A Guide to Building a Composable DXP
Leading digital enterprises consistently search for ways to deliver a better customer experience. In today’s digital age, businesses that fail to provide frictionless digital experiences risk losing out on customer engagement, retention, and revenue. Consumers have come to expect seamless digital experiences across all touchpoints, and those businesses that cannot deliver risk losing out to competitors who can.
Having the right foundational architecture is crucial to making this a reality, and for the most successful businesses, that means leveraging the benefits of composability. According to Gartner, by 2024, 70% of large and medium organizations will include composability in their approval criteria for new application plans.
By providing composable applications through packaged business capabilities, businesses can reuse application components and gain significant cost savings, among other benefits. This approach also allows enterprises to drive consistency in customer experience and accelerate time to market for new applications.
In this article, we will explore:
- Defining composable enterprise architecture
- What is a composable digital experience platform (DXP)?
- Benefits of a composable DXP
- The meaning behind packaged business capabilities
- How digital experience platforms are evolving
- Best practices for building a composable DXP
- Why the content management system matters
- How CrafterCMS is built for the modern enterprise
What Is Composable Enterprise Architecture?
Enterprise architecture goes beyond technical capabilities but includes business, data, technology, and application architecture. It refers to a mindset and a way of approaching and solving problems for the business.
Gartner defines a composable enterprise as “an organization that delivers business outcomes and adapts to the pace of business change. It does this through the assembly and combination of packaged business capabilities (application building blocks that have been purchased or developed, and that can be combined and recombined).” The goal of a composable enterprise and composable enterprise architecture is to be able to adapt and thrive in change.
Change is a constant in the digital experience space as well as in every industry. It can be seen across a number of different types of experiences, including employee experiences, customer experiences, and partner experiences. Several factors are driving these changes, such as:
- Technical debt
- Economic conditions
- The emergence of new channels, such as digital assistants, smart devices, and AI
- Technological revolutions that improve efficiency
Regardless of the reasons behind these changes, there is a need to interconnect experiences across channels. Composability gives companies the tools to take advantage of that change and make it work for them rather than against them.
What is a Composable DXP?
Composable DXPs represent a paradigm shift in how businesses approach digital experiences. They offer a more flexible and modular approach, allowing organizations to assemble and adapt their digital experience stack according to their specific needs.
Here are the key components that make up a Composable Digital Experience Platform:
- Modular Architecture: Composable DXPs are built on a modular architecture, where various packaged business capabilities (PBCs), such as content management, e-commerce, analytics, and customer data platforms, are loosely coupled. This modularity allows organizations to mix and match components to create a tailored digital experience.
- API-First Approach: These platforms prioritize an API-first approach, which means that every component within the DXP exposes its functionality through APIs. This makes it easier to integrate third-party services and ensures a seamless flow of data and functionality.
- Flexibility: Composable DXPs offer unparalleled flexibility. Businesses can add or remove components as needed, adapt quickly to changing market conditions, and experiment with new technologies and features without the constraints of a monolithic system.
- Scalability: Composable DXPs are designed to scale horizontally. As your organization grows, you can scale individual components independently, ensuring that your digital experience remains performant and responsive.
- Personalization: With the ability to select and customize components, Composable DXPs empower businesses to deliver highly personalized digital experiences. This personalization is crucial for engaging customers and driving conversions.
- Future-Proofing: Composable DXPs are future-proof. They are not tied to specific technologies or vendors, allowing organizations to adapt to emerging trends and technologies seamlessly.
Benefits of a Composable DXP
Embracing a composable digital experience platform offers several key benefits:
- Cost Efficiency: By only paying for the components you use, you can reduce costs associated with unnecessary features and infrastructure.
- Agility: Quickly respond to market changes, customer demands, and emerging technologies without major system overhauls.
- Innovation: Experiment with new tools and technologies to enhance your digital experiences and stay ahead of the competition.
- Scalability: Easily scale your digital experience platform as your business grows and evolves.
- Personalized Experiences: Deliver tailored experiences that resonate with your audience, increasing engagement and loyalty.
