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MACH TWO: Retailers take control of IT destiny

By Miya Knights, Publisher | Friday June 23 2023

A growing number of retailers are adopting MACH-based architectures to enable and support digital innovation and business agility, writes Miya Knights, Retail Technology Publisher

A recent event suggests retail is leading microservices-based, application programming interface (API) first, cloud-native and headless (MACH) adoption in growing numbers.

Retailers represented the largest industry group at the second annual event hosted in Amsterdam last week by end user and certified supplier members of the MACH Alliance.

The industry practitioners said MACH technology architecture principles were becoming essential in helping them keep pace with digitally-turbocharged customer demand.

Common benefits cited by the retailers who spoke with Retail Technology Magazine at the event, including ASICS, Very Group, LEGO and IKEA, were speed, agility and efficiency.

Overcoming monolithic constraints

Niall Edwards, LEGO Group VP Technology, said the move towards a so-called ‘composable’ MACH-based approach arose out of two main industry trends.

“A lot of retailers that had matured over the previous 10 years using a best-of-breed approach with monolithic platforms had gotten to a point of frustration,” he said.

This platform approach resulted in slow and costly upgrade cycles that failed to deliver proportionate benefit, which was why LEGO embarked on a MACH journey six years ago.

Becoming a founding MACH Alliance Ambassador three years ago, Edwards added: “We were frustrated by all kinds of various constraints, saying there must be something better.”

Harnessing agile composability

Anca lordanescu, IKEA VP Engineering and MACH Alliance Ambassador, expanded on the benefits of enabling MACH principle of composability. “It’s all about decoupling,” she said.

“We started first decoupling our processes from the tech. We said: ‘Let's break the monoliths and create microservices, move everything to cloud, and remove point-to-point integrations.’

“Then we created standardised, decoupled and reusable components that we could map shopping journeys onto the customer experience and create an open UX [user experience].”

She explained that 70% of IKEA’s sales are still completed in its stores, where her focus was now on how to enable MACH principles to build the store of the future.

Looking beyond digital experiences

lordanescu added: “We’re putting customers in the store in the centre. Do they want inspiration, or to just get in and out? We can cater to many different journeys with MACH.”

Echoing the flexibility and agility benefits lordanescu highlighted, Mindy Montgomery, ASICS Associate Director of Product Management, hailed MACH for brand enablement support.

“We have the luxury of having a very mission-driven organisation that has a long-term strategy,” Montgomery said. “That makes brand enablement super easy.

“So, it's a matter of identifying what pieces are missing and asking, ‘how do we build that incrementally and deliver value as we go?’ I think MACH architecture really supports that.”

Building differentiated experiences

ASICS is using a headless content management system (CMS) from MACH-certified vendor, Contentstack, for business users to manage content more effectively in different regions.

Montgomery added: “We could give regions more control over their asset types and how they roll out things, because the business is structured quite differently around the world.

“The customer experience on mobile or in-store or web is vastly different in Japan than North America, for example. But it's still using the underlying platform that we've built out.”

A MACH approach also allows ASICS to maintain brand control outside of its ecosystem, with retail and sporting events partners, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and the US Open.

Future-ready IT enablement

“We have a long term vision whereby we're pushing into their websites, where they're calling into Contentstack to get the content,” Montgomery explained.

“We have to make sure we're presenting our products consistently across any channel, including some, like VR and AR [virtual and augmented reality] that don't yet exist.”

Paul Hornby, The Very Group Digital Customer Experience Director, said MACH enabled an out-of-support ecommerce platform migration. But, like ASICS, consistency was also key.

“We've built a design system that we've referred to as Fuse,” he said. “Now, that's making the end to end journey far more consistent, far more contemporary.

“If you look at some of our sites today, our brand strength is very strong in the upper funnel, and then weakens as you go through the journey and becomes far more functional.”

Ensuring consistency, accessibility

Hornby continued: “We have lots of different instances of the same buttons, and design and engineering tasks are unnecessarily arduous. Whereas the design system is creating far more brand strength and consistency, while also making the end-to-end journey doubly accessible.”

Nicolas Pastorino, Interflora Group Chief Product and Digital Officer, said the flower delivery network adopted MACH principles to rationalise its IT infrastructure on a global scale.

“When aligning and converging seven business units in different countries, we have to talk about organisations and cultures, and the technology was a natural follow-up,” he said.

Pastorino agreed with his fellow retail attendees that MACH principles were helping to meet a diverse set of needs and historically fragmented business model.

Unifying technology approach

“You need data to make decisions,” added Pastorino. “But you are running on limited resources, time and dollars. So you need to best allocate time to go fast.

“This is especially true for let's say older companies like us that have some legacy and have a large community of stakeholders, such as our several thousand florists.”

He concluded by observing that the technical approach advocated by the MACH Alliance offered benefits to older, as well as new, digital-first organisations.

“Even if you're an established player in a mature market, with a long history, including a long technological one, you can change quickly and still gain a lot from such changes,” he said.

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