Why I Switched to a Composable Commerce Architecture

Scott Johnstone

 

"It's the technology stupid"

To repurpose Mr. Carvelle’s line from the 90’s, “It’s the technology stupid”. Your Information Technology (IT) teams CAN deliver on your expectations of fast and flexible solutions to your business problems, IF you let them invest in the technologies they want. Those technologies are open, flexible and “composable”.

Open so they can tell what the system can do and what it is doing. Flexible so they can grow into it and have it grow with them. Composable? Yes!

Many executives have a love, hate relationship with their IT teams. While they love the capabilities their technologies deliver, they hate how long it takes their IT groups to pivot as market conditions change. And, change has never happened faster than the last few months and it only seems to be accelerating. They leverage tech to support everything from their business operations, eCommerce, and retail to manufacturing and resource planning systems. They enable business.

The biggest issue that slows IT teams down is the effort to modify legacy platforms to interoperate with each other. Then once modified, there is huge effort to maintain those, often fragile, modifications. As platforms have matured, one would have thought they would become easier and easier to integrate with other systems and to an extent, that is true. But as an example of the reverse incentive there, it is easy to understand that it is not in IBM’s best interest to easily integrate with SAP. Or vice versa.

 

The Pressure is on Legacy Apps to Adapt or Die

Today, smaller start-up companies can deploy new products and approaches to legacy business problems and deploy them at scale in a matter of weeks instead of years. This pressure is forcing legacy application manufacturers to adopt SaaS (Software as a Service) versions of their software and liscensing models. To accomplish this, some attempted to refactor their legacy platforms.

Advances in SaaS solutions and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) enable ventures both big and small to spin up solutions quickly and this is causing proliferation of online alternative to these legacy solutions. Many of these SaaS solutions are functionally identical in their approaches. They either simply “Pave the cowpaths” (replicate or adapt legacy platforms in the form of SaaS based solutions) or create templates for standard functions and force customers to either adhere to that template or apply a patchwork of add-ins that build on top of that template to add the missing functions. Platform function + template function + add-in function means slow performance and rigid compliance to the extended template.

 

There is a different approach

Enter, Composable software. First I need to digress about a decade. When I was hired in 2006 to overhaul a large eCommerce site for a major outdoor retailer, the options were pretty straight forward. Buy licenses from one of the top platforms and start coding my integrations (many to platforms that were not designed to play nice with other systems) and user interfaces (these were typically language specific and took teams of people to deliver all of the experience). The project would take a couple years to design and develop and the integrations would be inflexible and in some instances fragile.

Then in 2018 I was asked to help design and build another site for a start-up and was given a “green field” to do so. I surveyed the landscape and found a solution that did very little out of the box, but could do almost anything with a small amount of configuration. This allowed me to “compose” the data structures I needed and it facilitated the knitting together of the transactions. This allowed the team to focus their attention on the difficult problems with sourcing products, tracking regulations and on-boarding and connecting dozens of desperate supplier systems with our platform. This project was easily twice the size of the project I had in 2006, but it took just 5 months with a team a 10th the size.

My priority was to avoid simply using SaaS versions of legacy application approaches to my commerce needs. It took some digging to avoid following the familiar legacy models. I sourced solutions that were SaaS native and not simply SaaS enabled. The center of my solution was a Composable Commerce platform called Moltin. Today, it has been acquired by a larger company that saw the genius in the innovative approach and it is now called Elastic Path. The platform is 100% API driven and is the first “Composable” commerce platform out there. After I completed my project for the start-up, I became an employee of Moltin and later Elastic Path.

 

What does Composable mean to me?

It means that the systems have sufficient data structure and interconnections to understand how an online commerce transaction would be performed. It has the basic components that everyone needs, but nothing more. It then is specifically designed to allow ME to add data structure to their APIs that enable MY business needs. Not everyone needs 27 size and color fields, but I did.

The composable nature of Elastic Path Commerce Cloud allowed me to add the data structure that fit my needs and made those structures a native part of the API’s I needed. Not everyone needs a 3rd address for an order, but Elastic Path Commerce Cloud allowed me to add it. And that story repeated over and over. Instead of taking weeks and months to develop add-in data structures and secondary APIs to support those data needs, they became a part of my deployment in a matter of hours. (Specifically, adding a single data element took less than 2 minutes to compose and 2 seconds to add).

Composable also means enabling net new micro-services that can be connected to my other data, to allow for some of my more obscure business requirements. No custom coding to deploy, just a few API calls to create and link the new service to my data. These are just a few of the MACH( Microservices, APIs, Cloud, Headless) architecture components that make composable commerce possible. 

 

The story continues

I have now seen my story regarding the speed to deliver eCommerce solutions for companies big and small repeated over and over. Those that can envision this innovative approach are rewarded with customization at speed at a lower cost than taking the more templated approach. If you have questions or want to see it for yourself, please feel free to reach out. I love showing it off.

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Scott Johnstone