When it comes to creating digital experiences for our users, many marketers and digital leaders still don’t know what composability can do for them, or where to start.
We're here to do some de-jargoning and explain why composability could help you build truly engaging, connected digital experiences for your customers.
What is a composable DXP?
Digital Experience Platforms have completely changed how organizations interact with their users – integrating various products, capabilities, digital content, and data together to promote interoperability across your tech stack.
It’s like moving from 2D to 3D in how you interact with your users. Greater freedom and sophistication from a DXP help you have real conversations with your users, personalize your offering to them and create a ‘connected’ experience for them across your digital channels.
A composable digital experience platform uses a modular approach to offer a dynamic, ‘build-your-own-adventure’ approach to crafting digital experiences – emphasizing modularity, flexibility, and interoperability with best-of-breed tools. Core technologies of a composable DXP solution – like content management, forms, search, optimization, customer data, digital asset management, content hub, analytics, and more – can be run using independent software systems connected with APIs.
A composable approach empowers you to handpick the perfect blend of capabilities and technologies – easily adding, removing, and updating them so that creating advanced digital experiences becomes a breeze.
Why have Composable DXPs taken over Monolithic DXPs?
Composable DXPs mark a clear shift away from what is known as ‘monolithic’ DXPs, expanding your capacity to customize tools that help you communicate with your audiences more effectively and better serve your business needs.
Monolithic DXPs have traditionally offered a more restricted experience than composable DXP solutions, through a tightly integrated suite of tools sold and managed by a single vendor. Like “composable”, the term "monolithic" refers to the architecture of the platform, where all components and features are bundled together within a single software package.
Over the past 10 years, monolithic suites have offered clear pathways for organizations and marketing teams looking to create more sophisticated digital experiences:
- One entry point — letting you easily find where to go to get things done.
- Consistent user interface (UI) — you’ll only learn things once and can apply the same rules for different solutions or digital experiences.
- Cohesive functionality — things just work. Everything is designed to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, making it easy for you to do what you want.
- Assumption-friendly — because things work consistently, you can easily make assumptions about how things are meant to be done/will function on the front end.
But there are drawbacks to monolithic DXPs, too:
- Vendor lock-in — monolithic DXPs make it really hard to combine new tech with the tech you’ve got.
- Forget about scaling — think one for all or all for none. It’s difficult to scale individual components, while it’s hard (and expensive) to maintain, and can see performance issues as you grow.
- Upgrades are big and risky — because changes must be rolled out across the entire platform, upgrades come with significant risks to performance, functionality, and security.
What are the benefits of a composable DXP?
A composable DXP strategy provides you with the flexibility to adapt your digital experience design without the constraints of a monolithic platform.
Each component is designed to be loosely coupled and independently deployable — making it easier to update, modify, or replace specific features without affecting the rest of your customer experience.
- Tech freedom: Remove the shackles of committing to one vendor. With some composable DXPs, all the potential capabilities are available to you – simply choose to implement what you need. Say goodbye to drawn-out upgrades or the need to re-platform. Handpick capabilities like your CMS, customer data platform (CDP), e-commerce platform, optimization tools, and analytics tools from individual vendors to customize your DXP.
- Faster implementation: The ability to switch capabilities in and out quickly helps your organization stay agile to business or technology changes. This means you can incorporate testing and analysis more easily into your digital management. Meanwhile, by using a headless architecture, a composable DXP can separate the front-end user interface from the back-end services and content, allowing developers to build and experiment with new front-end experiences without affecting the underlying back-end systems. This can significantly reduce development time and improve the overall user experience.
- Scalable and future-proofing: The MACH architecture of composable DXPs (explained below) allows you to adapt to changing demands and seamlessly integrate new technologies as you scale up. Composable DXPs are built using a microservices architecture (the M in MACH), which means each function or service is broken down into smaller, independent components that can be scaled up or down as needed. This allows organizations to scale specific parts of their digital experience independently, without having to scale the entire system.
- Connected experiences: By packaging up multiple 3rd-party tools into one platform, a composable DXP approach helps create unified experiences in the backend as well as for the end user. Composable DXPs use APIs, microservices, or other integration methods to make sure data exchange between the various components is seamless, creating a unified and connected ecosystem.
- Cost-effective: The ability to scale or remove individual components of your DXP can save costs, while you can quickly build, test, and deploy new features and services, and respond to changing requirements or user needs more easily, which can result in lower costs and improved ROI.
- Enhanced user experiences: Since all your tools talk to each other, you can offer richer customer journeys to your users. The scalability of composable architecture, your ability to quickly test, build and release new capabilities, and the ability to reuse back-end functionality across multiple channels and devices through headless architecture all combine to create personalized, smooth user experiences.
How does composable architecture work?
Composable architecture is a modern way of building digital experiences that is based on the MACH principles.
