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What Is Composability? The Road To The Composable Enterprise

What is composability?

Composability is a way of building software using “building blocks” composed of business capabilities. These building blocks can be assembled and reassembled with a no-code platform to create full blown software solutions.

Composable building blocks in enterprise software are known as enterprise components (ECs). ECs are modular, interchangeable, and reusable capabilities that perform actions or complete steps in a business process. These actions take one of three forms: 1) actions on people; 2) actions on systems or data; 3) and actions that perform business logic. ECs are fully governed and curated, typically by IT. They can be created in a variety of ways. They can be adopted from vendors or custom built, or they can simply be extensions of existing tools and systems. 

To compose an enterprise software solution is to connect and combine enterprise components without code to create a multifaceted tool that manages, orchestrates, & streamlines part of or the entirety of a business process. 

This is similar to how developers compose solutions using open source components, or how kids compose complex structures using pre-built Lego blocks.

The people who build these solutions are process-oriented and/or operationally-oriented individuals within enterprises. They may or may not have coding experience or expertise. We call them “Makers.” Makers may have titles or roles such as business operations, business technologist, or process excellence, to name a few. 

Makers can build many different kinds of solutions via composable techniques, from solutions that automate entire business processes to applications that do something very specific or solve a unique business problem. So, too, can organizations themselves in effect become composable. Gartner defines a composable enterprise as an organization that can innovate and adapt to changing business needs through the assembly and combination of packaged business capabilities. Though as we’ll see later on, it’s also much more. 

Read more: How composability and declarative programming power the Tonkean Automation Revolution.

What does composability look like?

One way to understand what composable software is, is to understand what it is not. SaaS software today is predominantly packaged. Namely, it is a bundled set of capabilities that is configurable only to the extent the software allows. Salesforce at its core is a CRM that has capabilities like managing leads, opportunities, and activities. It has a set of default views, workflows, and capabilities that can be configured to an extent, but also contain limitations. For example, it is very difficult to create a single report that contains both leads and contacts, you must have an account created for every contact, etc. While most packaged software can be further extended, these extensions will require coding or significant technical skill sets to develop (i.e. learning APEX code for Salesforce).

Composable software, on the other hand, transcends these limitations to transform the way end-users interact with and leverage technology. It does so by making software customizable, personalizable, and modular. There’s much greater flexibility and opportunity for interoperability. The business capabilities that comprise the “building blocks” that are used to compose software solutions can come from a single vendor, multiple vendors, or can be custom built. For example, in the future, a composable CRM will allow users to mix and match capabilities from multiple different sources. You may want to manage leads using the logic engine of Hubspot, manage opportunities using the interface of Salesforce, and track activities predominantly in Slack—all while using a unified database. A composable CRM will enable you to do that—all while preserving a seamless end-user experience. 

Additional customizations to composable software can be made at any time and without the need for additional technological resources or any assistance from developers. Instead, Makers can simply recompose or reassemble the building blocks powering the solution. 

Read more: The Year In No-code & Composability.

Puzzle pieces

Why does composability matter?

Composability expands the pie of who can deliver software, reducing reliance on limited development resources.

The world runs on software. It’s the most powerful change-making tool mankind has ever made. But fewer than 0.5% of people alive today know how to code. Only a slightly larger number possess the technical acumen required to implement and manage technological solutions. This has rendered nontechnical users dependent on developers not only to build new solutions, but to help them simply use the tools they already have. (And the solutions they’re eventually given often require all kinds of forced changes in behavior to realize any value, which makes iterating impossible.) 

This dependency doesn’t only hold back nontechnical users. It also hamstrings IT, who is charged not only with enabling the business to operate efficiently and creatively across functions, but with preserving the integrity (and compliance) of the tech stack and of company data, as well as creating new technological and process-oriented solutions. 

