What’s it like to work with clients who are taking the first steps on their composable journey? Katarzyna Wielgosz, Solutions Architect at Wunderman Thompson, has advice on successfully navigating the changes composable brings. Wunderman Thompson is a Contentful Partner of the Year, winning the category of EMEA Partner 2023.
Figuring out where to start and how to achieve your goals
The benefits of composable content are undeniable. When I talk to potential clients about composable solutions, they’re usually excited. Digital leaders know that composable solutions are important for their business. But shifting from monoliths or homegrown solutions to a composable architecture involves a lot of change.
One of the things we do for our clients is help them figure out where to start and what are the first steps they should take to achieve their goals. Understanding the scope of change demystifies the process, helps everyone understand their role, and makes it easier to measure progress.
The nice thing about composable is that the changes are incremental. This makes the process more manageable, while allowing you to see the value and get quick wins along the way.
1. A composable approach means breaking up your monolith (but not all at once)
The most obvious change is the technology itself. And the question clients often ask is, how do you go about breaking a monolith into the components of a composable architecture?
We like to make the change from monolith to composable in steps:
Separate your backend from your frontend
The first thing you need to do when shifting to a composable approach is to separate your backend systems (where you manage things like content) from your frontend (what you present to users). This allows you to make changes to the backend without affecting what users see, setting you up for the next step.
Replace the backend with composable solutions
Once you’ve separated the front- and backend, you can gradually replace the backend with composable components. Start with systems that relate to your key objectives and can deliver quick wins.
For example, an ecommerce company might look to improve product search recommendations. You'd look for the best possible search solution (that fits your needs) and add that, while keeping other changes minimal. Or, if you are a news organization, increasing the reach of your content is critical; so you would focus on content syndication or omnichannel solutions to deliver greater impact.
Unlike monoliths, which require a rip-and-replace approach (and a lot of change all at once), a piece-by-piece approach keeps the changes manageable, allows you to learn as you go, and enables you to start seeing value sooner.
Add connective systems to your composable architecture
One of the challenges a composable approach helps overcome is how to deliver consistent experiences to customers who move fluidly across channels. A customer who sees an ad on social media expects to see the same offer on your website or in their shopping app. They want to see consistent — or at least not contradictory — information whether they're on a product page or looking at your FAQs. If they order online, then download your app, they expect the app to already know their shipping address.
Content and design are two parts of delivering consistent customer experiences. Composable content is a core component of a composable architecture. It uses a systems approach that includes guidelines for reusing content across multiple experiences, making it easier to construct new experiences while maintaining consistency.
If you create a lot of new experiences, extending this systems approach to design is beneficial. A properly-constructed design system makes it easier for designers, developers, and anyone composing experiences to convey your brand identity consistently.
Ecommerce and other transactional applications
If your business includes transactional websites or applications, you’ll need to include an event bus, such as Amazon’s Event Bridge, in your composable architecture. When you have a monolith solution, like an online shop, every action or event happens within one system. You have full control over processing payments and making sure that delivery is scheduled, etc. When you transition to composable commerce, all these systems will be separate. An event bus connects payment, fulfillment, inventory, etc., so that they work together to provide a consistent end-to-end experience.
2. Composable will change how you work
The journey from monolithic to composable changes how teams work on a daily basis. There’s no longer one tool that does most things — there are multiple purpose-built tools that do a specific thing really well. Ultimately, this change is good, but it can feel hard at first. Content teams, developers, designers, and marketers all have to change how they work. There are also changes that affect finance and security teams. Knowing what to expect helps keep everyone on board.
Your operating model will evolve
To successfully shift to composable, your operating model will have to change. Teams need to get comfortable working with multiple tools. Those tools might be integrated to minimize switching from one tool to the next, but you’ll need to adopt new workflows to take advantage of your composable architecture. This might mean that teams can work in parallel on projects, or skip approval steps by reusing pre-approved content and images to build a new experience.
Composable tools also extend across the business. Different teams can use the same tools, and reuse content and components from other parts of the business. This breaks down operational silos and drives teams to work more collaboratively. They need to talk to each other and understand how to get to the outcomes they want. For example, developers need to work with content creators to build content models that have the right amount of flexibility and control.
How you organize, produce, and connect content will be different
Organizations moving from traditional content management systems to a composable content platform need to learn how to produce and organize content to maximize reusability. Once you get your content organized, you’ll be able to use it for omnichannel, personalization, and other cool stuff.
Content structure and taxonomy sound boring, but they're necessary and set your team up for success (and less headaches). Very often our clients have enormous volumes of content across multiple channels with no high-level understanding of what content is available, how it's structured, how pieces of content relate to each other, or what versions exist for different uses.
To get the most out of composable content, you need to think about content on a more abstract level than the specific channel that it sits in. You want to categorize content in a way that makes it easy to find and reuse many channels. It's also good to consider end-to-end content production. Think about how content creation, management, and distribution will work within the structure you have in mind.
The way you pay for tools will change
Composable tools have different payment or cost structures than the single license your finance team might be used to. They'll need to create new processes and models to accommodate pricing based on monthly usage, number of customers, number of assets in your digital asset management, or number of content types in your content platform.
You’ll need to define what security means in the cloud
Most composable solutions are cloud-based. Information security is completely different in the cloud versus on-premise where you have your own servers and infrastructure. Your IT or security team will need to define what security means in the cloud, and how you meet those requirements.
3. The human side of change
We often talk about technology and process changes apart from how they impact the people who'll be using new tools and workflows. At the top, people might be excited about the possibilities — faster time to market, more efficient workflows, breaking through limitations of older technologies. For those whose day-to-day work is changing, the response is usually mixed. Some folks will be enthusiastic, while others will be more averse to change.
Accept that it’s human nature to resist change
The most important advice I can give is don’t be surprised (or angry) when people resist change. It’s going to happen, and it's not that people are mean or trying to annoy you. We’re naturally a little suspicious when something new comes our way. Accepting that some people will respond this way helps set expectations and keeps the conversation going.
Let the enthusiasts take the lead
One way to help overcome doubts is to start with people who are excited about the changes — the enthusiasts. Bring together a cross-functional team of enthusiasts and introduce change to them first. Give them the opportunity to work on a small pilot and showcase their success. This lets people observe the changes and builds trust in the new technology before you ask them to use it.
Don’t underestimate the power of hands-on training
Never underestimate the value of hands-on training and knowledge sharing. Having someone sit next to you, doing the work with you, goes a long way toward building comfort and confidence. For one client, we had people go into the office full time to sit with people who were using the new systems and support them on every step. This made all the difference in building comfort even with the most complex changes.
How partners help manage change
Partners, like Wunderman Thompson, have done all of this before. With that experience, we can guide you through the process of adopting a composable approach to reach your goals.
We combine a tactical approach to implementation with the knowledge and experience to manage long-term change within your organization. This enables us to push for quick wins that deliver value sooner and provide a long-term plan with tangible steps instead of abstract ideas and buzzwords.
What’s more, a good partner helps fill skill gaps. We can help you build new capabilities like content modeling or send staff to sit with your team as they learn the ins and outs of new technology and processes. We have expertise in areas that might not be in your wheelhouse, like accessibility or leveraging AI to improve the quality of your content.
Moving to composable is an important step for your business. Choosing an experienced partner and an established technology like the Contentful Composable Content Platform for the core of your composable architecture can make your journey to composable smoother and faster. Our experience helps you maximize the value of composable and realize that value sooner.