How valuable is MACH for your organisation?
2 February 2022
MACH: Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless; a concept that’s suddenly in the spotlight. Although the separate concepts are well-known and not quite new, an umbrella concept is now attached to this technical view. Does ‘MACH’ constitute the new ‘Cloud’, and could it be just as influential as ‘SaaS’, or would that be giving it too much credit? IO Technology Director Friso Geerlings anticipates that MACH will present a complex challenge that will also provide companies with a focus on an incomparable and omni-channel customer experience with plenty of value.
Part of the ‘digital transformation’ tide
MACH developed as part of the ‘digital transformation’ tide. Starting out mainly as a way to design larger web applications, mobile channels and front-end facing projects built from separate, independent components from different vendors, this view is starting to permeate the entire IT sector from the outer edge of companies.
Openness and interoperability are typical of the MACH architecture; applications built up in manageable components instead of monoliths. Geerlings: ‘A MACH architecture is built up in (micro)services, accessible through structured APIs. These may refer to services a company builds itself, because they are not yet provided in the market for instance, but most services by far are purchased in the cloud. Any required services are then combined into a private and special value chain.’
‘In addition, a MACH landscape relieves many concerns in relation to upgrades, scalability and flexibility. The landscape largely runs in the cloud, and the architecture with microservices and APIs creates plenty of flexibility and manageability. Replacing, improving or removing services is relatively easy and does not require the landscape to be completely reformed. Because the back-end and system integrations are decoupled from the front-end (‘headless’), MACH is completely moving away from large and vertically integrated platforms which usually come with a strong connection between the user interface and the underlying business logic. In short, the composable MACH architecture provides a great deal of flexibility and in particular the possibility of a much higher rate of change when compared to a classic (on-premise) platform that mainly requires a well-defined approach’, Geerlings says about the characteristics and differences.
For some companies, however, this well-defined approach may be desirable. In recent years, many companies have started using ‘suites’ of classic platform vendors. Geerlings: ‘A combination of sizeable CMS systems or DXPs, extensive commerce packages and extensive marketing packages have become the rule rather than the exception. Many features, such as search, analysis, ranking, content and workflow are included. On the other hand, you are dependent on the external release schedule of the classic platform vendors. However, if you deliver a standard customer experience, this is less of an issue. Because, in return, you get many functionalities by default.’
For other companies, these external release schedules are an issue, because they find it more important to carry out updates quickly and efficiently. Geerlings often hears that meanwhile, these companies spend more money on keeping the platform up and running than developing new business functionalities. MACH provides a solution, because you can release quickly and specifically.
"Companies spend more money on keeping the platform up and running than developing new business functionalities."
- Friso Geerlings - iO Technology Director
Creating a unique customer journey
This mainly concerns companies for which it is increasingly important to offer a unique customer journey. And thus a customer journey that can be adapted quickly and effectively to changing circumstances. Geerlings: ‘One challenge many companies face is a unique product versus a unique experience. Take meal delivery services. Apart from the fact that Thuisbezorgd.nl and Deliveroo focus on a slightly different target group, in essence they provide the exact same product: meal delivery. They compete in the area of customer experience which requires a customised front-end – perhaps several even, such as a (native) app, conversational commerce and website. You will want these front-ends to be linked to a range of services that can be combined and expanded in various ways, based on your company’s unique proposition. This requires composable architecture instead of a platform that provides a rather tight business format.’
Is MACH a fit for your organisation?
A MACH architecture can be of great value if you want to create a unique omnichannel experience for your customers. We help you get started in this whitepaper.
A flexible and scalable solution
Many companies have attempted to set up these unique experiences – and complexly organised value chains – on the classic platforms. In many cases, they find themselves confronted with a laborious configuration which requires 100% knowledge of a platform, while ultimately their use of the functionalities does not exceed a mere 15%. In addition, they depend on slow release cycles and are confronted with a lengthy and expensive upgrade process relatively often. MACH solves many of these issues. The landscape is built in microservices, permitting a specific selection of what you require. This allows for a more targeted investment in knowledge. In addition, a MACH landscape runs in the cloud, so scalability, infrastructure and possible peak load problems are not an issue. Various components – uniformly linked using APIs – can be used to select any required services throughout the entire value chain and customer journey.
