Software Development

Composability: the building blocks for accelerating customer value

24 June 2024 • 9 min read

A close-up of a building composed of independent modules

Businesses that best serve the needs of their customers are best placed to outperform their competitors in the long-term. However, with consumers becoming increasingly demanding, as well as their requirements changing at a faster and faster pace, organisations are under increasing pressure to adapt quickly in order to compete effectively and to deliver sustained value.

In this blog, we take a look at composability, and how a more modular approach to software development can increase the pace at which organisations adapt to changing customer needs, in turn driving greater value, faster.

Still unsure as to whether you need to be considering composability? In 2024, Gartner believes that 70% of large and medium-sized enterprises will have composability as a key criteria for new application planning. Read on to ensure that you don’t fall behind.


What is composability, and why is it important?


Composability is a system design principle that deals with the inter-relationships of components. It enables the selection and assembly of different components, in a modular fashion, in order to satisfy specific user requirements. Composability serves the needs of a business by allowing organisations to build the right solutions for their users in a flexible way, where they're not constrained by legacy technology.

A helpful way to think about it is that composability is like replacing one Lego block with a different coloured block when you want a new feature or capability, without having to rebuild the entire structure from scratch. This means that components can be changed or added independently without affecting the whole architecture, similar to how you can change out individual Lego blocks when building.


What are the advantages of composability?


  1. Accelerated time-to-market: Composable architectures enable organisations to rapidly introduce new features or services tailored to customer needs, without the burden of overhauling entire systems. This agility translates into faster delivery of value to customers, enhancing their overall experience.

  2. Seamless integration: Composable components can be seamlessly integrated with existing systems, allowing organisations to leverage their existing investments while introducing new capabilities. This approach minimises disruptions and ensures a consistent and cohesive customer experience across different touchpoints.

  3. Adaptability and scalability: As customer needs evolve, composable architectures empower organisations to adapt and scale their solutions accordingly. Instead of being locked into rigid systems, businesses can swap out or add new components, ensuring their offerings remain relevant and aligned with customer expectations.

  4. Cost optimisation: By leveraging modular and reusable components, organisations can optimise their technology investments and reduce the overall cost of ownership. This cost-efficiency not only benefits the bottom line but also frees up resources that can be reinvested into further enhancing the customer experience.


What are the risks associated with composability?

One of the main risks associated with shifting to a composable architecture is the complexity of migrating from an existing monolith system to the new architecture, while still maintaining the existing system. It’s worth being mindful that this can take longer and cost more than expected, and it’s prudent to plan for this to avoid storing up problems down the line.

Another risk is facing resistance to change from people who are used to the old way of working and are uncomfortable with the unknowns of a new approach. Ensuring proper change management is important. You can mitigate this risk by involving the key stakeholders from the outset, and making sure you have regular communication with all impacted people across the business, to ensure they feel comfortable with and part of the change.

There is also an inherent risk of making wrong decisions when selecting components if the overall business goals and future requirements are not kept firmly in mind. This could result in choosing solutions that don't fully meet the correct needs. That’s why it’s critical to run a robust discovery process and ensure that you have a clear ‘North Star’ to guide your journey.

Ultimately though, the greatest risk is doing nothing at all. Organisations that stand still for too long quickly find themselves outpaced and outperformed by their competitors. That’s why it’s important to start your journey to composability at the right time.


Is my organisation ready for composability?


Every organisation is on a journey towards composability, whether they realise it or not. While composability has proven popular with forward-thinking e-commerce brands, there are a wide range of use cases for both B2B and B2C organisations that want to meet the needs of their customers more effectively. That said, it can be difficult to know when you need to start considering a composable approach. Some of the key signs to look out for include:


  • If it takes months to release simple features or changes due to having to change code everywhere in a monolith system
  • If teams are constantly "firefighting" to maintain ageing systems instead of building new features 
  • If it's difficult to find engineers with the right skills to maintain older technologies
  • If speed to market for new products and features is very slow due to architectural constraints

The advantages are clear, but it raises the question, “how do I get started becoming composable?”

Getting started with composability


The secret to getting started quickly and effectively is to consider user needs at the outset - that’s not just the needs of the customer, but also the needs of internal stakeholders. By taking a thorough, research-led approach, you can ensure that all user groups are accounted for, making it easier for you to manage change and bring everyone along on the journey. To make it as simple as possible, we’ve compiled a 6-point plan of action that you can use:


Building a plan of action:


(1) Conduct discovery workshops

You can’t start architecting a solution without first understanding the problems you’re trying to solve. Different user groups will have conflicting priorities and requirements, so it’s important to get a clear idea of these at the outset. A good approach is to run workshops with stakeholders from across the organisation - technology, product, business, and marketing, so that all perspectives are accounted for.


