In the exciting world of startups and scaleups, it’s important to remember that some of the biggest implementers of MACH solutions are actually long-established, enterprise system integrators. 

With expertise and client relationships pre-dating composable commerce, these companies are well placed to understand the client’s history with technology, business practices and digital maturity. This allows them to recommend technologies and implementations suited to the client’s ambitions and scale. This comes packaged up with highly sophisticated digital strategy, and services such as change management, customer experience development, competitive intelligence, and brand positioning.

Joining us this week on Martalks is the person leading the charge for Capgemini’s ecommerce practice, Chris Harrison. Chris is one of the most respected thought leaders and ecommerce experts in the industry, after decades of experience as a technology leader and consultant, at Accenture, Aquity, DTE and Ford. This leaves Chris ideally placed to critique and refine technology implementation processes and develop industry leading best-practices – which includes leading Capgemini’s service offering in the fast-moving world of MACH architecture.

The recurring theme in our conversation was the non-technical parts of technology implementation – around people, culture, and process, which are essential components of any development process. Composability may have simplified the technology side of integrations, but the need for corporation-wide alignment on the business side is arguably even more critical when evolving towards composable commerce.

Topics that Chris and I covered included change management for the business (vs. change management for technology teams), adopting new workflows, road mapping and architectural planning.

We also touched on the need for an internal client champion, to both align and marshal business leaders during the multi-phased rollout of new capabilities, and the new position of accountability that agencies will inherit as they champion these new offerings. 

Listen to the podcast here, or read on for the full article.

With various prior development projects in Chris’s back-catalogue, many of the lessons here are not confined to MACH. Rather, they reflect development realities in any generation of technology, with observations and insights that are likely to prove valuable to brands and technology companies alike. 

As always, if you have a topic or speaker in the composable technology arena that you’d like featured on the Martalks podcast, we’d love to hear about it – please get in touch here.

SAFe enables successful project delivery for enterprises

One of the widely-advertised benefits of composable architecture is ease of adoption. In practice, however, this relative ‘ease’ has more to do with the customer’s business than the solution or solutions being implemented.

Commenting on the digital transformation success stories he’s heard, Chris says…

“One of the things I always share with executives [is that] rarely does a CMO, or someone in charge of this journey, get up and say, “Well, it all went really well because we picked the right software”.

They all talked about all the elements other than the software dimension that were more challenging and surprising to them. The culture change, the people change, the process change.”

In order to deliver successful client projects, Capgemini relies on Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to ensure that scope of work includes the necessary tiers of the client’s organization.

I’ve really come to appreciate the level of definition that SAFe adds for large enterprises…

We’ve all heard those stories about companies [saying], “We can’t do Agile, Agile didn’t work here.” And you know, what they’re missing is some of the structure around it, that’s up from the daily scrum.

People can do daily scrums, and you can put things in Jira and pull tickets and have a board. But what Scaled Agile does really well is the things above that: the value streams and the lean business case. And those elements of SAFe are probably more important than what you’re doing down at the development team level.

This is important, because it allows the system integrator (SI) to consult and deliver not only on the technology brief, but also on the desired value that the customer wishes to derive from the project.

Chris advises that his team at Capgemini is “really increasing our focus and our commitment to business outcomes” – which deferring conversations about specific solutions to later on in the relationship.

As Chris explains, these early discussions about desired business outcomes help to identify the business challenges, and people-challenges, that will be encountered during development.

How MACH solutions enable a phased approach

Different companies, Chris explains, are better or worse at technological transformation. Understanding their track records in this area is crucial to ensuring that projects run smoothly.

“It’s a matter of being honest about what things have gone well, and other challenges you faced in your organization. Companies say, ‘we want to implement MACH because it gives us the ability to swap in and out technology’.

“And I look and I think, ‘Well, you’re on Siebel. I looked at your ecosystem and you have a lot of old technology. So I don’t think it’s the tech that’s keeping you from swapping things in and out.’

“And if you’re not good at swapping technologies in and out, as an organization, then maybe putting in architecture that allows you to do that [will leave you with] the same challenge.”

Chris recounts an anecdote from 20 years previously, where a client attempted to apply a legacy change request process to a novel technology implementation. This client had…

“…spent $150 million on an implementation, and the goal was to be more agile and more responsive. But we implemented this technology, and then the organization rolled out the change request process they had with the old technology, and a whole thing went into the same process where the business couldn’t make changes.”

To avoid such situations, Capgemini relies on the “spike” (the process of troubleshooting a technology stack before development begins) to identify roadblocks beyond the client’s incumbent architecture.

