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Design & Technology April 10, 2020

How headless systems can help you move with speed and agility

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Monolithic architecture is a thing of the past; we’re now in a headless future. Headless technology is quickly becoming the first choice for many organisations seeking to architect an agile and flexible technology stack. From commerce to content management, headless tech is enabling IT and Marketing teams to deliver the digital experiences their business needs and their customers want, across multiple channels, quickly and easily.

Headless – the basics

The term “headless” comes from the analogy of cutting the ‘head’ (which is the front-end in this scenario), from the ‘body’  (the back-end).  Essentially, headless systems view the front-end and back-end as separate systems and focus on the back-end only. This means you can change one aspect without affecting the other; developers can create new websites or applications without being tied to any specific framework or language. A headless architecture can enable flexibility, reusability, and connect various data sources to support your business in the creation of new digital experiences. 

Best of Need vs. Best of Breed

There are numerous headless technologies available on the market, from Commerce to Content Management Systems and Digital Asset Management. When deciding what kind of headless systems your company needs, there are two main options to choose from: 

  • Best-of-Need: is a suite of products which are pre-integrated and have a common user interface. It’s a generalist more than a specialist approach; each product in the suite isn’t the best in its class, but usually fulfills the basic needs most organisations have. 
  • Best-of-Breed: these are often niche systems which perform specialised functions better than an integrated system, often with the ability to quickly add or swap components which you think are necessary. One of the main downsides of these products is that they are frequently from different vendors and, as such, need to be integrated with other existing systems. 

The advantages of headless

Headless systems have numerous advantages, from lower operating costs to an easy setup.

  • Flexibility: multiple teams can interact with the system at the same time. Meaning your digital teams can each work on their tasks which are then connected via APIs. This gives each team full flexibility and can rapidly increase time-to-market.
  • Faster time-to-market: headless systems promote an agile way of working. Each team can work simultaneously on its tasks using one system without getting in each other’s way. Also, businesses can more easily and efficiently replace or upgrade various aspects of their existing infrastructure. This means the production process can be sped up and your website can undergo maintenance while still being online.
  • Stability: an established headless system will generally be well tested, stable, and bug-free. It will save you the stress of writing a custom user interface for data input.

The risk of using headless

Of course, like all systems, headless approaches also have a few downsides that companies should be aware of:

  • Forgetting about the editors: most companies spend a lot of time thinking about their customers and how to create experiences that they will value. However, let’s not forget about the people who have to create these experiences. They have to be able to easily use and enjoy whatever system your company puts in place to ensure maximum usage of said tool. Before choosing a headless system, brands need to understand how their teams work and what functionality they need to make them as effective as possible.
  • Aggregation and scalability: if you start to have many “heads” and many “bodies” it can be hard to track the dependencies each one relies upon, making it difficult to mix and match each component. Additionally, if a website needs to talk to five different APIs to provide the content and functionality required, it can start to have scalability issues. By aggregating the APIs into a management solution, these issues can be alleviated and also provide additional caching and scalability options.
  • System silos: Multiple different systems can mean that teams are not working together and data is not being shared. Organisations need to ensure that new business software can be easily integrated with others. This is something which is more likely to happen with best-of-breed approaches compared to best-of-need. 

ACCELERATE WITH Headless systems 

Flexibility and rapid time to market are critical for today’s challenges – long development cycles, upgrades and deployment times typical of monolithic platforms can no longer be tolerated.

Moving to a Headless approach for our technology platforms is increasingly the answer to accelerate and enable our IT and marketing teams to deliver the digital experiences their businesses need and their customers want, across multiple channels, quickly and easily.

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