Is microservices fear getting in the way of your journey to MACH?

Emerging in the late 2010s - and gaining considerable traction in the last five years - the MACH ‘movement’ rose in response to the limitations of traditional monolithic architectures and as a natural extension of the adoption of microservices as an architectural pattern. MACH advocates look to address the demands of an ever- evolving digital landscape with this modern, progressive approach to building digital platforms that are flexible, scalable, and future-proof. But for some businesses the prospect of modelling extensive microservices that reflect their organisation’s process feels like a blocker.

In this blog post, James Crook, a Senior Enterprise Architect at Profound, takes a dispassionate look at the role of Microservices in a MACH approach and gives some reassurance that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to start unlocking the benefit of this modern approach to tech architecture. 

The MACH Fad

The MACH fad?

In this blog post, James Crook, a Senior Enterprise Architect at Profound, takes a dispassionate look at the role of Microservices in a MACH approach and gives some reassurance that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to start unlocking the benefit of this modern approach to tech architecture. 

I’ve been involved in designing and implementing digital architectures for over twenty years and – naturally – have seen patterns, trends, and fads come and go. Microservices are one of the trends that, after a faltering start, has stuck and become a popular approach to modular architectures. But this approach is not without its challenges.  These bite-sized services allow businesses to articulate and manage discrete functions independently, often orchestrated as a suite to provide a set of services that replace the traditional monolith. This decoupling of functions allows organisations to build, test, scale, and update with minimal – if any – disruption to other parts of the business or user experience. Fantastic, right? 

Absolutely. And the premise is so attractive that Microservices form both the ‘M’ and the central tenet of  MACH architecture – possibly THE most popular modern approach to building agile, scalable, and future-proof digital platforms. This takes the central premise of microservices and ensures they are API-led, cloud-first, and part of a headless eco-system. But where, on paper, microservices seem to solve all the problems that come with a monolithic architecture (which is expensive, hard to scale at pace, increasingly complex to manage as the application grows, and typically limited to a specific tech stack) the steep learning curve, greater up-front development time and dependency on DevOps required for this service-based approach can be off putting for anything smaller than a large business with deep pockets. 

Indeed, for new, emerging, or budget-conscious businesses a monolithic approach – where you buy in, for example, an eCommerce platform that gives you a one-stop shop for managing and selling products – can be a low risk, speedy route to market. But once the business starts to expand or wants to offer more complex services or experiences to customers, these types of platforms can actually impede agility.  

It’s the businesses with a well-established legacy architecture underpinning their organisational structure and customer experience that we see grappling most with the MACH challenge. Should they undertake the seemingly gargantuan task of unpicking their ‘one stop shop’ solution – that was once so convenient but is now holding their business back – and building microservices, or should they skip the ‘M’ in MACH and simply augment their core architecture with new services and bespoke augmentations?  And, for those who feel overwhelmed by the challenge, is there a middle ground? 

The middle way

The middle way

Purists may baulk at the idea, but I truly believe that MACH is a trend like any other: one that allows you to adopt the ideas behind it in a manner that is cost-effective and pragmatic rather than taking the purist approach as a silver bullet to solve all your architectural ills. It is important to understand and identify the approach that is right for your business – the appetite and resources you have now – and to break down your complex ecosystems into a composable architecture over time, in line with your strategic goals. You may have a clean, complete MACH architecture in your strategic sights but – particularly for small to medium enterprises – taking an evolutionary, hybrid approach towards that nirvana can lower both your development risk profile and collective board blood pressure.  

  1. Understand your roadmap of change and identify the low hanging fruit. 

Taking an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, approach, you can afford to look across your entire ecosystem and identify where you can release early value. This might be escaping the burden of expensive licences that are up for renewal, plugging in new services that offer new revenue streams, or building new functions that open new markets. Investing the time up front to carry out this definition work allows you to articulate the operational, experiential and service landscape of your business, and prioritise replacement, removal or rebuild requirements.  

  1. Buy-in composable, orchestrate, and build connections. 

Although every business is unique, and it’s essential that you have the scope and flexibility to develop a bespoke brand experience in line with your own customer needs, you do have is the option of buying in componentised SaaS products that stay within the MACH principles. With a prioritised map of services, you can start to investigate ready-to-wear solutions that will meet your needs. These composable-centric functions can operate independently but might be bought from a single or multiple vendors. For example, you may want one technology for your checkout, another for your stock tracking, and a third for handling customer accounts. 

  1. Select a partner. 

If you are shopping for the best in composable services, you will probably need help to select the right solutions for your business, to build the journeys and pathways that connect them to your business, and to orchestrate the way your services work together to create the best experience.  

Please, find someone who has done this before.  

You need a technology team who have held the hands of similar sized businesses and supported them through the process of defining the most valuable services, selecting the right solutions, and designing and delivering an experience that meets their strategic goals. 

Your ideal partner should have experience in helping businesses to balance the fastest experience wins with the greatest potential returns, identifying the burning platforms that need resolved, and pinpointing the highest risks to mitigate. They will have a supplier agnostic approach to identifying the best solutions for your business and will have an experience-first approach to pulling your systems together.


In short

Microservices architecture brings vast benefits as part of a pure MACH ecosystem. The benefits are maximised in the context of an API-first approach, which simplifies interactions between services, and works best in the scalable, resiliant context of cloud-native SaaS.  

Equally, microservices support the headless approach by allowing back-end services to evolve independently of the front end and vice-versa. However, the MACH mountain can feel too enormous to climb in one expedition for many organisations, and a more achievable, phased evolution facilitated by composable architecture is not only more palatable, but preferable for many. The challenge for any organisation will be maintaining focus on the strategic goal for a longer period, possibly spanning the tenure of multiple CTOs.  

But – whether taking a purist or hybrid approach – the rewards of moving from a monolithic platform will be ongoing as the agility and scalability offered by either composable architecture or pure microservices are undoubtably critical for any business looking to succeed in a world where digital needs are constantly evolving.

Feeling more confident about the MACH approach now? We help digital teams design great experiences, make smart technology choices, and deliver successful digital transformations.

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