Digital suite or composable technology stack: which one to choose?

August 19, 2021 | Lazlo Cootmans

Blog

We have grown used to technology platforms acting like Swiss Army Knives. It’s not unusual to have a content management system (CMS) coupled with marketing automation features and an ecommerce platform, all in one. While these digital experience suites have their obvious advantages, a new best-of-breed approach is challenging them in terms of flexibility and efficiency. Is it time to trade in the digital suite for a full MACH-based composable technology stack? Let’s find out.

A digital suite

You’re probably used to the concept of a digital suite. It’s a technology platform that offers many capabilities to help you reach your business goals. Digital suites are often known as digital experience platforms. For one central license, you get access to a variety of features. These platforms often combine content management, page layouts and visual rendering with marketing automation, mailing capabilities, personalization, ecommerce and analytics.

This gives digital suites some clear advantages

- It does a lot for the price of one license.

- Your marketing team has to learn how to work with just one platform, compared to many smaller solutions.

- It offers you a fairly simple development roadmap, since you work with only one vendor.

This approach to technology does have its challenges as well, though. It traditionally requires more maintenance and regular upgrades to keep a digital suite up to snuff. You’re also locked in to one vendor. If you want to change this vendor, the process of transferring your technology environment to another partner can be a big undertaking.

A more fundamental challenge is the complexity of a digital suite, which lets it evolve slower, meaning you will lose a lot of digital agility when using this kind of platform. Additionally, the generalist approach to the various capabilities suites offer, makes it hard for them to be best in class for many of these features.

A technology stack

If digital suites offer the all-in-one approach, digital stacks offer the opposite. In a stack, you fully embrace the best-of-breed philosophy, adopting a variety of specialized technologies to support you in reaching your business goals. The frontend and backend are decoupled. Everything is linked through API’s, which allows you to upgrade or change the technologies you have installed without directly affecting the other elements in your stack.

A technology stack also has its clear advantages

- You’ll get the ability to work with the best-in-class technologies for the required capabilities.

- You can scale the solution to your needs, selecting the technologies you need when you actually need them.

- It offers more agility, allowing you to respond quickly to marketing trends.

The biggest challenges would be that you have to deal with a variety of licenses and your technology architecture will be unavoidably more complex. The marketers that will use this technology also have to learn a variety of interfaces, instead of just one.

Technology stacks based on the MACH principle

For a business to fully benefit from the technology stack approach, it should try to create a MACH technology ecosystem. MACH stands for:

Microservices based

These are independently developed, deployed and managed technologies that are based on the capabilities your business requires. They are the pieces of your technology puzzle.

API-first

All technologies are linked through API’s. They ensure that all relevant information that can be used in various technologies within the stack are exchanged.

Cloud-native Software as a Service (SaaS)

No need to install and maintain your own servers anymore. Through this cloud-native approach, you’ll leverage all advantages of the cloud, ranging from storage and hosting to scaling and automatic updates.

Headless

Your frontend is decoupled from your backend, making it free of whichever programming language is used there and the framework you have installed.

If your marketing team requires a lot of flexibility and relies on rapid experimentation, the fluidity of a technology stack will suit them better.

So: which approach should you choose?

The million dollar question: which approach should you choose? Will your business benefit from a digital suite, or should you chop up your technology infrastructure and go full MACH? As mentioned, both have their advantages and challenges. Ultimately, you should keep in mind that your digital strategy is more than just a set of tools. You need an infrastructure that supports the dynamics of your business and the market it’s in. The approach you choose should make future growth painless and shouldn’t get in the way of important business decisions. To help you determine the right approach, here are some things you should keep in mind:

What are the requirements of your marketing team?

Every marketing team has its own way of working and its specific needs. The advantage of a digital suite is that they often offer a very intuitive page editing feature, regularly approaching drag and drop level of ease. Since in a stack, your front- and backend are decoupled, this level of visual page editing is not possible. However, if your marketing team requires a lot of flexibility and relies on rapid experimentation, the fluidity of a technology stack will suit them better.

Who will be working with the technology?

Related to the first question, you should also consider what the team that will work with the technology looks like. How digitally mature is the team? Will they be able to work with a variety of technologies? Are there a lot of occasional editors that will be contributing on a content level, or are you working solely with a central team? Compare the team to the complexity of the solution you are considering. How do they stack up against each other?

How many solutions should be integrated with the technology?

Chances are you already have some technologies running that need to be integrated with the solution you decide on. Even though in a suite, there are a lot of capabilities available within the platform, there tend to be some solutions that still have to be integrated with it. If you already have a lot of existing solutions up and running, a technology stack probably is the best way to go. In every other instance, you should analyze the cost of integrating and maintaining some technologies with your total architecture.

What does the architect say?

Just like with a construction project, your technology infrastructure requires the right amount of thinking, planning and designing before you actually start building. The success of the project relies on the preparations done by the architect. Agencies like The Reference, that offer both suite and MACH solutions, offer the right architects to analyze the functional, non-functional and technical needs that will guide you in your decision.

Digital suite or composable technology stack: which one suits you?

The conclusion is pretty clear: every business has its own requirements. You will have to hold these up to the characteristics of digital suites and technology stacks to see which approach will suit you best. If you are looking for the support of our digital platform engineers to help you find the solution that suits you best, feel free to reach out.

Event

Composable technology stacks and commerce


16 September

Hybrid event

Join us during our upcoming event 'Reimagining commerce', where we will look at composable technology architectures and the role they can play in digital commerce. Sign up today to join us in-person in Ghent, Van der Valk (near Ghelamco Arena), or online via live stream.

Thanks for the read! Feel free to share

Get more insight