You can't do new stuff with old platforms. Companies now realize that becoming fluent in “digital” is vital to their future success. Old technologies are no longer suitable for companies that need continuous evolution to keep up with customer expectations and competitive innovation.
Static monoliths are no longer the best choice, as companies need to find more and better ways to remain agile, customer-centric, and scalable. Disruptive digital transformation is essential for success and many businesses are turning to MACH architectures to accomplish it.
What is MACH architecture?
MACH architecture is a set of technology design principles to build new, best-of-breed technology platforms. The acronym stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless:
Microservices: Individual pieces of business functionality that are independently developed, deployed, and managed.
API-first: Functionalities are exposed through an API, making it possible to tie together two or more applications or services.
Cloud: Leveraging the full capabilities of the cloud, beyond storage and hosting, including elastic scaling of highly available resources. Functionality is updated manually, eliminating the need for upgrade management.
Headless: The front-end user experience is decoupled from the back-end logic, allowing for design freedom in creating the user interface and for connecting to other channels and devices (i.e. existing applications, IoT, A/R, Vending Machines, sensors, etc.).
While it’s a relatively new term in the industry, MACH is quickly gaining popularity for how it helps businesses deliver scalable digital architectures. MACH supports a "composable enterprise" meaning every component is intended to be pluggable, scalable, replaceable, and can be continuously improved. MACH architecture gives businesses the freedom to choose from the best tools on the market, and maintain a structure that makes it easy to add, replace, or remove those tools in the future - the tiny parts as well as the bigger pieces - integrations as well as core systems.
What are the benefits of MACH architecture?
Moving from monolithic or suite-based technologies to MACH architecture gives you the freedom to choose from the best tools on the market today, and provides a structure that makes it easy to add, replace, or remove technologies in the future. Put simply, MACH architecture allows you to break the re-platforming cycle once and for all.
Here are four benefits of MACH architecture:
Improved speed with less risk – With this agile architecture, you get a dramatically faster route to MVP (minimum viable product), and therefore to launch. For digital agencies, SIs, and even enterprise development teams, you’ll be able to rapidly roll out prototypes that help prove key concepts before investing in large-scale implementations. Rapid prototyping can also help circumvent tedious RFP processes saving everyone time and money.
Execute a best-of-breed strategy – MACH architecture allows you to take advantage of the best technology available. You no longer need to settle for less-than-the-best add-ons that come with software suites. Because of its composable nature, MACH can also help preserve existing functionality that you’ve invested in and are happy with.
Say goodbye to upgrades – Never worry about disruptive upgrades that seem like re-platforming projects in themselves, ever again. With MACH architecture, all releases are automatic and non-breaking. There’s a clear, inherent boundary between our code and yours which makes this possible.
Seamless customizations and fast delivery– Now more than ever, it’s important to be able to make changes rapidly as your customers’ needs change. Prioritizing innovation means prioritizing iteration. The ability to constantly change and innovate on the customer experience is a key pillar of MACH architecture. Whether you need to add curbside pick-up capabilities over the weekend or launch a rebranded ordering experience for a high-profile, enterprise customer, MACH makes that possible.
Improved customer experience - Given that the capabilities to constantly innovate and change are at the heart of the MACH concept, the value of this architecture becomes exceptionally high when we talk about customer service. Regardless of the channels used by brands for interaction with their audience, enterprise managers can easily personalize content, run loyalty programs, and track key sales and marketing metrics. As a result, commerce professionals can boost the number of conversions and close more deals.
Risk mitigation - Any changes and updates made to a particular component of a monolithic solution may violate the entire system's integrity, which may result in bugs and security flaws. In a MACH architecture, this is not such an acute problem because engineers only work with microservices, and even if a technical issue occurs, it will be localized within its component.
That's why MACH-powered systems are not only less exposed to human factors and safety risks but also provide more room for experiments. Brands can implement any features and services (even prototypes) and watch how they work in practice without worrying about the possible impact on the rest of their system.
Decreased IT costs - As we’ve already mentioned, the MACH architecture allows brands to quickly introduce new features and capabilities while being confident of the entire system's stability. This way, members of an IT department can work with different parts of the product on a parallel track, which dramatically increases team productivity and accelerates software delivery. Coupled with a shorter time-to-market, this advantage allows brands to substantially reduce operating costs associated with software development and IT management.
Streamlined innovation - Due to its modularity and flexibility, the MACH architecture enables enterprises to continuously implement the best-of-breed technology that is available on the software market. For instance, organizations can quickly and smoothly enrich their technology stacks with artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to remain competitive.
