 80 percent faster than their competitors in new feature implementation. In addition, decoupling will become an enabler for the acceleration of a composable application approach.

What does a world where the front end is starting to have intelligence look like? It certainly needs to offer a lot of personalization. Ultimately, front end as a service means you control the front-end specifications of your e-commerce engine by one application. All the other parts that are not tied to the front end, for instance, order management, can be handled separately, either integrated or best-of-breed (though that means you have to do the “plugging together”). Back-end engines and business logic are all necessary, but your users don’t see that. All they care about is if your product solves their needs, how to figure out how to use the product—and the easier the experience is, the longer they will use it.

A composable e-comm solution

Front end as a service is very welcome and powerful. But there are risks. To make the most of FaaS, you need to be looking for a flexible “marketplace front end as a service offering,” because it needs to be an integrated offer in any enterprise-level commerce solution. In a composable commerce world you can basically design any workflow you can imagine. But without a proper front end as a service application that can bring this experience to your customer, it will be very hard to differentiate yourself from the competition.  

And when every start-up and asymmetrical competitor is trying to make its mark and steal your market share, agility has become a necessity. This means that enterprises cannot spend too much time dithering here about decomposition, FaaS and the rest. CIOs in organizations serious about e-commerce need to make the decoupling of the frontend and backend a priority. They need to start building a scalable architecture and proprietary tools—opting for front end as a service would help them streamline their entire platform and production cycle. 

In the near future, and perhaps as soon as 2023 if Gartner is right, customers will expect fully-integrated, fully-connected composable e-comm solutions with very powerful FaaS functionality as standard. That means B2B companies, be they new start-ups or established players, need to be looking at front end as a service to simplify workflow and deliver the level of employee experience (EX) but also superior customer experience (CX) your users will demand. Front end as a service will enable them to respond quickly to emerging touchpoints that make the employee and customer journey increasingly complex. It will help companies stay ahead of the competition.

Alexander Graf, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Spryker

Alexander Graf, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of e-commerce B2B software leader Spryker and co-author of The E-Commerce Book.