Humans love to name things using jargon and buzzwords. Whether laziness, lack of vocabulary, and understanding, shorthand or secret handshake, we create labels to identify concepts, philosophies and ways of thinking and being. And most of the time, the buzzword – while often overused – is scarcely, truly, understood.
The digital / software industry is no exception to this. We LOVE to circle back, put pins in things, dive deep and align so that we can move the needle. Our list of jargon just keeps growing and today I’m going to dig in, explore and exploit a relatively new (ish) term COMPOSABLE. As in composable software architecture in contrast to a monolith solution.
If you’re in the technology space, you’ve likely heard ‘The future of the web is composable architectures.’ from Netlify’s CEO Mathias Biilmann as he talks about the acquisition of Gatsby or maybe Kim Seum-Madsen’s comment ‘the composable approach to app development is increasingly important, not just to adaptability but to future-proofing IT investments.’ This seems like a big deal, right? It is and not just as an architecture solution (wink).
By Gartner’s terms, composable architecture is one that centralizes around API’s. The API interfaces enable communication between features. Because the interfaces are separate from one another (or composable), they react more quickly and efficiently. And because the system works independently to form a whole, the solution is more secure, scalable and the features excel because they focus on what they were built to do vs. compromising to support and enable other features.
I buy this approach! Systematically this makes a ton of sense. Operationally too. Leaders of organizations don’t have a lot of time or money to prove value. Kind of a no-brainer to implement small chunks of affordable features and functions in a short period of time rather than waiting over a year to see a return on your investment. ALSO, think about all of the bells and whistles you may not be using in a larger, full service platform. What a waste.
Ok so Composable = good. Monolith= Bad.
Let’s take this same term, “Composable” and stretch it to apply to digital CONSULTING SERVICES.
With full awareness, I am completely and shamelessly exploiting this term to fit an argument for my benefit. Because, why not. Also, there are some interesting considerations and it’ll be fun to provoke perspective.
Those of us in the service industry (agencies, consultancies, etc) are familiar with multi-disciplined teams and business models. In software development we have teams of strategists, business analysts, user experience designers, researchers, creative designers, product developers, architects, engineers, analytics analysts, data scientists, quality assurance engineers, DevOps… I’m sure I’m missing a few. In my experience and having worked in monolithic agencies, the more integrated the team, the more successful the implementation.
To keep this simple, the way it works is a representative from each discipline sticks with the team throughout to ensure that their contribution is considered in each phase of the project. This prevents the ‘ol throw it over the fence tactic which usually results in misunderstandings, confusion and error. You know what else a multi-discipline approach results in? Higher expenses, longer durations and compromise.
Think about it. Let’s say your ecommerce platform is outdated. You have new requirements. You need a new design. You’re interested in using more modern technologies. Working with a monolithic service provider – you pay for all of the services throughout the entire project because the team is sticking together. You’re probably even paying for some overhead of people not on the project (dirty little secret).
What about the quality of the services in monolithic agencies? It’s likely that the agency has invested heavily in one or two disciplines, but to have quality across them all delivers very low margins. So something is going to take a hit.
Project duration should be another consideration. Larger teams require more management, more meetings, more agreement throughout. This all adds up to additional time (and cost) needed to deliver the project.
Conversely, consider a composable consulting approach. Working with a few different organizations that specialize in specific disciplines. These organizations have less people, less overhead and less overall expense enabling them to charge less for better, focused quality.
Additionally, composable consulting likely have repeatable processes to approach what they do best making the research, design or development time shorter. You’re wondering… what about overall quality? Doesn’t a separatist approach lend to misunderstanding, confusion and error? It can, but that’s where partnerships come in. Design agencies partnering with development agencies for example. A partnership allows a single thread to pull through the project, not an entire team. One person from each partnership is responsible to ensure quality is maintained from their respective discipline. Synonymously to composable architecture, this is the best of breed features (skills) using API interfaces to interact.
Finally, think about the benefit of a composable consulting approach in respect to relationships and contract amounts. Signing up for a composable consulting relationship means you’re not tied to one organization should something go wrong. And things do go wrong. A composable approach gives the client more control. In the case of a needed change to one phase of the project, not only does the client have the choice to change, but the entire system, project or application is not completely derailed or disrupted. The one potential downside, more contracts to deal with. THOUGH, smaller contracts can also mean smaller project costs and less approval time.
One final and important note here. The agency/ consultancy world has been riddled with mergers and acquisitions over the past 10 years. In my opinion, this is the worst circumstance and reason enough to consider a composable consulting approach. Agency acquisitions often result in a cobbled together organization with mismatched ways of working, misaligned expectations, different degrees of skill sets and a confused culture all charged at a premium.
So there it is. A new buzzword: Composable Consulting. It has a nice ring AND offers the benefit of speed, quality, lower cost and less risk. I’d love to hear what you think.