What is a composable DXP?
CMSWire defines a Composable DXP as:
A 'composable DXP' essentially describes when a DXP is assembled from a series of best-of-breed solutions. These solutions work together via APIs to deliver content and digital experiences to the customer in a more agile and flexible way than a single, integrated and essentially monolithic platform. It essentially brings more of a microservices approach to the DXP space.
Kontent, a leading enterprise Headless CMS from Kentico, defines it as:
Composable DXP applications should be built out of smaller units, so-called packaged business capabilities (PBCs) that are task-oriented and independently deployable. This means that instead of relying on a single product, you can craft your own DXP and use industry-leading tools of your choice.
Andy Thompson (that's me!) likes to think of it like this:
A composable DXP is a carefully chosen set of best-of-breed applications and services, integrated together to provide a complete Digital Experience Platform with all the features a traditional DXP could provide, and more, with no excess baggage.
A few other helpful definitions:
- Microservice: a small, self-contained software service or project that provides a single dedicated function and can be integrated with other services via APIs.
- Software as a Service (SaaS): software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers. The provider delivers software based on one set of common code and data definitions that is consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers at any time on a pay-for-use basis or as a subscription based on use metrics. (Source: Gartner)
What kinds of 'best-of-breed' solutions?
Broadly speaking, a composable DXP needs to cover most of the same requirements that traditional DXPs such as Kentico Xperience, Sitecore, or Optimizely cover for organisations. This obviously almost always includes content management, and extremely common requirements such as analytics, email marketing, digital asset management, or online forms.
The broader marketing technology – or 'martech' landscape, is of course enormous! See my colleague's excellent guide to choosing a martech stack to get a picture of just how broad requirements can get. 😲
It's actually fairly rare to see an enterprise-level DXP implementation that is truly covered completely by a single all-in-one DXP. Typically there is an integration layer required to interface with third-party systems. The usual suspects that keep popping up are:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics 365
- Enterprise Data Platforms (EDP) or Customer Data Platforms (CDP) such as Tealium or Lexer
- Analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics or Hotjar.
To add to the confusion, many of the leading monolithic, traditional DXP platforms such as Optimizely and Sitecore are increasingly broadening their feature set by acquiring best-of-breed platforms and integrating them tightly into their ecosystem. This has led to them describing themselves as a composable DXP, since their suite is now composed of a number of complementary products. This limits choice rather than embracing freedom of choice, so I still consider this to be a traditional, monolithic, and not composable approach.
The difference between a traditional DXP with first- or third-party integrations, and a composable DXP approach, is that you're typically choosing a traditional DXP to cover as many requirements as possible 'out of the box' and essentially avoiding integration effort where possible, whereas a composable approach embraces API-first, third-party integrations, and allows you to choose the best possible solution provider for each of your martech requirements.
Example of a composable DXP architecture
Clearly there is no one standard composable DXP. The point is that you (or your friendly neighbourhood Solutions Architect or Digital Agency) compose the DXP of your dreams from any number of options.
Here's an example, based on some of the very popular best-of-breed services we see being chosen and implemented regularly, most of which you'll probably recognise. You'll also notice it's not uncommon for one vendor to provide multiple microservice solutions (in this case, Netlify).
- Content management: Kontent by Kentico (headless CMS)
- Email marketing: Mailchimp
- Commerce: Shopify Plus
- CRM: Salesforce
- Optimisation and testing: Uniform.dev
- Personalisation: Uniform.dev
- Analytics: GA4 (Google Analytics)
- DevOps: Netlify
- Hosting: Netlify
- Online Forms: Netlify Forms
- Serverless functions: Netlify Functions
- Content Delivery Network (CDN): Cloudflare
Underlying frameworks (not really microservices but complementary tools):
- Front-end dev framework: React.js
- Static Site Generator (SSG) and dynamic preview site: Next.js
Warning: you're playing on hard mode
A composable DXP is not a simple, entry-level option compared to the big behemoth DXPs. Quite the opposite – it can be a much simpler exercise choosing a traditional all-in-one platform 'off the shelf'. Some of the challenges you'll need to face and overcome include:
- Multiple vendors and contracts to manage and track
- Multiple user accounts in different applications for your editors/administrators, and increased administration complexity (although this can flip to being a positive if you only require certain teams to access certain systems and don't want everyone logging in to the same all-in-one platform)
- Inconsistent UI across multiple services, and increased complexity for administrators
- Increased reliance on solution architecture – although this solution architecture involvement can absolutely turn into a benefit if you already have this capability (or have access to it via your digital agency)
- Uncertainty/changing landscape – many organisations prioritise the stability and predictability of their DXP vendor very highly, which can be harder to rely on when you're choosing many vendors from within a rapidly evolving landscape. However – see the 'plug and play' benefit below!
The number one recommendation I can make to handle most of these challenges, is to make sure you have a very in-tune technical leader or agency to guide the technical side of your project. With this in place, many of the challenges actually turn into opportunities to harness, as listed below!
If your team has the digital maturity to take on and succeed with a composable approach, you have the potential to unlock some huge benefits:
- You can work with the systems you already love to use such as your CRM or email marketing platform, and only need to fill the gaps – integrating with legacy systems is often a hurdle with traditional DXP, but here, it's part of the plan.
- Freedom to choose best of breed services – for those gaps you need to fill, you don't have to settle for the functionality that comes packaged with your chosen CMS.
- Potential for drastically reduced cost. You can direct your budget toward where you need to invest it, and have more control over reducing cost elsewhere. For example, moving from traditional to a composable architecture saved one of Luminary's customers 80 percent in infrastructure costs.
- Freedom to choose your favourite development language and presentation technologies, such as the Jamstack. This unlocks top-tier speed, security, and scalability, while also using absolutely top-tier features from your chosen microservices.
- Unlock more channels – by not building everything on a specifically web-first DXP, it becomes much easier to integrate all of these services not just with your website, but with other channels such as mobile apps or digital displays.
- Plug and play – the architecture is designed from the ground up to not be reliant on individual services, and to use standard methods of integration. This means at any point, you can add or remove services without having to 'start again' with a new underlying platform, or be concerned that there might be a compatibility issue. In other words: avoid vendor lock-in. For example, in the architecture I described above, it would be possible to swap out Mailchimp for Campaign Monitor, Uniform.dev for Google Optimize, Salesforce for Dynamics 365, or even swap out your CMS!
- Being composed of a number of pieces rather than all-in-one, it also allows you to take your implementation one step at a time, rather than having to implement one enormous system. This makes it very compatible with agile teams, as I've been saying for many years!
Composable DXP has arrived
Now that there are so many focused best-of-breed martech services on the market, composable DXP is becoming more and more attractive to Enterprise. Supporting technologies such as the Jamstack and CDN edge computing are making it a better and better option for large and complex digital projects.
We're already seeing very rapid adoption by larger and more digitally mature organisations, and I predict composable DXP will be huge in 2022 and beyond!
Composable DXP case studies
Want more? Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in.