(2) Do in-depth interviews

Workshops are a great starting point, but to make the right decisions, you’ll also need a deeper understanding of user behaviour. In-depth interviews with both internal stakeholders and with your existing customers are really helpful in enabling you to understand what’s driving their behaviour at a granular level.


(3) Validate your understanding of requirements

Keeping your stakeholders engaged as you move through the process is critical to success, and this starts with ensuring that you’ve clarified and validated your understanding of all their requirements. Not only does this help you link them back to your organisational goals, it prevents you from wasting valuable time.


(4) Identify potential solutions

Once you’ve validated your requirements, it’s important to use them as a basis for identifying potential applications and APIs that meet your needs. A helpful frame of reference is to consider each solution through three distinct criteria:
  • Technology: does it have the capabilities and functionality we need?
  • Financial: is it in budget and aligned with our cost expectations?
  • Business: does it enable us to deliver the outcomes our stakeholders need?


(5) Select your applications & migrate them

Pick the solutions that align best with the criteria above then begin migrating on a component by component basis - this allows you to reduce risk and quickly identify (and roll back) points of failure if anything goes wrong. This also enables you to keep your existing architecture and infrastructure running so you have continuity and can operate ‘business as usual’ during the build of your composable ecosystem.


(6) Keep sight of the ‘North Star’

Building your composable ecosystem is a complex undertaking. To make sure you stay on track, and get back on track quickly if things go awry, it’s critical that you keep your ‘North Star’ in mind. What’s the reason you’re doing this? For whom? And what outcomes will that drive? Staying mindful of this during the process will help you to guide decisions effectively, and ensure you’re selecting the right components for the right reasons.


Getting organisational buy-in for composability


We’ve already talked generally about how you can get key stakeholders on board during the discovery process, but there’s always a risk that the finance team could become a blocker if you don’t make a clear enough business case, using the language that they understand. To help you with that we’ve come up with 6 key pointers for you to use in shaping your business case:


6 things to consider when building a business case for composability:

  1. The CFO is often concerned with sunk costs and the investment required to pivot from an existing architecture, make sure you’ve clearly articulated why the existing architecture isn’t fit for purpose.

  2. It's important to provide the CFO visibility into actual costs of maintaining legacy systems versus potential savings of a composable architecture. 

  3. Hidden costs like developer time spent maintaining old systems rather than building new features should be highlighted. 

  4. Freeing up developer capacity could reduce payroll costs by eliminating the need for some roles longer-term.

  5. The business case should show both potential cost savings and an ability to drive more revenue growth through faster delivery of value. 

  6. Composability can actually reduce long-term operational expenses by replacing expensive legacy systems over time; it's important to highlight the opportunity cost of sinking more money into legacy tech.


Now you know how to build a business case, let’s explore a real-world example of how we worked with an organisation to build a composable solution to their speed to market problem.


Case study: using composability to drive speed to market for a leading retailer of commercial vehicles


Our client is a Netherlands-based company that sells commercial vehicles online. Previously, whenever their marketing or product teams wanted to make a change to the website, such as releasing new content or changing product information, it would require going through the development teams' sprint cycles.

This process typically took 4-6 weeks from having an idea to getting it live on the website. The marketing teams were constantly waiting on the development teams to build out new features or pages.

They brought in AND Digital to help address this issue and allow them to be more quick and flexible in making website updates.

Through a workshop with stakeholders across technology, product, marketing, and business, the needs of each group were fully understood. It was clear faster website updates were needed to capitalise on opportunities in a timely manner. Requirements were then gathered through more in-depth interviews, and potential solutions were evaluated based on technical, financial and business fit.

On the basis of those requirements, we implemented a composable CMS for the client, allowing their marketing to directly update content without development dependencies. This gave them the flexibility to respond faster to changing customer and market needs through their website, one of their key sales channels.


Accelerating value for your business through composability


Here’s a recap of everything you need to know about using composability to deliver better outcomes for your customers, and more value for your organisation, at pace:


  • Composability enables organisations like yours to be more customer-centric through faster delivery of value, greater flexibility to adapt, and reduced complexity.

  • Taking a composable approach requires understanding user needs across all stakeholder groups and selecting the right technical solutions that are aligned to your business goals. 

  • Migrating legacy systems is challenging, but inaction poses greater risks in a rapidly changing market. 

  • The benefits of composability go beyond the top line - it also drives bottom line savings through increased efficiency and reduced maintenance costs over time.

  • Adopting composability requires effective change management and keeping the desired business outcomes firmly in mind when making decisions - never lose sight of your ‘North Star’!

    If you’d like to learn more about how we’ve helped organisations like yours to become more customer centric and accelerate value using composable technologies, have a read of our NBrown case study.


Software Development

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