Acquia have announced its Digital Experience Platform (DXP) is embracing the composability. We ask what is the Composable Enterprise platform? And what does it need to achieve?


The more things change, the more they stay the same. However many blogs you read about digital transformation, today’s CIO still needs to make long term judgments in a world buffeted by short term events.

We know that change is the constant. But what are the constants in the change? And what do we do about them?

If we start from the premise (and hopefully we all do) that web services are there to deliver value to the customer, we can outline some trends that are going to keep coming.

  • Data. What we know, how we know it and where we can use it is increasingly (and rightly) guided by consumer agency, and enforced by statute. We should applaud that, because it gives choice to the people who ultimately part with their money to buy the goods and services we provide. With the cookie crumbling, we have both challenges and opportunities to make sure we get user benefit from the data they entrust us with.
  • Content. There’s going to be more of it. Marketers’ need to talk more directly and personally with their customers is going to grow and grow. This content will continue to flow through more and more channels. The CIO’s challenge is to make the management and publishing of this content as hassle free as possible. In short, the lower the opportunity cost to publishing, the greater the marketing innovation and the better benefit to customers.
  • Coverage. Where, when and how consumers receive this content will continue to proliferate - not just in device and channel, but in timeliness as well. Again the opportunity cost of creating places to publish content - in the right language and in a uniquely relevant message to the consumer. The cost of owning these places needs to reduce to match the proliferation.
  • Risk. There is a rising risk profile across the board that we need to get comfortable with handling. Yes, it’s security, yes it’s compliance and governance, yes it’s the increasing creativity of the net’s bad actors. But it’s also your brand’s reputation, even if a humble ‘brochure-ware’ (how I hate that term) site is compromised. It’s also the technical and design debt that are constantly trying to creep their way into your systems and swallow budget marked for fun stuff.

So, here are our bedfellows for the foreseeable future. How do we make the best of it?

Compose yourself

We’re going to need flexibility and power, lots of it. Gartner is encouraging CIOs to adopt a composable approach: 

“A composable enterprise is an organization that can innovate and adapt to changing business needs through the assembly and combination of packaged business capabilities…. ... An organization that delivers business outcomes and adapts to the pace of business change. It does this through the assembly and combination of packaged business capabilities (PCBs). PCBs are application building blocks that have been purchased or developed.”

- Gartner

If you’re a CIO, this may not need de-coding. For the rest of us, think of lego blocks building you a digital customer experience platform tailored to your customers’ needs. Except each lego block is a best-in-class at doing something really cool. And all the lego blocks talk together through API’s and micro services to make sure the customer is taken care-of no matter what the interaction. And you can add and take away lego blocks when you need to. You can swap out an old lego block for a new one, without rebuilding your entire lego pirate ship. And it’s not lego, but software. 

De-compose yourself

Composable enterprises can also de-compose themselves. You might have existing lego blocks that are just too hard to move (that legacy stock management system, or the product database fragmented across 30 markets). But that’s OK, composable enterprises use API driven connections to update and evolve in stages, while letting sleeping dogs lie for another day.

You can progressively hand-off responsibilities from your monolithic legacy Ecommerce system to new best-in-class replacements. Need a razor-sharp product recommendation engine? No problem - bolt it on and retire the outdated service without ripping out the ground floor.

Let’s compose a list

So what are the building blocks of a composable enterprise? Or rather, what’s on the menu to start being added when you are ready (your customers already are, by the way).

  • Customer data platforms. It’s CRM isn’t it? Not quite. CDP captures, collates and stores your customer data from multiple sources and builds a single view. It doesn’t necessarily then tell you what to do with it. But it will tell you what you can do with it. CDPs build in the kind of governance we see in statute from places like the EU and California and ensure the personal data is handled correctly. CDPs are also meant to be democratic within an enterprise - so whether you are in sales, customer service, analytics or marketing, you have a view that can help you. Particularly in the age where data is trans-national, and user-governed, CDPs give you both the opportunity to use data well, and mitigate the risk of it being used poorly. As the cookie crumbles, CDP will be the determining factor in whether businesses succeed or fail in their customer conversations.
  • The composable cloud. Increasingly enterprises need low-cost, low-risk ways of creating branded, accessible, compliant web applications at short notice. CIOs are being asked to hand more control to marketers so that they can communicate sooner, test messaging, evolve approach outside of the software development lifecycle. So there’s a new generation of technologies that deliver multi-site support (hundreds of sites with unique brand identities sharing a code base and single point of maintenance), low and no-code solutions that let marketers create and publish content on their time and without technical support, centralised content hubs that allow ‘composable content’ to travel between publishing points in flexible ways. It’s all about re-use, efficiency, experimentation and creativity distributed across your enterprise’s marketing teams - while risk, governance and maintenance is kept in one place.
  • Composable commerce. With a new generation of product recommendation engines that ingest product data from multiple sources and provide a single recommendation view back to the consumer, we can open up commerce for organisations that once had to support monolithic do-everything Ecommerce platforms. New API driven connector services mean we can escape the product catalogue buying experience and let consumers purchase from content driven touch points (don’t worry - the catalogue will still be there!). And no, you don’t need a single Ecommerce back end, you might have one in North America and two in Europe you just can’t get rid of (yet). The new generation of API driven services allow a single consolidated view of your product range to be presented back to the consumer. That’s got to be good news, right?
  • Personalisation and marketing automation. With your CDP in place, and composable content available, you can have fun presenting relevant content to consumers when and where they are most likely to want it. Built in machine learning helps to determine when your consumers are likely to be most receptive, and personalisation front ends are integrating more elegantly with no-code web publishing to let marketers experiment, test and learn with a lower opportunity cost.
  • The composable PAAS. Let’s not forget the fundamentals. Enterprises need scalable, flexible cloud hosting solutions that take the maintenance overhead away, while powering multi-site architectures. The composable cloud helps you move from mid-market to enterprise one step at a time, or from fragmented enterprise to composable enterprise one step at a time.

How to gain your composure

We’re strong believers in delivering web platforms that scale to these ambitions. Drupal has always had strong kudos in its ability to integrate and has  the philosophy of being part of a wider landscape. Its security credentials speak to its desire to be a good citizen in that landscape. The core/contributed/custom model provides a wealth of functionality, while the additional services provided by folk like Acquia make it the heart of a fully functioning composable enterprise customer experience platform. Moving forward, the incumbent XP platforms are looking bulky, monolithic, lacking in agility, and welcoming of technical debt. If we want to meet the challenges consumers are presenting, maybe we need to break things apart a little, before we plug them back together.