Monolithic architecture vs MACH: the comparison
Tight vs. loose coupling
Typically, the traditional software architecture stands for the monolithic software development approach. The monolithic model implies developing a single-tier solution the components of which share the same platform and form a consolidated software system. Let's consider an example to understand how this works in practice.
For instance, a brand has developed a corporate system that accepts and processes customer requests, checks the availability of necessary products, and sends orders to shippers. On the technical side, this system is divided into several parts: there are services for user authorization, invoicing, and tracking of the number of goods; simultaneously, it has a user interface that allows customers to interact with the system and make orders.
Even if the product consists of multiple modules and components, they all share one database. All these pieces of software are developed and managed within a single, unified system that operates simultaneously with all platforms and marketing channels.
Non-distributed systems vs. microservices
As we previously mentioned, in a monolithic architecture, each element is closely related and dependent on others. This is also one of the main reasons why developers of monolithic solutions can’t easily migrate their products into a new language, structure, or technology.
In contrast to the monolithic software model, the MACH architecture enables developers to divide modules and services into smaller and independent components (microservices), each of which has its individual database. These components utilize APIs to communicate with each other and deploy content to a central cloud repository.
Given that all of the above occurs within the headless commerce framework, content delivery networks can take this static content and use APIs to deliver it to customers via different channels, be it a mobile app, social media, or email.
Centralized solutions vs. the API networks
Unlike monolithic systems, which are often connected to a single database shared by multiple departments, each microservice has its own database. This helps developers quickly reconfigure microservices to make them perform different business functions or link them to the rest of the brand's operating processes via API interfaces. For example, APIs may connect e-commerce CRM, inventory management, and invoicing modules, enabling all system components to have relevant data when a customer makes a purchase.
What are the challenges of the MACH architecture?
Technological progress does come at a cost. While gaining flexibility, scalability, and the opportunity to use almost any preferred software development tools, brands also have to deal with the growing complexity of IT-related processes. Due to the complexity of the MACH architecture, adopters may face the following challenges:
Increased development time due to microservices
For example, if a system consists of many microservices, developers have to go out of their way to integrate all components via APIs. Although the MACH model aims to reduce time-to-market, the project development time may increase in this particular case. To avoid such risks, enterprises should estimate the scale of the work before starting development and have clearly written business requirements.
Growing complexity of project management
The constant support of microservices and monitoring of an environment that consists of dozens of components also cause stress for businesses. For instance, companies may have to establish an orchestrated infrastructure and replace their traditional hierarchy based on horizontal teams with a more cross-functional organizational structure.
Absence of a ready-made front-end
Speaking of MACH, the difficulties that may arise from implementing a headless architecture also cannot go unmentioned. Implementing a solution without a "head," technically you get a product without an interface, which means you will have to build it on your own or delegate this task to contractors. Sometimes, the development of custom interfaces can be avoided — teams can integrate third-party interfaces, but this may also incur additional costs.
Moving from the traditional model to MACH
Is there some way to address and mitigate the challenges and risks associated with implementing the MACH architecture? While there is no one-size-fits-all advice (a thorough business analysis is still inevitable), there are some steps you can take to ease the transition process and increase your project's ROI.
Here are a few questions that are worth your consideration no matter the situation:
Is our team agile enough?
By its very nature, MACH is a very flexible architecture allowing frequent updates and revisions, so it works best with the agile methodology. Incidentally, opting for MACH might be yet another reason to go for agile transformation. Organizing development as a flexible cyclical process, you can start achieving value from the very beginning of your project.
Do we have relevant frontend programming skills?
How should we monitor our MACH infrastructure?
To ensure that digital systems work correctly, customers are satisfied, and there are no security issues, enterprises should constantly monitor their environments from both technical and business perspectives. This means that your team should decide in advance which analytical tools the IT department may use to have a complete picture of the brand's infrastructure.
In general, it is critical to understand that a smooth MACH implementation requires long-term planning and careful thought over each step, which cannot be done without establishing a comprehensive long-term strategy. This is also essential since your solutions must be future-proof and capable of delivering value for years.
Besides planning the solution architecture, running the development itself, and choosing the right vendor, it is also essential to determine how your brand will interact with consumers within the new operating model. To do this, your company's specialists should take the time to map customer journeys and get familiar with the latest UX design practices.
The good news is that your solution doesn't have to be 100% MACH right away. As mentioned above, MACH is a combination of approaches and frameworks, so the architecture can be introduced gradually and come in parts.