“I’m a big fan of doing a spike with those systems. Not only am I going to find the technical issues – i.e., that data center can’t connect to the other data center – but it also brings out some of those cultural differences: where one team’s moving in an agile fashion, they’re doing sprints, they’re doing frequent releases.

“And the other team says, ‘No, we only change software in months that have an ‘R’ in on the third Thursday.’

“When you drive a spike through the entire stack and the entire process, it tends to bring up a lot of surprises.”

An additional advantage of working in this way is it unlocks one of the key benefits of MACH architecture: the ability to work in increments, in what’s known as the “strangler fig pattern”.

“One of the great things about MACH, and being able to pick and choose your pieces, is also being able to pick and choose when you implement those pieces.

“You know, we’re working with customers doing billions of dollars of transactions online. Changing your entire solution, at that point, is a huge risk. And there’s ways to mitigate that in our approach, but MACH architecture and the MACH principles really allow you to reduce your risk and focus on the most valuable pieces first.”

The advantages of MACH, with faster development times, greater agility, greater choice, etc., are widely discussed and heavily promoted by solution vendors. 

For companies of different sizes, these advantages may be more or less easily harnessed. Certainly a well-resourced startup brand with less technical debt, but the right processes and people, would discover and build its processes around the technology that it acquires.

By contrast, enterprises often must address ossified structures and processes, before they can capitalize on the agility of modern tools.

Enterprise integrators blend breadth of capability with business expertise

Many composable vendors are now regarded as aspirational – and quite rightly, considering the case studies showing how modern architecture has unlocked commercial growth for brands.

But with the buzz around composability spreading faster, arguably, than genuine expertise, implementation partners have an important role to play in helping brands align their choices with desired business outcomes.

Chris recounts recent conversations where the client appears to have put the cart before the horse, in the preference for a particular solution.

“‘This is really interesting and cool technology – and let’s talk about the business case.’

“And when you hear crickets on the other end, then we’re off to a bad start. If the “why” is a bunch of technical features, OK, that’s an interesting conversation, but it’s ultimately not where we want to be….

“Are we doing a customer’s production to improve margins? Are we trying to reduce inventory to free up capital to fund other initiatives? Are we just trying to increase sales? Are we trying to improve profit margins on orders and get focused on those outcomes as early as possible?”

From there, Capgemini is able to recommend a starting point, often being guided by how they deliver return on investment, unlocking further development budget.

“I’m a big fan of doing an MVP… which is less expensive… And then let’s see how quickly we can get to the point where this is self-funding. Which technology is going to have the biggest bang for the buck early on?”

Short time-to-value is not a revolutionary commercial tactic; it could also just be called good client service.

But we also heard on the previous episode of Martalks (with Gurhan Kok of Invent Analytics) how this becomes easier with composable solutions, thanks to their relative ease of integration with legacy architectures. In Chris’s words, this creates the opportunity to decide…

“…which technology is going to have the biggest bang for the buck early on… rather than do a big bang on the entire business case.”

Of course, the difference for an SI – as opposed to an individual vendor – is that they usually take responsibility for a far greater proportion of the client’s business. That might include working towards a new strategic initiative, and therefore managing a cluster of integrated systems.

In such cases, enterprise integrators lend an advantage in their breadth of capability, which allows them to work seamlessly across labyrinthine architectures. That’s especially the case as new, composable solutions bring additional complexity to clients’ increasingly hybridised stack.

“There’s not a magic bullet to integrations in this space – at least, not yet. I think it’s getting there; some of my colleagues are on the board of the MACH Alliance and I’m encouraged to hear of the cooperation of building connectors and adapters. But we’re still some way off from this just all magically working together.”

Chris gives the example of a recent project where he built a commerce solution for a client which they then integrated to multiple ERPs.

“It wasn’t until we got to the actual system integration test, we discovered that if I sent an order to this one ERP system, it had to have line-item numbers beginning with 1. But if I sent an order to this other system, it had to have a line-item number starting at zero.

And so we had to write code in the middle of system integration tests to make that change. And sometimes there’s no way to find that out, but to build that integration and test it.”

Stories such as these are familiar to any professional who’s worked on enterprise digital transformation. And in reality, the aforementioned ‘magic bullet’ will not arrive any time soon.

The question, therefore, is not one of attempting to fully eliminate the unexpected from major technology implementations. 

Rather, it’s a case of identifying known roadblocks and risk factors early on, and where possible, seeking to anticipate these in both your business, and your technology stack.

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