There. I said it. It is a phrase that I, as a marketer, have heard ad nauseam for close to a decade. It's reached a nearly satirical level of ubiquity, which seems only to have cemented its place in our cultural lexicon.
Why? Because, like it or not, digital transformation is still going to be around for quite a while. The term describes a broad umbrella of changes across all parts of an organization. These changes are iterative, interdependent, and extensive. As with any such large-scale change, it comes in phases.
We’ve now entered the next one: the composable era. This phase hinges on new technology infrastructure that better matches the way companies want and need to work — because it was designed to be modular and flexible.
A different type of transformation is afoot
Now that a digital-first customer experience is the default, we have reached an inflection point for organizations to transform the infrastructure underpinning not only the end experience but also the work teams do to deliver it.
Why is this crucial now? The socioeconomic tumult of the previous five years has underscored the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and speed to meet not only very dynamic customer standards, but also to maintain a business’ proverbial head above water.
How a business operates is just as important (if not more) as the customer experience it delivers. And this type of technological and operational transformation is incredibly important in times of economic uncertainty or volatility.
Why composable? The inherent modularity of a composable architecture allows for perpetual flexibility and the ability to shift and adapt to any business need. As Gartner points out, there are four core principles to composability, all of which stem from thinking modularly rather than monolithically:
Faster discovery, faster time to market
Increased agility via flexibility
Improved leadership through visibility and orchestration
Resilience via empowering autonomy
And, yes, there is a buzzword-quality to these principles, but in this economic climate, there's true substance. As I talked to customers, partners, and sat in the audience of our Fast Forward events, I saw this coming to life. Not because Gartner predicted it, but because businesses need to operate differently and composable is the way to do it.
Incremental improvements deliver immediate value
Change of any kind, at any organization, is a challenge. And transformation, by definition, is a full-scale change, all at once. Or is it? There is, in fact, some nuance to this overused term, which we call “iterative transformation.” This kind of transformation is the key to short- and long-term success that's enabled with a composable approach. The mantra is “build small, test, validate, optimize, and extend.”
A proof of concept is a great example of this mantra. Brian Browning, Vice President of Technology at Kin + Carta, knows this firsthand: Working with a large RV dealer, his team knew that taking this largely in-person experience to a digital one would require a large investment and a hefty amount of risk.
As Browning points out, “We want to prove that this works, and the viability behind this before we ask for the bigger investment.” To demonstrate this, Browning’s team took a single part of the customer experience and reimagined it, showed how composable architecture enabled it, got validation and buy-in from stakeholders, and made informed decisions.
By identifying incremental improvements that will provide immediate value, you’re able to make progress without throwing everyone in at the deep end. Additionally, acting incrementally lowers risk and removes any potential disruption to the experience, along with giving teams new ways to experiment with and elevate customer experiences.
Brian Browning, Vice President of Technology at Kin + Carta, speaking on the partner panel at Fast Forward San Francisco.
The digital transformation (I know, I said it again) of customer experience led to the rapid integration of tools to deliver that experience. Tools (CMS, PIM, DAM, ecommerce solutions) dictated the way people worked. So the chosen technology restricted teams by dictating processes and perpetuating silos. And that isn't a great experience for internal teams.
As Gavin Estey, Vice President of Technology at Appnovation, says, “Traditionally, everyone focuses on that frontend experience…[the] internal experience needs to match it one for one in terms of quality.”
The internal, or employee, experience is one that has largely been reactionary, wherein teams were forced to adapt their ways of working to restrictive technologies like monolithic CMSes. Now, with the rise of composable architecture, technology adapts to and enhances the ways teams want to work.
This starts the conversation within a team or between teams (e.g. engineering and marketing) to better understand each others’ needs and decide how to collaborate effectively. Empowered autonomy, automated processes, and built-in guardrails lead to greater productivity, efficiency, and, ultimately, better customer experiences.
Gavin Estey, Vice President of Technology at Appnovation, speaking on the partner panel at Fast Forward San Francisco.
No longer tech-team-only decisions
It is a digital-first world, so every team has skin in the game regarding technology. Not just the tech team. More teams involved in creating the end-customer experience, working in asynchronous coordination, means there are more stakeholders across the organization when making a technological change.
Developers, product managers, and other technical teams are driving a bottom-up movement to going composable. While these teams are fighting the good fight, it requires additional effort to sell internally.
For Ben Bodien, Technology Director at Rapha, incrementally changing the content platform that supports key parts of their website isn't only a low-risk approach, but a way to validate the changes with internal stakeholders. Content creators or the ecommerce team can see the “before” and “after” of low-risk areas (such as their Clubhouse and About pages).
Ben Bodien, Technology Director at Rapha, speaking to Contentful CFO Carla Cooper on the customer panel at Fast Forward London.
All-in-one. One-size-fits-all. No matter what you call it, these Swiss-Army-knife technologies don’t really do everything well and are a false economy. If we look at monolithic CMSes, or even headless CMS solutions, they do certain things well, but changes in the organization or market show their shortcomings.
This really is where a composable approach shines: its API-first infrastructure makes building and managing content infinitely adaptable. Rather than settling for a one-size-fits-most-needs stack, composable allows businesses to buy and build the right stack customized to meet their specific needs.
By bringing together “best-of-need solutions” (thank you, Holden Bale for that gem) together in a modular fashion, new solutions can be easily swapped in as needs change. This supports operational agility, but also long-term efficiency by avoiding costly rip-and-replace updates.
But how do you build the “right” composable stack? Solution partners like Valtech, Apply Digital, and other agencies that have experience and expertise in this approach provide guidance as well as existing relationships with technology partners (ahem, like Contentful).
Holden Bale speaking on the partner panel at Fast Forward New York.
Looking to the long term
By nature, or perhaps due to the Internet, we humans like immediate gratification. We innately prioritize short-term needs over long-term needs, and that carries over into business. Return on investment is something stakeholders want to see sooner rather than later, especially in this economic climate.
Composability is a near-term investment that sets organizations up for that coveted long-term success. Organizations that prioritize technological investments are more likely to outperform competitors. But CIOs, CTOs, and CFOs need to ensure that the “right” technological investments are made. In a time where doing more with what you have (or less) is the norm, starting to enable agility and efficiency with composable technologies today lays the foundation for long-term resilience.
This is an incredibly important story to tell, but it's one that's counterintuitive to how most of us think. So how do you tell that story? How do you show the value, qualitative and quantitative, to executive stakeholders? We are starting to see the best practices internally, but rely heavily on our solution partners to help us do that (ecosystem FTW, remember).
Composable isn't a new concept, but we are at a pivotal moment. Composable is the technology to deliver businesses into the digital-first era. This means the digital transformation of organizations from rigid to composable enterprises. Enterprises that are flexible, agile, efficient, and resilient.
These are the principles that we've built our composable content platform around. By increasing flexibility and visibility, you realize greater speed to market. You’re freeing your teams from mundane, repetitive work and enabling them to reimagine what's possible, identify new opportunities, and drive greater business value.