Getting to Next Gen Commerce

The E2X Quick Guide to Transitioning to Headless

Matt Gould

Thu Nov 28 2019

What is Headless Commerce?

At its most simple, a headless commerce platform can be defined as one that has been architected such that the logic used to manage the enterprise (cart functionality, customer account management, catalog search, etc) is detached from the logic used to present the information and provide the user experience for interacting with your services. This separation of concerns allows a user interface great flexibility in how it can present itself to consumers and it further provides the back end systems a filter through which it can present its functionality, but allow scope for change under the surface.

What are the business benefits?

A headless commerce platform based on microservices can provide the framework for a business to rapidly innovate its UX through introducing new channels and ways of engaging the end customer quickly and at relatively low cost.

Through consistency of brand and the convenience of product and service availability in any touchpoint, diverse businesses (brands, retailers, manufacturers, publishers, travel companies and financial services etc) can build a loyal customer base who are empowered to interact with the brand and consume product and services with absolute flexibility.

Given the rapidity of change in consumer behaviour and the continual disruption of the digital landscape, a headless approach provides extreme flexibility. Microservices also brings with it the idea that you never need to re-platform as once embraced you can simply change services one at a time rather than needing to replace a system with a large functional footprint as is commonly seen with monolithic platforms.

There is also the technology factor. Tech teams enjoy working with the latest technology and a headless architecture will allow teams to use different technology as each service is developed in isolation making it easier to bring in new technology. 

Increasingly businesses, regardless of vertical, are needing to embrace technology as a core function, many frame transition as being not so much moving to digital but becoming ‘a tech company that sells clothes, cars, insurance banking travel experience etc’. This makes the sustainability and attractiveness of your tech approach a must have and therefore setting up an approach that will allow you to attract and retain the best tech talent is key to success.

How to decide if Headless is for you?

Before embarking on this journey you need to be sure it is right for your business. There are two key factors we would advise you to consider here:

1. Is there a clear business case?

Does growing and sustaining your business require the flexibility of a headless or microservice based approach or is your product and service offer one that can be supported with a more traditional  and less complex approach?

2. Do you have the right IT skills and depth of resources?

The effort required to stand up and operate a headless platform should not be underestimated. You need an operational infrastructure that harnesses cloud technology and manages the integration of potentially many SaaS products, that can automate deployments and testing, that provides a service mesh, security management tools, development and test environments for a multiple application footprint where potentially you previously only had one (if you are moving from a monolith). 

You could look to solutions like E2X’s KATA to take a lot of the complexity away and accelerate the introduction of microservices but you still need to operate this unless you plan to go for a full Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) approach. But then if you are going to buy IaaS plus all the applications you need as SaaS then why not just stick with a monolithic platform? If the business case is strong enough then this should outweigh these concerns and make a fully serviced approach to going headless the right strategy.

Operational Consideration

New SaaS based applications are coming to market regularly that offer new opportunities for engaging the customer on the promise that they can be easily integrated and tested and as easily cancelled if they don’t deliver the expected value.

The ability to manage and control many services and ensuring they all work in tandem with seamless confidence requires a mature and automated development and deployment process that allows you to deploy multiple times with absolute predictability.

Ensure the farm of services is constantly monitored and highly available by ensuring common services used across the enterprise are available consistently.

Finally, the ability to proactively recover from error states and respond rapidly to unexpected circumstances in an autonomous fashion allows you to concentrate on feature creation and business and customer success.

Service Abstraction

Gaining the benefit of this potential flexibility and innovation opportunity requires an architectural framework that ensures that these new services can be added and removed without compromising core platforms features and data (customer, product, orders).

Coherent and consistent aggregation of services in an API language aligned with the brand values of the client allows for great flexibility in the enterprise.

Customer expectation is always high. This is only satisfied by a personalised and relevant experience during shopping. E2X’s KATA leverages the power of the Open API specification to build the API first layer that successfully carries you over the architectural hump.

Strangulation vs International Staged Rollout vs Big Bang

How you transition is as important as the decision as to whether headless is right for your business. The beauty of moving to microservices is that you do not have to do it in one hit. You can choose to go service by service, ideally starting with replacing or adding a service that will add significant early business value. This has the advantage of providing an early ROI opportunity and also starting with a POC approach.

This service by service approach where the monolith is decommissioned over time is referred to as strangulation. Another common starting point for businesses trading internationally would be to choose to rollout a minimal viable version of a new commerce site in a new or smaller international territory which can act as a test bed without risking significant revenue generation. Once the business is confident that the site is performant and sales are flowing as expected in this ‘test’ geography then the rollout can move forward to larger and more important markets.

The last option is a big bang approach in which the whole of the monolith commerce platform footprint is replaced in all geographies in one hit. It’s been done before and will be done again but takes nerves of steel and confidence that your new technology is going to be up to the job. 

Much of this risk resides in the operational readiness of your new platform. Regardless of whether you choose to go with strangulation, international staging or big bang, having addressed all aspects of operations, through deploying into the cloud, automated testing,  security and service management. Getting this right should be a non-negotiable as this is where the potential for causing significant brand damage through downtime resides. This is E2X developed KATA, to provide a turn key operational ready microservices environment to get you live with headless as fast as possible with a fully scalable cloud architecture and infrastructure.

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