The problem is, IT does not have the bandwidth to keep up with the ever-increasing amounts of demand on their time from the enablement front. Neither do they have the resources they need to enable business and ops users effectively to begin with. Their options today generally can be boiled down to either: 1) Buy packaged, task-specific apps for the business; or 2) Develop custom solutions themselves. This is an imperfect strategy. Custom solutions regularly take 6–9 months (or more!) to build — and require IT to provide tech support and guidance even after that — and purchased apps, while effective at solving certain process challenges, can actually lead to gaps or inefficiencies elsewhere. They’re too functionally specific, and incapable of adapting to user-preferences or powering cross-functional processes end-to-end. You add a tool to solve some specific problems, but you can’t actually extend it to reduce the number of tools in your stack: this is usually how it goes. 

The irony here is the more apps you introduce into your operational infrastructure, the more complex and difficult to manage that infrastructure becomes. The result, then, is IT departments have to dedicate more and more of their time and attention to enablement, working as implementers or custodians, scrambling to solve cross-functional process challenges with task-specific tools. 

Nontechnical teams, meanwhile, remain unable to operate with real creative independence or in a true agile fashion. And organizations are less efficient, effective, and enjoyable overall.

Composability promises to change all that. It does so in part by lowering the cost and skill barrier to building complex software solutions and giving every person with the ambition to be technically creative the ability to be technically creative. This greatly increases the extent to which nontechnical teams are able to innovate and operate in a true agile fashion. And by providing nontechnical teams the ability to in effect enable themselves, composability allows IT to focus more on technological innovation, as opposed to spending so much time in a tech support role. 

Read more: IT Playbook—5 steps to scale IT with citizen development.

No-code

Composability allows organizations to operate and deliver solutions in a true agile fashion (iterative, adaptive, incremental)

I.e., to ship, at the end of each project cycle, a version of the solution you’re working on, implement feedback, and then repeat that process over and over until you have the most effective, elegant version of the solution possible. 

The impact of this could be seismic. In truth, composability could act like a second cloud—which is to say, it could do for nontechnical teams what the cloud did for developers 12 years ago. 

Here’s what we mean. Before the Cloud, developers had abided by what’s known as the Waterfall method, which mandates a strictly linear, stage-by-stage development process in which both the end-product and the plan for building the end-product is designed rigorously and completely in advance. This came at a cost. Agility, for one thing, was almost impossible; after all, it’s hard to be agile when the products you want to iterate on come via CD-rom. Those products took longer than they should have to reach customers. And because testing could only occur at the end of a project, user feedback and bugs would often be caught too late to redress efficiently. Sometimes, bugs torpedoed projects at the finish line, losing companies lots of money and time. 

The Cloud changed everything. Specifically, it gave developers a delivery mechanism and an architecture conducive to working in a true agile fashion when they wanted to. The speed with which developer teams were able to move increased ten-fold. Just about every software company pushes updates and improvements to their products weekly or in some cases daily, now, for example. And the quality of the technology developers produced increased, too. Agile, as Simon Sinek has put it, was the secret to unlocking “unimaginable innovation.” A commitment to it underlies much of the success experienced by companies such as Amazon and Netflix. 

Composability promises to extend the ability to operate in a true agile fashion from developers to everybody else. In other words, while the Cloud made possible agile development, which transformed how we build products, composability will make possible agile operations, which could transform how we build companies

Read more: Why 2022 will be the year of agile operations.

Composability enables software to be more modular, and thus more easily integrated, reused, customized, and personalized

For as powerful a changemaking tool as software is, the apps via which most users inside organizations leverage software are often the limiting. That’s because they’re “packaged,” which is to say, they’re designed to do one or two things really well, but cannot be customized to accommodate users’ individual preferences and needs—at least not without extensive developmental intervention. The same is true of connecting tools so that they can be used together. APIs must be built so that the tool can connect to other tools. Engineers need to get involved. At best, the ability to integrate or customize comes secondary to the core value prop of the product. In the end, these tools work well in silos, but not symbiotically, and tend not to solve users’ problems or enable innovation holistically. 

This is problematic. Because our tools were not designed to work for us, we in turn end up working for them.

Enter: composability. Composability fundamentally changes the way users interact with and benefit from software. Instead of always having to buy or build a net-new app, composability enables users to compose their own software solutions and access existing technological capabilities and data systems on their own.  

Key are enterprise components, which provide IT a way to holistically and safely integrate—and make accessible—their company’s technology and data. ECs are, in turn, also modular, reusable, and can be assembled and reassembled by nontechnical users in accordance with their individual needs. 

