Why is a headless approach to digital architecture important?
Headless is a powerful approach to digital estate strategy and implementation for forward-thinking brands that want to exploit the capabilities of modern cloud-native technology. Faster deployment, shorter time to ROI, reduced risk and greater freedom to create powerful and unique digital experiences makes adopting headless technologies a game-changing strategy. Adopting headless solutions enables your brand to mould User Experiences around your customers’ behaviours, and to convert that enhanced experience into increased revenue.
Why adopting a headless approach now delivers unique benefits
The world has changed, and so have digital experiences. As technology has evolved it has helped brands gain greater insight about customer behaviour, and fast-moving businesses have leveraged this insight to create revolutionary digital experiences.
The characteristic that these innovators share is that they all exploit the multichannel for commercial advantage. Ecommerce is no longer conducted solely on a website or on social media. Today, ecommerce involves micro-moments that occur within multiple front-end environments, such as websites, apps, on smartwatches and store kiosks. To exploit these micro-moments, your brand’s digital experiences must be agile, real-time and engaging.
But brands looking to exploit the true potential of the multichannel must go beyond touchpoints that customers simply view. They must start thinking about touchpoints that offer an immersive Customer Experience. Technological advances have created these new channels: AI-powered chatbots, avatars, virtual reality and augmented reality. These channels create possibilities to deliver immersive experiences enabling customers to truly interact with your brand. And to spend more while they do it.
The headless model of digital delivery doesn’t just win customers; it keeps them coming back. But without a headless approach, this standard of multichannel delivery isn’t easily achieved without much greater investment, higher risk and much slower ROI.
How does headless work?
Before we explain how headless works, it’s worth explaining how traditional software solutions operate. In these solutions (for example, a commerce platform or a content management system), the codebase of the back-end functions is tightly coupled with the channel’s front-end presentation layer. The content, design assets, product information, payment engine, search function and other components are all locked into a single structure with the front-end website.
Once fully developed and integrated, this enables organisations to quickly publish something to that single channel. This was an effective strategy when websites were the only major revenue-generating online platform, but that has long been a distant memory.
With headless, the front-end is separate from the back-end, but the two are kept in communication via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are a technology that enables one solution to make requests from or call on actions in another solution. Therefore, the front-end presentation layer is effectively decoupled from the back-end.
The back-end of your content management system (CMS), digital asset management (DAM) solution, product information management solution (PIMS) and other microservices are not locked into the front-end ‘head’, hence the name – headless.
So, with your back-end communicating with the front-end via individually developed APIs, you have the freedom and agility to transform your front-end. By facilitating multichannel delivery, headless opens up a whole new world, giving you the power to reshape your digital estate into a customer and cash magnet.
What factors should you consider before going headless?
Migrating from one platform to another can be a challenging process, but for brands wanting to transform digitally and have any chance of remaining a serious player in their competitive space, this transition is a question of when, not if. So, what are the key factors that you should consider before going headless?
First, review your business objectives, and assess how headless technology could deliver value for your business. A workshop with an experienced external partner may help here. There are, in fact, a few digital strategies where a traditional monolithic approach remains a serious option. So, it is important not to choose headless because it is the latest shiny technology toy.
Then, undertake a digital audit and discover what your brand’s greatest digital pain points are. You will need a dedicated replatforming team to help you achieve this, who can then undertake the necessary research and gap analysis to shape your goals and milestones.
Part of this process involves analysing the marketplace. There are several cloud-native headless solutions available from vendors available on a SaaS / PaaS model for each function of your digital estate. With your replatforming committee, you need to decide which solutions best accommodate your business’ needs.
In addition, many legacy solutions now position themselves as ‘headless solutions’, making the marketplace even more difficult to navigate. Seek the support of an external partner to help you with this process, who can help steer your transition across this new terrain. Remember, solutions that are truly headless usually offer their products in the form of ‘as-a-service’, meaning you receive structured account management and access their development team’s expertise.
Putting your plan into action
Once you have agreed to implement your headless solutions, the emphasis changes towards managing your migration. Taking a phased approach, you can migrate to your new headless solutions step-by-step, targeting your greatest digital pain points first, and delivering faster ROI.
The reason headless is so powerful is because it gives you the freedom to create game-changing front-end digital experiences. But that does not mean you have to get it right first time. Ecommerce is about testing and learning. With a headless approach, you have the freedom to make development and marketing changes quickly, enabling you to understand what delivers the best experience for your customers, and that generates the highest, most sustainable revenue stream.
Learn how you can plan and implement your winning headless strategy with our professional development programme, the headless ecommerce masterclasses – Module 5: What is Headless? is available from 8 July 2020.