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How to Migrate from a Monolith System to a Modular Digital Experience Platform (DXP)?

Monolith systems used to be the only option for companies looking to have high powered software with control over their data and sophisticated tooling. This, however, is no longer the case, in general, and more specifically in the CMS space.
Emily Nielsen

Emily Nielsen

Feb 05, 2021
How to migrate from a monolith system to a modular DXP

Companies that do not adapt to be flexible and innovative struggle to remain competitive. In today’s digital world, flexibility often comes down to the tools that teams use in addition to the right mindset and processes. Rigidity in systems and tech stacks lead to longer implementation times and improvised solutions rather than a best of breed approach which enables teams to use the correct tool to solve a specific problem.

Monolith systems used to be the only option for companies looking to have high powered software with control over their data and sophisticated tooling. This, however, is no longer the case, with the advent of modular DXPs teams are able to have more control over their tech stack and its performance.

#How do monolith architectures differ from modular ones?

In a monolith system, all of the functionality would be handled by one tool or service, commonly available as “suites”, where each function would be highly dependent on the health of the system.

Moving from monolith to microservice

It is nearly impossible to swap out specific services or functionality with a different provider and thus teams must use the various services provided by the monolith or risk using an unsustainable workaround. When it comes to the regular updates, these can be time consuming and result in downtimes when they are not completed. Versions of the same product can require massive restructuring and time intensive work to implement with some features not being carried over from previous versions.

Teams are locked into a narrow ecosystem of templates, frameworks, languages, reporting, etc. Those wishing to try something new may be met with resistance because it is not clear how these changes will affect all of the other functionality or the time it takes to develop new workflows securely is simply not worth it.

API-first platforms, like Headless CMS systems, on the other hand, are only one piece to the larger toolset of a modular architecture. Using a “best of breed” approach lets you pick and choose the services that matter most to you, and have them work together via API..

This approach is what enables modernizing companies to implement a modular DXP approach. Using a modular DXP allows teams to choose tools that meet their specific needs and can easily be integrated into the workflows of the overall team. Instead of teams being weighed down by functionality that is not optimized for their use case, teams are able to evaluate the best tools for their use case and easily connect them via API.

Headless CMS in particular are able to handle content, including localization, images, and structure, and then easily distribute this content to various frontends or other services. Instead of being required to take the approach provided by a single system, teams are able to be more creative and try out different approaches and tools for things like personalization and AB testing with their headless CMS as their core. This unlocks the possibility of creating a custom stack where the team has input on how they want to approach new channels making them more flexible and able to tackle new challenges quickly. While monolith systems were essential to the development of the CMS, they no longer match the needs of the diverse digital products of today.

#What are the benefits of migrating from a monolith system to a modular DXP?

Because with monolith systems you are expected to approach a problem using the out of the box solution, teams can become pigeonholed. When trying to take an innovative approach to a problem, teams can be forced to create a highly customized, unscalable workaround or find an unsustainable solution. With a modular DXP, teams have the possibility to approach their problem using the flexibility of building a composable stack that aids in building out the feature set to meet the needs of the team. Teams can turn to best-of-breed that specialize in solving their specific problem to meet their needs without the same vendor lock-in that is present in monolith systems.

Moving from monolith to microservice

Superior CX drives revenue

Modular DXPs offer seamless, creative customer experiences across touchpoints. Teams gain more agility with minimized time-to-market for new projects. Faster time-to-market is true across the teams from development to content, enabling more velocity and initiatives that reflect current trends to drive user engagement.

Future-proof & flexible

Using API-first technologies allows teams to build un-opinionated APIs that serve all applications with raw data (JSON). In decoupling the system and separating the frontend and backend, teams are able to build custom stacks that lower development time and time to market. Teams are able to easily expand into new channels without disrupting the content of existing channels since each interface can present data natively.