To build big things, or even to do semi-complicated work, no one-dimensional tool will do. Neither will tools that are themselves not conducive to being used in conjunction with other tools, that cannot be used without developers’ help, or that cannot be personalized or customized process-to-process. That’s just not how humans work. Composability accounts for this, enabling software to be more easily customized and personalized—which ensures software actually works for people, instead of forcing people to work for software.

Read more: What are APIs and what role do they play in composability?

Composability finally integrates IT and the business

The promise of digital transformation has long been to empower organizations to deliver more value by rendering data and technology not only more accessible, but more actionable, as well. 

Few organizations have realized this promise, mostly because it’s so difficult to truly integrate your organization such that data and technology is accessible across departments—and, in particular, between IT and the business, which have traditionally operated in siloed spheres. 

Composability changes that—and in the process enables true digital transformation. Through enterprise components, IT can enable the business to safely access whatever technological capabilities, data systems, and abstracted technological expertise they need when they need it. Similarly, composability allows IT to maximize the value organizations get out of existing software, by empowering IT to extend bespoke solutions with tools that can be reused in different ways across the organization.

This drastically improves cross-functional efficiency at all levels—individual, team, departmental, and organizational—and exponentially increases the pace of innovation inside organizations. It eliminates formerly time-consuming dependencies on IT’s enablement capabilities, and in turn enables IT to focus more on innovation in their own right while simultaneously liberating the business to do exactly the same. 

If traditional operational infrastructures mandates a creative ecosystem that is perennially bottlenecked, composable infrastructures promise a work environment where every component—no longer so functionally dependent on but fully integrated with IT—has what it needs to operate not only at full strength, but in a way that’s connected and symbiotic. 

Read more: Create a Composable Enterprise And Bridge The Gap Between IT and Business

Composable Enterprise

What are composable platforms and how do they work?

At their most basic level, composable platforms are what nontechnical teams and people use to assemble and reassemble IT-curated building blocks.

But that’s just the beginning.

Composable platforms, among other things, make no-code feasible for large enterprises.

We break down how in this post.

Read: What are composable platforms and how do they work?

What does a composable enterprise look like in practice? 

When an organization embraces the tenets of composability and pursues the benefits listed above, they start out on the road to becoming a composable enterprise. 

But what does a composable enterprise look like? Here’s an example. Imagine the following. It’s May, 2020, and your team—which is in charge of enterprise solutions at a multinational organization—needs some help. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, your clients (organizations in the healthcare space) are scrambling. They need new, technologically-driven ways to service their patients—many of whom have found themselves out of work—and fast. Several clients have asked you to accelerate the SLAs you have in place with them. One needs you to turn around a totally new solution, from concept to launch, in less than 3 weeks. 

Only problem is, you’ve never turned around a solution on such a tight deadline before—let alone while attempting to adapt to the demands of a once-in-a-century pandemic yourselves. As we know, custom development will take 6-9 months, and there’s no solution in the market that you can buy for such a unique situation. You look at automation tools, thinking they will help speed up key processes, but they require too much technological and engineering expertise to utilize quickly, with the kind of ease, and at the kind of immediate scale that you need.

What you need is to increase the speed and scale with which you’re able to build and deliver solutions, as well as adapt to new and shifting business needs. You need a way to reduce the burden on your developers to write custom code for every business need. You need a way to better leverage the existing tools and systems you already have. And you need a way to expand the pie of who can actually deliver software. 

Luckily, all of this is possible. With the help of a composability platform—which provides IT professionals the ability to curate Enterprise Components, along with a no-code studio with which nontechnical teams can use the components to compose no-code software solutions—your team is able to meet that accelerated 3-week SLA even faster than requested, by delivering your own solution into production. Using composable techniques, you do it in just 9 business days. 

Furthermore, you’re able to reduce future maintenance costs—as components are easier to update than individual pieces of code—as well as empower other business users to operate with greater self-sufficiency and creative agency moving forward. 

Interested in learning more about building composable solutions? Schedule some time with our team to hear how Tonkean—a composability platform—can help you get started. 

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