Composing a Truly Agile Future: Taking the Essential First Steps Toward Composable Business
Businesses across the globe face an uncertain future, but one in which advanced technology and new ways of looking at business architecture can finally, properly support them. The composable revolution is in motion. Join it!
These are, you have surely heard, challenging times. The pandemic and other geopolitical factors have exacerbated the slowdown of the global economy. The UK is already in recession. The Chinese Yuan has weakened rapidly against the dollar. The U.S. is facing high inflationary pressure and a rising federal funds rate. In 2023, many economies will stagnate or even shrink. Across sectors, companies are going into administration mode, laying off staff or introducing hiring freezes. It’s a period of significant change.
For businesses to respond effectively to a strained economy or disrupted supply chains, they must have the ability to reorganize and reorient themselves, quickly and consistently, and do so before market pressures force them into unplanned change. To achieve this flexibility, they need to form themselves around nimble building blocks that can be reused across the enterprise among different departments.
And so, the call for businesses to become composable businesses has been sounded.
To be composable, businesses must consider both their business and their technical architecture models. They need to think about transforming from a platform-oriented organization into components that provide business capabilities, delivering them through multidisciplinary fusion teams that pool digital talent from different business areas as well as IT organizations.
But has true business composability been achieved? Not really. Not regularly. Not yet. This post will look at where we are in terms of making composable business real (early days) and what we need to do to move forward.
What is a Composable Technology Architecture?
At a macro level, all organizations are composed of multiple applications that support different systemic requirements; on frequent occasions with duplicated functions or siloed from the rest of the ecosystem. But when the focus is on a specific requirement, it can be delivered by a monolithic application that may not interact with the rest of the ecosystem. A monolithic application is built as a single unit, where all functionality is implemented and delivered as one.
Composable technical architecture departs from the monolithic approach by implementing and delivering functionality through independent components with single-responsibility capabilities and features. This concept applies at any layer of an enterprise, creating a culture where, as the MACH Alliance puts it: “Every component is pluggable, scalable, replaceable, and can be continuously improved through agile development to meet evolving business requirements.”
The Principles & Components of a Composable Technical Architecture
The selection, implementation and operation of composable technical architecture requires organizational change. A transition period is necessary where interim business processes are required and systems that provide the same capabilities run in parallel. A service platform must be implemented and operated to deliver coordination services and extensions for the selected components
The technical architectures themselves follow modern design-and-implementation principles:
- They take a headless approach, providing a clear separation between the presentation and the business logic.
- They use cloud native solutions and employ approaches like infrastructure as code (IaC) in deployment pipelines.
- Their development takes advantage of loosely coupled sync/async integrations.
What Does this Mean for Business Architecture?
Business architecture focuses on how organizations bring value and along with the underlying people and process capabilities that enable them. Through this lens, it is possible to understand how an organization operates and all the elements that undergird them.
When it comes to composable, there are leading examples of greenfield platform business such as ZhongAn and Amazon who built their functional domains from the ground up, and built interoperable teams. For instance, ZhongAn was able to rapidly deploy multiple different insurance lines with various partners all over the world, because their entire technical and business architecture was a honeycomb of service functions.
When it comes to existing business however, the challenges are much greater due to business silos, different processes and terminology, and misaligned incentives. Is it just a dream for businesses to become composable?
Composable Business as a Metaphor
What might it take to make the utopia of composable businesses architecture a reality? What is the business version of an API? Can we conceive of the elements of a business as modular and interoperable as an API? What will it take to apply, successfully, the technical metaphor in the business domain? In the same way technology has adopted principles of composability, so too must business architecture:
- Where technology is headless, business must digitize, separating their process and information from specific individuals to avoid bottlenecks where “only Karen knows the details of how that’s done.”
- Where technology adopts cloud native solutions, business must organise themselves so they can scale teams up and down, for example leveraging remote working, and focus on defining consistent and compatible micro-processes, short chains which are easy to understand and that together deliver value streams.
- Where technology uses loosely coupled integrations, ensure teams can work mostly independently, but where connections are needed there is a common lexicon to enable accurate and efficient communication, and that the teams have ability to share data.
It’s also important to remember one critical different between technology and business composability: people. Transforming architectures around people requires a careful understanding of culture, incentives and change management.
Composable business has only taken its first steps, but we can already see examples of the agility composable can deliver with the response of two companies to the pandemic: China’s largest air conditioner maker, Gree Electric Appliances, Inc., created a subsidiary to make high-end medical equipment, and Services Australia, which provides welfare, child support and health services to 25 million citizens, pivoted their operating model and supporting technology to respond to an influx of demand.
Moving to Composable Requires the Right Approach
Evolving into a composable business is a significant undertaking — one that will require deep organizational change management. Right now, the closest thing we have to composable business is manifested in MACH-driven architecture change. Digital areas of organizations, especially those focused on commerce, are readier and more flexible than others to implement new architecture. Business can focus on value streams and implement a composable architecture within the digital ecosystem that delivers key business capabilities.
The key to making organizational change real is the orchestration and collaboration between different business and IT leaders. An organization must transition from a single platform-centric view to one that defines value streams and ownership of components.
- Dependencies on multiple components to deliver a new feature requires good backlog management, that includes all the impacted components, to avoid delays on releasing the features.
- DevOps capabilities are required to build, deploy and promote services that extend and integrate the different components of the ecosystem.
- Interactions across components must coordinate within a composable ecosystem, requiring design-and-build orchestration or choreography capabilities.
We’ve helped many companies with these initial steps.
For Burberry, the implementation of a composable commerce ecosystem allow them to focus on customer service, merchandising and user interface capabilities to enable an uncompromising customer experience online and in-store.
After the implementation of a composable architecture for their e-commerce, Dawn Foods now has the ability to decide what capabilities should be improved or delivered, based on business priorities; something that was pivotal during the 2020 global pandemic and its aftermath.
The realization of a composable architecture is an iterative process that focuses on identifying key business capabilities, identification of technologies that enable those capabilities, when applicable, and the sequencing of implementation, based on business value and priorities.
The basis for composable success is a good tech foundation, and an open network ecosystem, to unlock true business value.
The result of all this? Reduced effort to integrate new capabilities, removed data silos and lower effort to replace components, giving business the adaptability and agility needed to respond to the changing world around them.
In short: It’s time to stop looking at incremental evolution and get involved in the composable revolution.