How To Build a World-Class Technical Commerce Ecosystem
by Ray Grady
Building a world-class commerce website is no easy feat. Notorious for being a complicated technical venture, it requires the perfect blend of people, process, and technology. But it is possible to build a “best for me” technical solution, if you’re thoughtful and tactful in how you go about doing so.
Step 1: Really think hard and define your commerce goals
If you’re considering rebuilding your commerce backend, there must be a reason -- or many. These pain points should be used as the foundational goals for your business: What must your new system be able to excel at that your current system doesn’t? What things does your current system support that you’d like to continue to maximize, or do even better?
You also need to consider what the main purpose of your site really is. Brands like Best Buy, Dicks Sporting Goods and Staples have much different business and digital strategies than brands like TOMS, Lululemon and Puma. Your business model should dictate where you put your money when you think through this future-state architecture.
You’ll probably put together an RFP (Request for Proposal) and then consider different proprietary systems, or consider building your own custom system. But what you’ll find is that the breadth of different tools you need to create a powerful engine doesn’t exist in any one solution. So you need to prioritize the most important aspects of your new platform, and go in search of a solution that can maximize those.
Step 2: Figure out what systems you need to achieve your goals
Forrester outlines the four foundational pillars of today’s commerce suite in their Q1 2015 Wave for B2C Commerce Suites report: (1) experience management, (2) product information management, (3) commerce management, and (4) order management. Traditional commerce platforms can perform the basic functions in each of these areas because they are purpose-built to do so, but they aren’t excelling. Often these platforms don’t include features that are becoming more and more important in today’s commerce landscape: site features that add content and context, personalize the experience, or integrate all of the front-end and back-end pieces into one seamless user experience.
This often means adding custom layers on top of a traditional commerce platform -- a product configurator, a Digital Asset Management system, a more robust PIM, etc -- as those become business necessities, and brands continue to trend towards integrating an omnichannel approach. Those custom layers aren’t always technically difficult to build and implement, but their value to one business vs. another may differ drastically, so they aren’t typically native to traditional commerce platforms. It’s up to you to decide what custom features your business will need to get the job done.
Step 3: Architect for the future, Implement for today
This is often where things get tricky. It’s relatively easy to pinpoint all of the features you seek, and manageable still to find or build systems that can tackle each of those features individually. But making them all work together, in harmony, as one well-oiled machine? Sounds impossible, right?!
Here’s the good news: It’s not. Starting with a solid digital experience platform and then layering in a commerce engine and other best in class 3rd party capabilities allows your business to accommodate new capabilities as the need arises, and to control the customer experience. Using a platform with open source roots, like the Acquia Platform, gives you all the flexibility and freedom you’ll need, along with a faster time-to-market and the whole Drupal open source community as a support system. Having a flexible foundation is absolutely imperative, because you never know how your business - or the market - will change. Being able to grow and evolve over time, and establishing a system that can do the same, is the ultimate end goal.
A Note on APIs: The future is decoupled
According to the Forrester Wave report, Acquia is one of two businesses with the strongest API and component ecosystems. APIs (short for Application Programming Interface) are essentially tools that allow technical teams to connect one system to other systems easily. Choosing software or vendors that take an API-led approach goes hand-in-hand with this idea of building a custom best-for-me technical ecosystem. A whole world of capabilities exposed through APIs already exists, and they’re all purpose-built: ratings and reviews systems, social integrations, and much more. So why build those custom when they’re already available in the marketplace? A decoupled approach to building this system is smartest, most affordable, and fastest to implement. The idea is simple: use the great stuff that already exists to speed up your process, and only custom build the things someone else hasn’t already built. Your engineers should be free to build smart, focused technology systems that do one or two things really well, and that will ultimately enhance the experience of your site.