Building a Composable Business: Mindset First, Technology Second

While the terminology was first spotlighted by IBM back in 2014, the concept of a composable business has recently gained much traction, thanks in large part to the global pandemic. Today, organizations are combining more agile business models with flexible digital architecture, to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of their company and their customers.

Here’s a high-level look at building a composable business.

What is a Composable Business?

The term “composable” encompasses a mindset, technology, and processes that enable organizations to innovate and adapt quickly to changing business needs.

A composable business is like a collection of interchangeable building blocks (think: Lego) that can be added, rearranged, and jettisoned as needed. Compare that with an inflexible, monolithic organization that’s slow and difficult to evolve (think: cinderblock). By assembling and reassembling various elements, composable businesses can respond quickly to market shifts.

Gartner offers four principles of composable business:

  • Discovery: React faster by sensing when change is happening.
  • Modularity: Achieve greater agility with interchangeable components.
  • Orchestration: Mix and match business functions to respond to changing needs.
  • Autonomy: Create greater resilience via independent business units.

These four principles shape the business architecture and technology that support composability. From structural capabilities to digital applications, composable businesses rely on tools for today and tomorrow.

So, how do you get there?

Start With a Composable Mindset…

A composable mindset involves thinking about what could happen in the future, predicting what your business may need, and designing a flexible architecture to meet those needs. Essentially, it’s about embracing a modular philosophy and preparing for multiple possible futures.

Where do you begin? Research by Gartner suggests the first step in transitioning to a composable enterprise is to define a longer-term vision of composability for your business. Ask forward-thinking questions, such as:

  • How will the markets we operate in evolve over the next 3-5 years?
  • How will the competitive landscape change in that time?
  • How are the needs and expectations of our customers changing?
  • What new business models or new markets might we pursue?
  • What product, service, or process innovations would help us outpace competitors?

These kinds of questions provide insights into the market forces that will impact your business, helping you prepare for multiple futures. But you also need to adopt a modular philosophy, thinking about all the assets in your organization — every bit of data, every process, every application — as the building blocks of your composable business.

…Then Leverage Composable Technology

A long-term vision helps create purpose and structure for a composable business. Technology is the tools that bring it to life. Composable technology begets sustainable business architectures, ready to address the challenges of the future, not the past.

For many organizations, the shift to composability means evolving from an inflexible, monolithic digital architecture to a modular application portfolio. The portfolio is made up of packaged business capabilities, or PBCs, which form the foundation of composable technology.

The ABCs of PBCs

PBCs are software components that provide specific business capabilities. Although similar in some respects to microservices, PBCs address more than technological needs. While a specific application may leverage a microservice to provide a feature, when that feature represents a business capability beyond just the application at hand, it is a PBC.

Because PBCs can be curated, assembled, and reassembled as needed, you can adapt your technology practically at the pace of business change. You can also experiment with different services, shed things that aren’t working, and plug in new options without disrupting your entire ecosystem.

When building an application portfolio with PBCs, the key is to identify the capabilities your business needs to be flexible and resilient. What are the foundational elements of your long-term vision? Your target architecture should drive the business outcomes that support your strategic goals.

Build or Buy?

PBCs can either be developed internally or sourced from third parties. Vendors may include traditional packaged-software vendors and nontraditional parties, such as global service integrators or financial services companies.

When deciding whether to build or buy a PBC, consider whether your target capability is unique to your business. For example, a CMS is something many businesses need, and thus it’s a readily available PBC that can be more cost-effective to buy. But if, through vendor selection, you find that your particular needs are unique, you may want to invest in building your own.

Real-World Example

While building a new member retention platform for a large health insurer, we discovered a need to quickly look up member status during the onboarding process. Because the company had a unique way of identifying members, it required building custom software.

Although initially conceived in the context of the platform being created, a composable mindset led to the development of a standalone, API-first service — a true PBC providing member lookup capability to applications across the organization, and waiting to serve the applications of the future.

A Final Word

Disruption is here to stay. While you can’t predict every major shift, innovation, or crisis that will impact your organization, you can (almost) future-proof your business with a composabile approach.

Start with the mindset, lay out a roadmap, and then design a step-by-step program for digital transformation. The beauty of an API-led approach is that you can slowly but surely transform your technology, piece by piece.

If you’re interested in exploring a shift to composability, we’d love to help. Contact us today to talk about your options.

APIs Composable Business Microservices Technical Architecture


More about this author

Chris Murray

Founder & CEO

Hey, I’m Chris. I started Oomph what feels like many moons ago, back in 2007. It’s been quite a journey and I have been lucky enough to assemble an amazing team that keeps me energized and ready to tackle each new day.

My main focus as CEO is making sure Oomph is a great place to work, setting the vision and goals for the future of the company, and supporting the team to get us there. I also love getting to know and strategizing with our clients and seeing the positive impact technology can have on their business.

Before founding Oomph, I ran the Boston office for an early web development agency where I led a team that guided digital strategies for clients like Polaroid, Reebok and Stonyfield Farm. We also brought a content management system to market with both open source and SaaS offerings.

I am an active member of the Entrepreneur's Organization and live in Dartmouth, Massachusetts with my wife and three daughters.