According to McKinsey, 10 years’ worth of change happened in the space of 90 days in Q1 2020, highlighting the need for companies to be agile when it comes to technological innovation. Particularly when it comes to meeting the ever-evolving customer needs.
As a result of the pandemic, many companies have learned that digital transformation isn’t a project that happens, can be wrapped up, reported on and moved to the archives. Instead, it is a process - an ongoing innovative cycle.
With the ‘perpetual’ mindset, traditional monolithic architecture is moving to a new ‘MACH’ approach - built for the cloud and capable of meeting the ever-changing consumer demands.
Andy Gomes, commerce solutions director at Ciklum, explores why the shift to MACH is set to future-proof enterprise technology and help companies always stay ahead of the end-user - and their competitors.
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What is MACH architecture?
The MACH acronym represents four technology principles behind best-of-breed architecture: Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless. Together they represent a modern, composable software strategy defined by working with smaller solutions that seamlessly integrate with one another. For those less familiar with the concept, here is a quick recap on the main components of MACH. before diving into the tangible benefits of the approach.
Microservices are specific functions that can be developed, deployed and managed independently, resulting in faster updates and quicker access to new features. These are key to modern architecture, giving them the traits of modularity, scalability and flexibility they are known for, over monolithic systems.
APIs are what allows communication between programs. They are the threads that tie functionality between the frontend and backend to power the commerce experience. Event-based and direct APIs make it easy for third-party applications to be integrated and can be used as a basis for a microservice architecture.
Cloud-native applications are built and operated within the cloud environment with the ability to take advantage of containers, microservices, serverless / function-as-a-service (FaaS) and infrastructure expressed in code.
Headless commerce refers to the decoupling of the front-end and back-end development to make it possible to update either the content presentation layer or business functional (commerce) layer without touching the other.
Single-vendor platforms can put organizations at risk of vendor locking-in and bloated legacy technology stacks, restricting the ability to address rapidly changing business requirements.
With ever-changing customer behavior, companies are demanding a more agile approach in order to ensure their businesses are future-proof. The move to MACH from traditional single-vendor applications provides seamless integration, making it easy to add or remove, replace or make changes to a component if it isn’t performing. It also alleviates the risk of being left with outdated technology through stack flexibility allowing changes to be implemented quickly.
So how do you know if you are ready for MACH adoption?
For companies looking to benefit from MACH architecture, it’s important to remember it’s not just a case of adopting a few one-off solutions or using new technologies, it’s about a business model transformation in both technology and practices in order to support the ever-evolving digital business.
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In terms of readiness, companies need to have digital maturity such as a fairly mature Agile and DevOps model. Companies that deliver multidisciplinary products based on discrete capabilities and business value - for instance, a mobile website or a delivery time slot scheduling solution - will benefit more than those who work on one-off projects.
There needs to be a willingness to take risks and be prepared for experimentation to find solutions to new, unarticulated or existing market needs, when it comes to developing customer value.
Partner trust is key as technology partners will become partners of the whole business, not just the IT department, as part of this digital transformation. Organizations should engage with their partners to learn, implement and prepare the infrastructure (cloud providers), the processes (DevOps, CI/CD, Agile Delivery, Design Thinking) and set the business and IT for a continuous innovation cycle.
MACH is a composable architecture that will demand the last major re-platforming effort to make sure every component is pluggable, scalable, replaceable, and can be continuously improved. The domain-driven design is useful to define the boundaries of each service and reduce any complexity of deciding the granularity, for example, promotions can be a typical retailer’s capability to reduce the dependencies to other systems.
Due to outdated legacy systems, the transition can be very complex. So the first challenge is to modernize the enterprise architecture, and in some cases replace old systems which can’t be decoupled.
Companies should begin by decoupling the commerce engine from its own proprietary front-end using the available commerce APIs. This is known as a hybrid or retrofitted headless approach. If it’s supported by the application, it’s time to migrate to the cloud doing a re-platform (not changing the core but some resources to take advantage of the cloud infrastructure, like database instances) or a re-architect (migrating the core to a service-oriented architecture using cloud-native features). The latter can be very expensive, so adopting a cloud-native commerce engine could be a better option.
Customer experience review and renew
Once the front-end has been decoupled, it’s possible to implement immediate improvements to the customer experience based on the user’s journey. This unlocks opportunities for personalization, contextual-based content delivery, progressive profiling, and engagement key indicators to grow the conversion rate and help to reduce churn.
Trial and test
MACH offers the ability to trial and test including the rapid roll-out of prototypes before investing in large-scale implementations. Making small frequent changes and continuously testing allows companies to see the impact on customer experience and what changes gain the best results.
With eighty-one percent of senior decision-makers having a strong intention to increase MACH elements in their front office architecture in the next 12 months, according to recent research commissioned by the MACH Alliance, the trend is set to stay.
It’s important to realize that MACH is more than just an IT solution. It is a key part of any company’s digital transformation as it allows businesses to future-proof and meet evolving customer needs. So it should be on the agenda of senior decision-makers and leaders, not just the heads of IT and engineering, as part of the overarching business strategy. Not only does it allow companies to stay ahead of the curve, it enables a new way of thinking, helping companies take advantage of the most flexible and innovative technologies.
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Andy Gomes, Commerce Solutions Director, Ciklum