Roei Soudai, Vice President of Products at BlackSwan Technologies, introduces the composable business concept and explores how it can help your enterprise to withstand the unforeseeable events of tomorrow.

It’s easy to suggest that an enterprise should just pivot from one direction to another, because it’s more likely to result in success - be it for additional revenue, customers or market share. But the reality is that it’s not so easy to do. 

And considering the future is perhaps the most uncertain it has been for enterprises in modern history; with rising geopolitical tensions, resurging COVID-19 infections, and a looming global recession, organisations need to anticipate potential disruptions and adapt quickly to meet evolving market and customer requirements as they unfold. However, the monolithic applications that organisations have traditionally relied on have grown to become unmanageable and difficult to scale, and this is hampering their ability to adapt swiftly.

The default approach to enterprise software has long been assembling a single, large, and indivisible unit of code that lacks modularity. Although this monolithic architecture has simplified the initial development and deployment processes, the lack of modularity has complicated efforts to implement upgrades and limited the ability of organisations to adopt new technologies in the long run.

A technology upgrade, for example, would require the traditional organisation to halt its operations and rebuild its entire monolithic application with the new technology stack in order to ensure complete compatibility. System upgrades would require thorough coordination due to risks of breaking dependencies, and scaling software components independently would simply be infeasible.

Because of this, many organisations have earned the reputation of being the laggards of innovation, and they have been slow in their response to changing market conditions. This means that organisations will need to shift away from their monolithic approach to enterprise software development in order to build the resilience that will allow them to withstand the uncertainties of the future.

In other words, organisations will need to become a composable business to thrive.

What is a composable business?

Gartner defines a composable business as an organisation that is created from interchangeable building blocks, which allow it to rearrange and reorient as needed in response to internal or external factors, such as a shift in customer values or a sudden disruption in supply chain. These building blocks can be reused across the enterprise among different departments, increasing the efficiency of organisations in implementing novel applications in response to changes.

These applications consist of multiple independent sub-components that are analogous to atoms, molecules, and substances. The sub-components act as reusable building blocks for enterprise software applications, and they can be reoriented through the use of APIs.

Substances form a single component of a composable business application, such as a client lifecycle management solution, and they can be broken down into molecules. A substance such as document management may consist of several molecules such as document tag management, document grouping, and document collaboration.

These molecules represent basic processes, which are enabled by a number of atoms that represent granular functions. Each atom comprises bits of data that have been activated by a catalogue of data commands. A document tag management molecule, for example, may consist of atoms such as creating, editing, and deleting tags for documents.

Unlike monolithic applications that have intertwined data relationships, where data operations are executed within a centralised platform, composable applications abstract the data transformation process, bringing the transformation to the data. Through data virtualisation, composable applications provide multiple ways for business units to access and transform data from where it resides across the enterprise.

By rearranging the atoms, molecules, and substances, departments can create a wide range of business applications, while implementing functionalities that have already been implemented by other business units. And as a result, enterprises are able to adopt new tools and technologies seamlessly, and pivot business operations quickly in response to market changes.

How to become a composable business

A traditional organisation with a monolithic architecture can gradually modernise its technology base and transition to a composable business architecture.

Let’s consider an insurance company that has traditionally relied on labour-intensive processes to onboard new customers as an example. An unforeseen event occurs that leads to a spike in demand for insurance products and services, and as a result, the firm experiences a surge in the number of customers signing up.

To handle the increased volume of customers, the organisation decides to streamline its customer onboarding process. The firm intends to more efficiently onboard customers by reducing the time spent by staff on filling questionnaires and assessing customer risk profiles.

The insurance company decides to implement a composable business application with the required capabilities. An enterprise software platform that supports the creation of composable business applications is leveraged in the process.

The company recognises that it requires several substances that have already been pre-built with various atoms and molecules including case management, entity page, and source management.

The case management substance allows the company to encapsulate customer screening. The pre-built atoms and molecules are modified to customise the case management workflow as required by the insurance company.

The entity page substance provides staff with a 360-degree view of customers, including a risk assessment. The company customises the risk configuration molecule with different weights to assess customer risk based on factors that they have identified internally over the years.

The source management substance allows the customer onboarding team to organise the internal and external sources of the structured and unstructured data compiled about the customer, while classifying their credibility. This substance is modified to include additional external sources and to limit the access of certain internal sources.

After customising the customer onboarding application with the desired atoms, molecules, and substances, the insurer establishes connections to its existing system using APIs, making progress in becoming a composable business.

Other teams can then reuse some of the data and components of the onboarding application to build other applications. For example, the entity page substance integrated when developing the customer onboarding application can be reused when building a composable application for marketing personalisation.  

The future of business is composable

Uncertainty will always have a place in the business world, and organisations will need to continue to evolve to persevere. By becoming a composable business - transitioning away from monolithic enterprise applications and shifting towards composable business applications with a modular architecture - an organisation can remain agile and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

The four principles of a composable business

  1. Modularity – Applications are broken into smaller components that can be assembled or reorganised through APIs to integrate new business processes or create new services or products, giving the organisation greater agility.
  2. Autonomy – Smaller application components are well encapsulated to deliver clearly defined value with minimum dependence on other components, improving the resilience of an organisation. These components are capable of functioning independently or collaborating with other components, and as a result, new functionalities can be integrated quickly and applications can be scaled easily.
  3. Orchestration – Connections are maintained between application components, as well as the data and analytics that enable them. These connections are standardised and automated, and they can be easily deployed and redeployed across an enterprise with different patterns. This allows business units to easily share individual capabilities with other departments, strengthening an organisation’s leadership.
  4. Discovery – Components are built to be discoverable across an organisation via an intuitive marketplace. The components developed by a particular business unit can be exported to a catalogue that is accessible by all departments within the organisation. Other departments can then import these components into their applications, increasing the speed of adaptability of an organisation.

About the author

Roei Soudai is Vice President of Products at BlackSwan Technologies. He has close to 20 years industry experience in enterprise software product development and management.