What Are Packaged Business Capabilities?
Packaged business capabilities (PBCs) are composable applications or services developed around a particular business function that business users can recognize. It refers to an encapsulation of technical capabilities — consisting of a data schema, a set of services, APIs, event channels, and user experiences— that will be used by business users. To facilitate this, PBCs need to have the following characteristics:
- Modular: Components in a PBC should have a clear and complete business identity and be singular in function. Building blocks should be small enough for agility but large enough to stand alone as services.
- Discoverable: PBCs should support the needs of both business and IT teams. These teams should be able to easily identify and access components and documentation to include them in solutions.
- Autonomous: Modular building blocks should be self-contained and easily changeable. Unlike monolithic applications, changes to one section of a PBC should not impact the entire system.
- Orchestration Ready: Orchestration readiness measures how open a PBC is to interact with other applications. It also includes evaluations of the application’s security and governance capabilities.
With PBCs, technical details are factored in and grouped in a way that allows the business to combine and recombine these capabilities to solve business problems, deal with change, and innovate at a much higher rate and greater volume.
For example, accounts, assets, products, orders, or inventory are the kinds of capabilities that would have been traditionally managed together in a monolithic architecture. However, in this composable architecture, these capabilities are all packaged in a very modular and autonomous fashion, making them very easily discoverable by business users, who then compose a solution to a specific business problem leveraging this architecture and this approach.
The business solution is composed by business users, allowing brands to move at the rate of business rather than the rate of traditional software development. The business can quickly assemble PBCs using low code and no code to enable these PBCs to solve specific business challenges.
Monolithic vs. PBC Model
There are two options for digital experience platforms: the traditional DXP, otherwise known as a monolithic suite, or a composable DXP. The suite is a complete monolith where a single vendor supplies all the capabilities—including content management, analytics, marketing automation, email marketing, and more.
All of these are supposedly tightly integrated and function well together. However, the truth of that may vary from vendor to vendor. Many of these platforms are put together through acquisitions, and some of the integrations are not as smooth as businesses are led to imagine. The hope is that a monolithic DXP, this single integrated platform, meets all of our needs. If this worked the way it was meant to, it would appeal to most businesses.
Unfortunately, there is a significant problem with change. Because it’s a monolithic platform, enterprises have to rely on a single vendor, which can lead to a number of different issues.
So if a new channel comes out, and a company wants to create a new experience or leverage a new frontend technology, they must wait for that single platform to adapt and handle it. As a result, this monolithic architecture doesn’t work in an environment where businesses need to deliver innovation or respond to change.
Explaining Digital Experience Platforms
Digital experience platforms (DXPs) are used to power digital experiences, and there has been notable evolution over the years. Brands have moved away from suite-based DXPs that attempt to cater to several users and use cases and instead toward headless, API-first architectures.
Headless Leads to Composability
With an API-first approach, services can be easily combined and recombined in a composable manner. Composability, as such, is an evolution of this thought process and leverages the principles of modularity, discoverability, autonomy, and orchestration friendliness so that services are more accessible to the business. This approach also enables business users to propose solutions rather than wait for developers to compose solutions for them.
Using the composable approach, developers can build PBCs, providing the technical functionality and features required. Business users can then build digital solutions using these PBCs. Unlike a suite DXP, a composable DXP will contain content management, digital asset management, marketing automation, personalization, SEO, and other capabilities, packaged as individual components that are potentially supplied by different vendors or other kinds of sources.
Best of Breed vs. Best of Stack
Composable DXPs rely on an integration-centric approach that enables a best-of-breed benefit. However, instead of a best-of-breed approach where integration is not necessarily done in-house (purchased as a monolith), the business capabilities and base components are ready to integrate right out of the box and only need to be plugged into a composable platform.
A composable DXP that leverages the best-of-stack approach offers the best of both worlds — all of the toolings you would expect out of the box, just like in a suite DXP, as well as the ability to choose the best component for a specific job, whether that be the best CMS, CRM tool, eCommerce system, analytics, personalization or anything else.
