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Sep 14, 2023 | 5 minute read

Breaking Up With Your Commerce Monolith Part 2 (How to Unplatform)

written by Bryan House

Breaking up with your commerce monolith part 2

Once you get around the change in mindset needed to embrace composable commerce, how do you officially kick your monolith to the curb? Many think they need to undergo a wholesale “replatform” from Product A to Composable Architecture B. In some cases, that might be appropriate, depending on your digital maturity, the strength of your engineering team (both internal and partners), and appetite for change. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, for some organizations, a lift and shift may be too disruptive or risky.

Even though commerce is a big ticket, high visibility item, optimizing your technology, and therefore customer experiences, can be handled as more of a measured, pragmatic transition. We call this Unplatforming. I’ve seen this done successfully in two ways:

  • Strangler pattern: Choose one piece of the existing software platform and replace it with a composable architecture. Continue to replace pieces of the legacy software platform, component by component.
  • Start small: Select a single brand within a portfolio as a proof of concept (PoC), and test it entirely on a composable architecture. After ironing out the details, continue to replatform each brand using composable commerce technology.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of each of these approaches.

The Strangler Pattern: Pros and Cons

Like an interior remodeling project, the strangler pattern might seem familiar. You’re essentially redoing your house room by room while you live in it, until it feels like you have a new construction. If you’ve lived through a renovation, you know this process can be painful.

But, if you do choose the strangler pattern, I’d recommend starting with an area that creates competitive differentiation for your company, like the commerce catalog. Focus on a problem to be solved, asking: “Where are existing processes too challenging or custom?”

When it comes to the commerce catalog, merchandising requirements have become more complex. In many cases, legacy catalog infrastructure prevents merchandisers from moving as fast as they’d like to. That includes implementing campaigns, changing pricing structures, swapping out catalogs, taking advantage of new channels, and more. A composable commerce catalog solves that problem by empowering merchandisers with more flexibility and control.

Once you solve one problem, move onto the next solution that accelerates your time to value or improves your customer experience in a meaningful way. After your most pressing problems are solved, you can swap out commodity features that aren’t as urgent to change. The strangler pattern is great because it aligns with a best of breed approach: You can learn about new technology step by step, and Unplatform over time.

The downsides of this approach are that you’re living through the remodel. As a result, you may find that your old platform imposes restrictions you don’t want to deal with. Some critics of this approach also claim you’re just adding new features on top of an old platform, but if you start with the most pressing problems to be solved, you may not find that this is the case.

Start Small: Pros and Cons

Another approach is to use a smaller brand within your portfolio to learn and iterate as a PoC. Starting small requires that you think within the context of your brand, not your platform. Many companies have a “multi” problem – whether that’s multiple brands, geos, customer touchpoints, or channels. For some, using a smaller brand or geo as a testing ground for digital transformation could make more sense than decomposing and rearchitecting the house while you’re living in it.

On the plus side, experimenting with a single brand helps you better understand your true requirements, both business and technical. It enables you to truly get a feel for a composable architecture, and then build it to scale.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a smaller brand on which to test, you have to get creative. For example, Pella Windows and Doors started their Unplatform as the first in their industry to create a direct-to-consumer channel. Purchasing windows and doors is complex. As a result, Pella needed the capability for each customer to design their own configuration with its own unique SKU – a process that would be difficult without the flexibility of a composable commerce catalog. After the success of this initial D2C launch, the company is exploring expansion into additional online sales channels.

Other ideas include experimentation with pop-up stores, seasonal mobile applications, or temporary digital properties to see if composable works for your company.

Summing Up: Navigating a Composable Commerce Unplatform

Looking at the state of the commerce economy, I’d anticipate that more and more companies will adopt the Unplatform approach as opposed to replatforming. Given the growth opportunities of digital, these companies won’t be able to afford to put everything on hold. But, they can control their risk by experimenting with a single brand.

With that said, each company has to find the right path for themselves. Economic pressures, investment feasibility/delivery requirements or risks might rule your decision-making process.

The good news is that composability uniquely enables you to try new things and grow into your ambitions – regardless of how you choose to start. And, the transition doesn’t have to be as risky as you think: Experiment, test, learn…and you can accomplish big things.

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