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Web Development Architecture Brand Strategy

What is composable architecture? A primer for brands and agencies

By Nick Linnell, Head of engineering

Kyan

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October 25, 2022 | 7 min read

The old world of digital product development is ‘monolithic’: single platforms, with all your eggs in one basket. Welcome to the new world of composable architecture, with Kyan’s Nick Linnell and Tom Marshall.

An unsorted pile of Lego bricks

What is composable architecture? Digital agency Kyan helps us through the tangle / Xavi Cabrera via Unsplash

Composable architecture is a phrase we’re hearing more and more in the digital product space. We’ve certainly adopted the methodology (albeit in our own way) at Kyan, and it’s proving a great way of working. Our teams are more nimble, projects have become more efficient, and the end product is an enriched user experience.

But what is composable architecture, how do we use it, and what are its benefits for digital agencies?

What are the origins of composable architecture?

The term is accredited to Gartner, who used it in a straightforward business context to talk about how organizations can package different capabilities into one architecture.

You may also hear it referred to as ‘packaged business capabilities’ or PBCs. These are multiple components that represent a well-defined business capability, but where the functionality is recognized by the user as a single platform, product or service.

Think of a car: a BMW is a product of multiple components, often wildly different in their functionality, from varying manufacturers (Bosch, Siemens, Valeo), with the unified goal of making the car work via some kind of central process. To the average driver, it is just a car, rather than a package of capabilities.

How do we apply this to the work that we do as an agency?

It’s about architecting a system from component parts, whether those are off-the-shelf services, SaaS solutions or self-built, and bringing together those elements to form an overall solution.

In the context of the car, there needs to be a way for the vehicle’s various modules to talk to one another and share data, and the same is true of digital products. This typically involves integrations between APIs (application programming interfaces) to create a graph of communication between the component systems.

Building a composable architecture involves selecting best-in-class solutions for all the microservices that you need (such as search, e-commerce, content); in front of all of this, you’ll have a front-end that seamlessly orchestrates the relevant components and services into a cohesive digital experience.

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How can we use microservices to build a ‘composed’ architecture?

Our client Baking Mad is a good example: an online baking community with over 1,600 recipes, delivered to web and mobile via their site. With this project, it was a case of finding the most suitable tools, ensuring they play nicely together, and implementing them. The tools we used included:

  • Kontent.ai, our go-to headless content management system

  • Flockler, which embeds social media posts for ‘social proof’.

  • Whisk, to make the recipes shoppable (you can buy the ingredients from the recipe).

  • Algolia, an AI-powered search solution that is hugely beneficial for a website with so much content.

These services and several others make up the broader Baking Mad ecosystem. But to the user, it’s just a beautifully designed front-end (created by us), with nice usability features that solve audience problems.

Another example is the work that we’ve been doing with Canada Life, focusing on their ‘sourcing engines’ for a key facts illustration (KFI) generator. It searches for equity-release mortgage products for homeowners looking to release funds tied up in their home.

This is a little different to Baking Mad; we used composable architecture ‘the other way around’. The sourcing engine is a service that we’ve created, with Canada Life gaining the ability to share that engine via API to third parties such as advisers, inside and outside of their organization.

Often, we’re helping clients work with a composable mentality and giving them the ability to package up the products and services that we make for them, and expand the business capabilities of other parts of the organization with those microservices.

Why is composable architecture so well-suited to digital product houses?

There really are dozens of benefits but we’ll keep it simple with just a few.

Cost: in the composable paradigm, we’re essentially proposing to clients that they only use what they need. A monolithic solution is one big cost. Microservices are generally lower-cost and more of a pick-and-mix approach.

Flexibility: a monolithic approach can be hugely limiting. By design, it will be a legacy solution so won’t be best-in-class. A composable approach means we choose the best tools for the job, and we can have engineers working on these individual projects, tools or integrations without affecting the core product.

Risk: especially for our fintech partners, reliance on a core platform is risky – if one bit goes down, it all goes down. Composable lets us choose reputable and reliable services, and it gives the space to test it first and swap it out if it’s not working well.

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If this approach would suit your venture, start-up or organization, get in touch with Kyan today.

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