More pros than cons?
So does MACH only present advantages? Geerlings leaves no doubt about this: ‘No, it’s not that MACH only brings advantages; it also presents new and other challenges. You might compare starting with a MACH architecture with making sketches on a blank A4. It involves considering how to build a system, the services to choose and the areas in the selection process that require attention. A classic platform provides more grip, because it provides a clear view on how things should work.’
‘Classical platforms provide assistance and direction in certain processes: how an order is handled in a commerce monolith or how the CMS works in terms of edit-flow. This is largely set in a DXP. Varying takes effort, but the default is 80% correct and usable’, says Geerlings.
‘This gives a leg up, but on the other hand it may provide less freedom. MACH provides greater freedom in that respect. If your customer journey requires few or even no unique aspects – because your product itself is already more than unique or niche, for example – a classic platform may well be the better choice. In this case, a unique customer journey is less important for the product,’ says Geerlings.
Technical knowledge required
Geerlings continues: ‘MACH brings increased complexity as a result of the entire landscape that must be overseen, increased integration tasks and more individual choices. The development of technical knowledge is actually the biggest challenge in switching to MACH. Or you choose an integration partner, such as iO, that has the required knowledge and capabilities. This is actually one of the most exciting phases of such a switch. Therefore, you often see that only one department or business unit starts relatively small with MACH. If it proves to be successful, such a new architecture will be rolled out across the organisation. Step by step, vertical by vertical. I also believe that this is the best way to start working with such an architecture’, says Geerlings. ‘That is the real advantage of such a component-based architecture: it is extremely flexible and you can start very small.’
"MACH brings increased complexity as a result of the entire landscape that must be overseen, increased integration tasks and more individual choices. The development of technical knowledge is actually the biggest challenge in switching to MACH."
- Friso Geerlings – iO Technology Director
The challenge: vendor selection
‘However, we should bear in mind one main challenge: vendor selection,’ Geerlings emphasises. No independent platform or community is able to provide adequate assistance with this, like the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) or, if you are able to look beyond that marketing veneer, Gartner and Forrester offer. They provide footing in the areas of cloud infrastructure and ‘classic main vendors’, but not yet for MACH services.
First, the industry needs to mature a bit. Technical choices involve a need for stewardship: a genuinely independent and more extensive overview of all MACH services, the options and limitations that can be consulted. Companies will require this once they get to work with MACH. In the end, every vendor offers something unique. And the needs of your organisation will determine the choice.
Should I switch to MACH?
The answer to the question whether you should (quickly) switch to MACH is not an easy or straightforward one. Geerlings: ‘Whether it is interesting to get started with MACH depends on several factors. If you have a ‘green field’ to start a new landscape, I would recommend considering MACH, whether for a new target group or market or not. This is interesting from the viewpoint of flexibility and scalability, and in addition may prove to be cost-effective because you only have to pay for the use of services. Things are naturally quite different if you already have a platform, and you wish to use and create a unique experience or converge a complex value chain in your platform. If so, it might be a good idea to investigate a business case for a medium-long period – three years is a good starting point – to consider re-platforming versus upgrade costs. It is important to start by clearly mapping the business and digital strategy, to determine the services required in the new MACH architecture. However, there is a difference in the extent to which the various classic platform vendors are following this trend. So, make a good assessment and make a conscious choice. This will ensure that your organisation does not miss this trend. Most importantly: choose something that really fits your organisation.’
The blog series
This blog is the first of a blog miniseries about MACH. In the next blog, we will deal with the questions you should be asking yourself once you have decided to get to work with MACH and how to handle your vendor selection.
Friso GeerlingsTechnology Director iO Eindhoven
At iO, Friso spends his day taking on only the most complex tech challenges for various high-profile (financial services) clients. All while getting the most out of iO’s tech teams and building connections between developers, users and systems. He regularly publishes articles of his own to further strengthen these bonds.
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