How to assemble a microservices architecture using API-first tools

Updated: October 26, 2020

Why content should form the foundation of a custom stack of best-in-class tech tools


Whether you’ve already transitioned to a microservices architecture or are just beginning your API-first journey, many businesses are still figuring out how to make the most of this new approach to digital product development. We’re here to bring some clarity to the world of integrated APIs, microservices, unified enterprise content management and how your entire organization can benefit.

APIs act as doorways allowing developers to interact with an application. When a developer wants to use an application, they will send a request through the API and receive information in return. The standardized contract used by APIs today allows for external applications to interface with one another, thus allowing organizations to use many of them concurrently to create the exact digital experience they desire rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all monolith solution.

So how does this relate to a microservices architecture approach? A microservices approach breaks down the components found in a monolithic suite into individual services. The accessibility and flexibility offered by APIs are ideal in these highly integrated, but decoupled, multi-platform environments. Each API-first tech tool forms one spoke of a microservices tech stack wheel assembled by enterprise developers to meet specific organizational needs.

A good place to begin the transition to an API architecture approach is with your CMS. Because content touches every part of an organization, the content layer is a critical component of an API-first microservices architecture. Contentful is one example of a cloud-based, API-first headless CMS that many enterprises use as the content layer of their microservices architecture.

Why you need an API-first CMS to power your microservices architecture

Legacy CMSes that were created to manage content on a single static website simply aren’t equipped to keep up with the growing omnichannel demands of brands and customers. Developers have a laundry list of complaints about the lack of data transparency, and therefore customizability. Content creators and marketers are frustrated by their lack of autonomy in publishing content to different platforms and the copy/paste workaround process required to do it.

API-first CMSes help unify content across channels. As an example, Contentful is an API-first content platform which provides both the central hub for creating, editing, and managing your content, and the tools to ship it to every digital platform. By taking a content-first approach, Contentful allows enterprises to completely customize the CMS to their exact needs, accounting for both existing content and future content goals. Content becomes the cornerstone of a broader, customer-driven strategy which allows brands to launch new digital experiences and leverage relevant content across channels.

A flexible content platform organizes content for use across channels. Contentful sets itself apart from other headless solutions thanks to its content model approach. It allows companies to define the content framework themselves. Content is broken down into its individual components — such as headline, author, body — which can be repurposed and re-leveraged across all digital channels.

An API-first CMS built for omnichannel content delivery helps editors and developers work faster. Contentful answers the demand for a better enterprise content management approach by separating content management from the end-product display and providing powerful tools for both editors and developers. Editors create and manage content through a friendly editing app that combines familiar features with the ability to integrate your preferred tools for tasks including A/B testing and translation. Developers use Contentful's APIs to treat content like code, pulling it into any digital presentation. Development decisions, including framework, methodology and language are left to developer preferences, allowing for deep customization and integration with other API-first tools.

How to build an API-first architecture with enterprise content management

All companies are now, by necessity, digital companies. Leading companies like Bang & Olufsen, TELUS Digital and The Aldo Group are using API-first architecture to build and ship digital products and experiences faster, as well as integrating digital into traditional human interactions. By uniting siloed departments into fast-moving, cross-disciplinary teams, and empowering them with flexible tools, enterprises can ship faster and gain competitive advantage. This cheat sheet will help you transform into a microservices-driven digital factory.

#1: Choose tools that are extensible and scalable to create a custom tech stack. The future of how websites and apps are built is all about digital tech stacks, not one-size-fits-all solutions. Tools should integrate easily with each other and emerging tech, enabling teams to choose and leverage the pieces they need for each project. Legacy CMSes are great for many digital applications, but not all. In their weak areas like integrations, creation of new digital products, multi-application management and customizations, they require 80% of IT, developer and editor time to overcome the shortcomings with work-arounds and band-aids.

By choosing the exact tech services they need, digital teams can spend more time focusing on accomplishing business strategy goals, rather than on the day-to-day minutiae of managing outdated tools. Teams can move faster and have greater impact.

#2: Get the content layer right. Content is at the heart of every digital experience and should be the foundation of your tech stack. Legacy CMSes and megasuites can put the brakes on the speed an API-first architecture offers because they were designed to be fully formed stacks unto themselves. Choose a content layer that unifies content into a central hub, integrates with the other tools in your tech stack, empowers developers and editors and can deliver content to any digital endpoint.

#3: Streamline workflows. API-first architecture should support cross-functional teams, enable parallel workflows between developers, editors and different digital teams and empower users to do more, faster. Multiple teams and business units can each use only what they need for their particular products. Contentful empowers editors to create, publish and edit content, and spin up new pages without relying on developers.

#4: Adopt CI/CD (continuous iteration/continuous delivery) and agile practices. An API-first architecture lays the foundation to build and ship digital products and experience at speed by thinking differently about software delivery. Rather than big, splashy — and often problematic — new releases, changes are incremental and constant. A modular, services-oriented architecture breaks everything into small pieces, meaning you can move a lot faster and not break things. Experimentation is encouraged, providing the flexibility to focus on getting started quickly rather than perfection.

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