Full control & low risk

Instead of making workflows and product offerings around what your DXP offers, teams should opt for market-leading services that meet the needs of their specific use case. The modularity of API-first systems enable teams to easily add, upgrade, replace, and remove systems to meet their current needs without disrupting existing content or services. Because of the continuous delivery of new features inherent to microservices, the tech stack is always state-of-the-art.

Lower technical overhead

Without the need for expensive customizations and plugins for a monolith system, teams are able to devote developer resources for new pages and projects. Marketeers and developers are able to work independently since the frontend and backend systems are decoupled. The marketeers no longer need to wait for devs to make changes to content and devs are able to focus on building new projects.

Easier to hire quality developers

If teams are looking to be the innovators of their industry, they need to attract the people that can turn that into a reality. People want to use current or innovative tooling that allows for them to be creative in their approach. The rigidity of monoliths often prevent this from happening and can in some instances send the message to candidates that companies are okay with the status quo. Hiring people who are eager to try out new tools and approaches can be indicative of their approach to problem solving as well.

Ridding stack of improvised solutions

One of the biggest drawbacks of a monolith system is they often become too big to deal with and can no longer be easily updated or adjusted to meet refined strategies. Instead, teams try to create new flexibility using workarounds which in the long run can become cumbersome or virtually unusable if personnel changes occur. With modular DXPs, teams no longer have this problem as the team chooses the SaaS solution that meets their needs. As goals or projects change, it is easy to reorient by adding new services or replacing existing ones without disrupting other channels.

#What are the steps a team needs to take to “break the monolith”?

In an article for Martin Fowler, Zhamak Dehghani breaks down the steps needed on how to break down a monolithic architecture into 8 distinct steps:

  • Warm Up with a Simple and Fairly Decoupled Capability

  • Minimize Dependency Back to the Monolith

  • Split Sticky Capabilities Early

  • Decouple Vertically and Release the Data Early

  • Decouple What is Important to the Business and Changes Frequently

  • Decouple Capability and not Code

  • Go Macro First, then Micro

  • Migrate in Atomic Evolutionary Steps

While these steps are initially intended for software development, these same principles can easily be applied to breaking down monoliths into microservices DXP. Implementing a headless CMS can help in the first couple of phases and become the core of a company’s approach to building digital products. With content federation, a headless CMS can easily be linked to existing monolith databases while they are still relevant to pull the relevant information from the old monolith, prolonging its life and allowing teams to refine their tool set before cutting themselves off entirely. But what do some of these microservices look like when linked together to build a digital product? Using a (very oversimplified) example of an eCommerce site, in a monolith approach there would be a single provider offering:

  • A CMS to manage the content, potentially in several languages

  • A shopping cart to handle user purchases

  • A payment gateway to handle transactions

  • An authentication service to handle user accounts and login status

  • A CRM functionality to send offers and order confirmations

  • A PIM to handle the products, stock inventory, and product information

  • A DAM to handle promotional images and product images

When the team chooses to take a microservice approach they take on a headless CMS to handle all of the content, localizations and to serve as the core of the DXP. They then choose a PIM, billing, and eCommerce service that seamlessly integrates via API, being enriched with content from the CMS (or sending it to the CMS) and channeling this to the frontend(s) where products, carts, and payments can be easily handled.

Then the marketing team selects their chosen tools for CRM, promotions, reporting, analytics, and so on, to be integrated with the frontend either via API, tag management, or a CDP.

The team is able to customize their stack to work harmoniously with their workflows and intended outcomes to build a modern digital product that meets the needs of their use case. Moving to a modular DXP from a monolith system, allows teams to be innovative and agile while still using a stack that is enterprise ready and secure. To take an in-depth look on how to migrate away from a monolith and the benefits of doing so, check out our eBook on how to build a DXP.

Blog Author

Emily Nielsen

Emily Nielsen

Emily manages content and SEO at Hygraph. In her free time, she's a restaurant lover and oat milk skeptic.

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