Composability enables businesses to go a step further and shouldn’t be looked at as just the antithesis of a suite approach. A composable DXP stack is more adaptive to change, allowing you to choose the best components and avoid overpaying for unused solutions. Brands also avoid relying on too many development resources and can remain highly competitive in a change-heavy environment.
Best Practices For Building a Composable DXP
When building a composable DXP stack, some best practices should be followed.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Very few businesses are starting from scratch. Instead, they have existing architectures and systems they are already working with, and adopting composable architecture is a matter of evolution. The best way to evolve in this approach is to take an agile or iterative process where new components are brought in as PBCs. An agile approach is required for businesses that want to be part of Gartner’s 70% of composable companies.
Mind the Granularity of PBCs
Composability introduces the concept of granularity. At this stage, you need to consider how small a PBC should be. Similarly to service orientation, we don’t want to go too small because that creates a management headache. However, going too large can make it seem like managing a monolithic platform once again.
Mind the Technology Mix
Another thing to take into consideration is the technology mix. PBCs enable businesses to combine various technologies. By design, these PBCs are self-contained and can integrate well, but it’s also essential to have a consistent user experience.
Understanding Digital Experience Composition (DXC)
Digital experience composition is a modern approach to managing the development and delivery of digital experiences by utilizing headless, decoupled, and composable tools. This technique covers a range of capabilities from frontend-as-a-service, no-code tools, and visual page builders to orchestrated and API-driven solutions.
DXC empowers users to create digital experiences by selecting the best-of-breed components, such as search, content, commerce, personalization, analytics, and more, to build custom-tailored solutions. Ultimately, DXC enhances the productivity of business practitioners by streamlining their day-to-day activities.
As content management has evolved from CMSs just managing content to DXPs handling the entire digital experience, solutions that support DXC (the next step in the evolution) provide business users with the tools they need to orchestrate digital experiences without being overly reliant on developers. To accomplish DXC, the content management system within a composable DXP must have the appropriate features.
Composable CMS within a DXP Stack
While best practices are applicable across all composable architectures, the content management system component is the key, as content is a cross-cutting concern. First of all, content will be leveraged across every channel throughout the customer journey. Also, other packaged business capabilities will rely on content.
Secondly, depending on the technology mix, a wide range of frontend technologies could be necessary to access managed content, such as React, Vue, Angular, Bootstrap, and others separately. Also, businesses need to consider the type of content application they want to build, whether it's a website or a native mobile application or a digital assistant that doesn’t even have a traditional user interface but is instead voice-activated. In order to facilitate this requirement, the content management system should have a few key features.
Easy Content Authoring
Authoring capabilities need to be user-friendly and capable of working across multiple technologies and PBCs. Business users must be able to leverage drag-and-drop tools with visual preview capabilities that allow them to orchestrate content using the CMS or other PBCs in the technology stack.
Content creators need access to various PBCs, including content authoring, workflows, deployment, marketing automation, search engine optimization, personalization, and others. Different vendors can provide these capabilities as PBCs. However, they must be integrated into the authoring experience to ensure consistency and ease of use.
Content authors must be able to work in a ‘cockpit’ built for their specific set of tasks. Essentially, businesses need the benefits of composability without also introducing inefficiencies for authors or marketers. As such, companies need to look for content management capabilities to plugin other PBCs and present them as part of that cockpit.
Efficient Software Development
Businesses also need to consider the software development lifecycle (SDLC). A development phase will include low code/no code wherever possible, and easy scripting of APIs and integrations everywhere else. There will also need to be a quality assurance phase before applications are moved to production. It’s also essential to have tools that fit into that environment. This means handling the concerns of DevOps, such as lower environments, automation (CI/CD), and monitoring. These are still critical components in a composable landscape.
Read more: DevContentOps - Headless CMS Meets DevOps
From a content management perspective, that CMS needs to support (or easily integrate with another tool that supports) the ability to move content from production down to a lower environment where the composable development/integration is going to take place. As the solution moves forward in the quality process, businesses can easily take that composed solution and move it forward into the quality assurance environment and ultimately out to production. And your package business component that supports content management needs to facilitate this or integrate it into that process in a simple way.
