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Composable Enterprise: The New Strategic Objective
The concept of composability requires a deep knowledge of assets, their functionality (and their limitations), how they interact with other modules to give rise to new capabilities.
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Among the top technology trends of 2021 is the “composable enterprise”. Think of all the applications and information that an enterprise needs broken down like pieces of Lego. Depending on business needs, these pieces can be quickly and creatively put together and – ta-da! – we have what Gartner calls “An intelligent composable business…that can adapt and fundamentally rearrange itself based on a current situation.” Gartner calls the Composable Enterprise one of the nine technology trends of 2021. If your business applications are not composable, you could be in trouble.
The composable enterprise is an important 21st century concept. It demands attention because we cannot, any longer, accurately extrapolate on experience and declare how the future will change. COVID-19 did that. Predicting the future has become a mug’s game. However, an enterprise still needs to be prepared to address the unexpected when it opens the front doors for business each morning. Business leaders know that being prepared is half the battle won.
Empowering business users and the rise of citizen developers
Composability, using tiny, modular blocks of software, is the solution to the problem of staying agile. Composability allows business functions to work with IT and modernize their applications by assembling, dis-assembling and reassembling them. Using these blocks, they can freely create new models, operational structures and user experiences—just like Lego. To do this, a bunch of processes, policies and best practices serve as guiderails. This is to ensure that business users (aka citizen developers) can quickly compose applications to serve their roles and teams without triggering business or regulatory risk.
This is the point at which technology leaders—CTOs and CIOs—within the enterprise must demonstrate that they are business focused. They need to work with business, understand how markets are being reshaped, the competitive vectors at work, and the availability of technology to counter them, plus how these technologies can be integrated with legacy investments.
To achieve this, the IT teams will train themselves to create libraries of assets, processes and technologies broken down into micro-components. If these components will be free of dependencies, and citizen developers can fashion them into custom applications and workflows.
Building a composable enterprise mindset
In the days to come, technology leaders who can guide their enterprise with a strategy for composability will be in demand. Their mindset should be clear. Besides their traditional roles, such as implementing applications like Slack for collaboration or SAP SuccessFactors for human capital management, they should focus on enabling the enterprise with assets that can be pieced together to address changing business needs and unique use cases. This would include provisioning low-code/ no-code platforms, integration hacks, exposing APIs, microservices, quality components, maintaining the flow of data and being ready for business exceptions, etc.
Intelligent leadership will also be mindful of the fact that a composable enterprise strategy will fail if it gets forced into lock-ins for the underlying infrastructure or the underlying platforms.
Let’s put that in context, without deviating too much from the topic at hand. Flipkart has no inventory, Zomato has no kitchens, but they thrive on the lifeblood of APIs. It is APIs that tie them to manufacturers, product distributors, small businesses, restaurants, payment gateways, logistics providers, review/ rating platforms, delivery agents and social networks. Flipkart and Zomato are doing this by composing existing capabilities to create interesting new ideas. Zomato even made history when its IPO was subscribed over 38 times with its market cap crossing the Rs 1 trillion mark, making it among the 50 most valuable companies on the BSE. It is easy to grasp the power of composability. But building composability requires a strategic reset:
- Shift focus to creating re-usable assets, open-source software components and microservices
- Move towards becoming a cloud native organization—where microservices can be orchestrated to rapidly create applications
- Turn API design, management and consumption, into a high art
- Make the processes of finding and using assets easy and simple
- Automate policy management to make consumption of assets faster
- Turn asset re-use into an enterprise culture (reward it)
- Showcase examples of asset re-use for speed, versatility and cost-efficiency across the enterprise, improving traction for the composable enterprise
The proven upside of composability
Recently, when Services Australia, that provides health and child support services and payments, saw a surge in COVID-19 related welfare applications, it changed its operating model from in-person appointments to phone and online interactions with its customers. It used voice biometrics for identity management across 1.2 million users and witnessed a 600% increase in the use of digital assistants. While its traditional website crashed, Gartner reports that the service continued to supported users by quickly composing new applications to manage the surge.
The concept of composability requires a deep knowledge of assets, their functionality (and their limitations), how they interact with other modules to give rise to new capabilities. It needs IT leaders within enterprises to move from delivering systems and anguishing over SLAs to guiding business through technological availability, providing the tools to build applications and access to data that makes applications come alive. Given the background of the pandemic, I won’t be surprised if enterprises begin to formally recognize composability as their next strategic objective.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.