MACH TWO: Composable tech comes of age
Industry practitioners discuss how the technical principles of MACH hold the key to digital transformation and true omnichannel agility for retailers, reports Miya Knights, Retail Technology Publisher
Retailers are leading the way in moving away from monolithic technology platforms and architectures in their quest to keep pace with customer demand, it emerged recently.
As the largest industry group represented at the event, these retailers all agreed that the tech approach advocated by the Alliance has become an essential enabler for omnichannel businesses today.
One such retailer representative said the microservices-based, application programming interface (API) first, cloud-native and headless (MACH) mandate is becoming a differentiator.
Standardising with composable
“MACH has become a standard,” said Anca lordanescu, IKEA Vice President (VP) of Engineering. “The only way to get economies of scale is actually to become composable.”
As a members-based organisation, the MACH Alliance has created standardised criteria based on its trademarked, titular acronym, which it uses to certify its tech supplier members.
lordanescu, who is also an Alliance Ambassador, explained how the Alliance certification process for suppliers lowers the barrier of entry for end-user organisations looking to move to MACH from monolithic platforms.
“Consider what experience customers want when looking at a product in a store or seeing it immersively in their room,” she said. “But you can’t do either with monolithic platforms.”
Enabling competitive differentiation
As only the second annual event gathering members together to share emerging MACH best practice, the Alliance positioned its supplier members as alternatives to platform providers.
Alliance suppliers are certified as pluggable, scalable, replaceable, to allow for continuous improvement through agile development that can meet evolving business requirements.
lordanescu said: “We still have to use Salesforce and SAP because we have standard processes that need to survive. But we can’t put our whole workforce on developing these things.
“So, deliberately, we say, if it’s not differentiating, leave them because we don't have enough resources to do the work now. But I'm a strong advocate of composable architectures.”
Alternative engineering approach
As an emerging alternative to platform providers, many end-using and supplier member organisations also agreed MACH was the only viable alternative to a “rip and replace” approach.
lordanescu explained: “This is how we are evolving from a layered architecture into a composable one. It’s the only way we can create an omnichannel customer experience.”
Jasmin Guthmann, Alliance VP and Chief Marketing Officer of Contentstack (as one of the four 2020 Alliance founding vendors), added members were focused on, “how to do MACH”.
Guthmann said: “I think one of the proof points we’re seeing is the increasing use of the terminology or a need to be MACH certified in a lot of RFPs [request for proposals].”
Building on Guthmann’s proof point, Kelly Goetsch, MACH Alliance Chair and Chief Security Officer of commercetools (as another founding member), cautioned against “MACH-washing”.
“Composable is a high level, more business-focused view of building with different solutions,” stated Goetsch. “But anybody that has an API these days is claiming to be composable.
“We have standards for enforcing our trademark. And, by the way, Adobe and Salesforce have both claimed to be MACH-based. So, it is definitely not lost on them.”
The Alliance board members also highlighted the ability to drive digital transformation into the store as the point of differentiation of MACH providers from legacy platform vendors.
Making MACH channel-agnostic
Casper Rasmussen, Alliance President and Senior Vice President of Technology for founding Alliance member organisation Valtech, highlighted MACH’s omnichannel principles.
“Never have I seen anyone embark on this type of mission without having the ambition of starting to actually do proper CX [customer experience],” he said. “It shouldn't start and stop with the website. The consumer journey should be able to start anywhere.”
Balakrishnan Submaranian, Vice President of Digital Experiences for Mars, attributed the development of MACH-based software engineering principles to early digital retail requirements.
Having worked on large-scale retail IT implementation projects, Submaranian said: “The MACH journey was recognised, probably in the 2012-2013 period, by the likes of advanced retail companies like Tesco in order to cater to omnichannel demand, such as click and collect.
Building future-ready experiences
“I was part of the implementation of a large scale ATG, Oracle and PIM [product information management] systems, etc., in that time. But, very quickly, in three, four years, they realised that, with the need to cater to the market, it's [the implementation is] not going to be at speed.
“So, between 2013 and 2018, these organisations built up large-scale internal tech forces to say it's not working and actually decompose these capabilities. They had huge teams that used to build these custom services.”
Submaranian: “The advantage I see now with composable, especially companies like Mars, which are trying to get closer to consumers means we need to be on a journey, where we don't want to stand up large scale engineering teams.”
He concluded by saying that the Alliance Ambassadors and Founders all agreed, today, “it is more important to have more composable capabilities so that they can interact with the UX [user experience] of the future”.