PBCs based on open source are ideal as open source software is more secure and helps prevent vendor lock-in more than proprietary software. Businesses that want to avoid vendor lock-in, maintain security, and achieve innovation, should consider open-source PBCs. Especially when it comes to content management, you should consider the tradeoffs of a open source vs. closed source/proprietary headless CMS.
CrafterCMS: A Composable DXP For Modern Experiences
CrafterCMS is an open-source headless CMS with enterprise features and functionality targeted at mid to large-sized organizations and fast-growing startups organizations that see innovation as a key to competitiveness.
The content authoring capabilities work across any channel and across any frontend technology. Its Git-based content repository provides several benefits that traditional database-centric CMSs can’t offer. For example, CrafterCMS also enables branching, supporting major design updates without code freezes or double publishing, and supports advanced use cases such as compartmentalizing teams and content. It also naturally supports time-travel-style versioning and point-in-time rollbacks and content audits.
For brands with very secure content or a new product/service that’s still in a secret state, they can create small teams on branches where that content is secure and visible only to that team. Perhaps most important, CrafterCMS supports unique DevContentOps processes, which brings together content teams and DevOps teams that drive incredible productivity improvements. The platform makes it easy to move content from a production environment down to a lower environment to support composable development, as well as the important quality assurance processes before going to production.
CrafterCMS as a Composable DXP
As a CMS central to a composable DXP solution, CrafterCMS plays many different roles.
Content Authoring and Workflows
The primary role is as the content management PBC. A content repository with authoring, publishing, and deployment capabilities is part of that core content management capability. Crafter Studio (the authoring experience) provides the cockpit that connects other PBCs and surfaces them inside the authoring UI. Authors get to use any number of pre-built PBCs within CrafterCMS, which improves efficiency. Out-of-the-box support for workflow and approval, user management, and many other capabilities typical of CMS are also available.
CrafterCMS allows you to choose the most suitable search engine for your use case(s) from a “best of stack” selection. Moreover, Opensearch is pre-packaged and available within CrafterCMS, saving you the hassle of integrating a separate search engine as is required with most all other headless CMS options. However, the composable capabilities of CrafterCMS allow you to incorporate 3rd party search tools such as Algolia if you desire.
CrafterCMS is a feature-rich platform with a sophisticated targeting engine that enables the creation of dynamic and personalized experiences. Additionally, its API-first architecture facilitates seamless integration with third-party personalization tools. With CrafterCMS, enterprises can deliver an exceptional personalized customer experience that drives growth and customer loyalty.
Integrations and Marketplace
CrafterCMS Marketplace has been expanded to include more than 60 open-source plugins, blueprints, and packaged business capabilities (PBCs), delivering on the promise of digital experience composition (DXC). This new and improved Marketplace is a critical element that enables business users and content teams to easily create digital experiences using pre-built, best-of-breed integrations and plugins without requiring coding skills. With CrafterCMS Marketplace, businesses can quickly compose exceptional digital experiences that drive engagement, conversions, and growth.
How Composability Enhances the Customer Experience at Marriott
Marriott International needed new technologies that would allow them to deliver content globally to mobile devices and other applications. Having a centralized CMS would enable them to provide targeted digital experiences to customers in different countries and allow them to work closely with independent hotels and brands.
After replatforming to CrafterCMS, they realized the true benefits of composable enterprise architecture. A modern technology stack meant reduced IT costs compared to their previously outdated legacy systems, content authors could leverage rich content editing features, distributed authors and content managers could collaborate effectively, and end users received an intuitive search experience. Plus, with CrafterCMS’s composable architecture and extensive integrations, Marriott also benefits from analytics, personalization, document management, and live video streaming capabilities that further enhance the digital experience for associates who serve their customers.
Read more about Marriott in our case study: Marriott International: Taking Hospitality to New Levels with CrafterCMS.
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