- Microservices: These are small, independent services or systems that each perform a specific function. For example, a retail website might have one microservice that handles product recommendations, another that manages inventory, and a third that handles payments. By breaking up a larger application into smaller, more manageable pieces, developers can make changes and updates more easily, securely and without affecting the entire system.
- API-first: Microservices communicate with each other using APIs, which are like little messengers that pass information back and forth. By using APIs to connect microservices, developers can create a more flexible and scalable system that can be easily integrated with other applications. For example, a fitness tracking app might use APIs to integrate with other health apps and devices, like a smartwatch or heart rate monitor.
- Cloud-native: Cloud-native applications are designed to run on cloud platforms like AWS or Google Cloud. This means they can take advantage of cloud-based services like auto-scaling, load balancing, and containerization. A cloud-based content management system, like Contentful, could be used by a university to scale up or down its management of content to accommodate changes in traffic or demand, such as during orientation weeks or exam times.
- Headless: Finally, the concept of headless involves decoupling the front-end, or user interface, from the back-end. This means developers can build and experiment with new front-end experiences without worrying about how they will impact the underlying back-end systems. For example, a news website might use headless architecture to deliver content to different devices and platforms – like desktops, mobile devices, and smart speakers – without needing to maintain separate back-end systems for each one.
Overall, these principles work together to create a flexible and scalable system that can be quickly adapted to meet changing needs and requirements.
Key considerations for implementing a composable DXP
The level of composability that vendors offer differs.
For example, some vendors may prioritize interoperability, while others will prioritize security, performance, or ease of use. Some vendors will rely on more open-source development of their platform, which comes with some great advantages (often cheaper, come with more accessible community support, and are typically very flexible), while others are more proprietary – which can allow them to specialize in certain areas that they can then market to specific customers.
When it comes to composable architecture – there is a spectrum of capabilities. A highly composable platform may offer greater flexibility and customization options, but may also require more technical expertise and resources to implement and maintain. On the other hand, a less composable platform may offer simpler integration options and ease-of-use but may be more limited in terms of flexibility and customization.
Ultimately, you’ll need to consider your business goals when deciding on the level of composability you need, balancing these against other factors like cost, scalability, and security.
Things to consider:
- True interoperability – A vendor should have an extensive list of integration partners that are centralized, and can help you find pre-built integrations that are right for your needs. Ask the vendor what testing and validation processes they have for integrations, so you know that integrations will work as expected and won’t introduce errors into your system.
- Governance and management – how centralized will the management of your architecture be, from integrations through to security? You want to be able to manage and monitor all aspects of the digital experience from a single location. This should include features such as user management, content management, access control, and analytics. Check that the composable DXP offers strong security features to protect against threats such as cyberattacks and data breaches.
- Freely available tools or downgrades/upgrades – a vendor shouldn’t artificially limit composability by implementing unfair fees to promote their own stack. A vendor should provide transparent pricing and documentation as well as the features and tools that are included in each pricing tier. That’s assuming they offer pricing tiers – they should!
Examples of Composable DXP
The University of the Sunshine Coast has undergone a significant digital transformation with the help of a composable DXP platform provided by Squiz. By leveraging our platform, the university has been able to create highly personalized experiences for students and staff alike. The new platform has enabled the university to streamline its digital operations, improve student engagement and retention, and enhance the overall quality of the university's digital services.
The university’s portal has integrated and unified all of the systems the students require access to. The centerpiece of the portal is a calendar that integrates the university’s student information system, Peoplesoft, the learning management system, Canvas, and the appointment and event booking system, Career Hub.
Representatives of the 15,000 students were heavily consulted to understand their needs and challenges with the existing system. This research found that students struggled to navigate through the ocean of information, portals, and emails – prompting a decision to migrate toward a DXP.
Across the globe, universities are increasingly migrating to DXP architectures to offer both students and faculty a seamless, personalized digital experience. Universities by nature have a complex web of portals, email systems, Learning Management Systems, library catalogs, and research tools that can benefit from the centralization and personalization that composable DXPs can offer.
Where is composable DXP tech headed?
The conversation around composable architecture is quickly shifting away from the role of individual capabilities, like abstraction layers or Customer Data Platforms, to a conversation around how AI will shape digital experiences in the future.
AI is positioned to transform all aspects of DXPs – think of its ability to quickly analyze data and create recommendations on these, while even acting on these recommendations for you. This idea of automation also stands to dramatically improve the responsiveness of a DXP. The fast-developing capabilities of search, meanwhile, stand to benefit from advances in voice recognition, to where users will one day very soon be able to have more natural conversations to discover content and self-serve. Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’ might not be that far off…
Composable DXPs are only now beginning to reveal their potential and organizations that adopt them today are setting themselves up above their competitors to benefit from AI’s role in revolutionizing the productivity, scale, and interoperability of truly personalized, composable digital experiences.