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Using Headless Architecture as a Strategy to Accelerate Digital Growth

We often receive questions about the actual benefits of going headless, and how it can benefit a business from a broader perspective.

As any CTO will be aware, it can be challenging to evaluate return on investment for digital implementations, and this makes it all-the-more important that businesses are able to tangibly quantify the prospective benefits that headless architecture can bring.

At its core, headless as an approach aims to achieve modernization of a tech stack to bring positive impact to end-user experiences. Through decoupling of an application's backend from its frontend, headless implementations aim to re-designate delivery of the frontend experience to the most appropriate technologies and separate them from purpose-built backends.

For most businesses, decoupling of an application will be driven primarily by existing technical frustrations with the current tech stack, content management system, or digital experience platform. More often than not, we hear of frustrations with existing legacy content management systems and difficulties associated with achieving the frontend output and behavior desired by branding, sales, and marketing teams.

In an ever-growing digital economy, brands are seeking to effectively distinguish themselves from the competition. In providing immersive storytelling and stand-out experiences via the frontend, businesses are able to better capture the interest of end-users and sales prospects. It's often through this objective that organizations initially seek headless implementations as a potential solution—but the fact is that this approach brings a plethora of undeniable advantages with it.

Through a collaborative partnership with talent-rich digital solution vendors, the move to headless architecture can act as a strong starting point for wider digital transformation throughout the business, bringing impactful experiences to front-end users and the organization as a whole.

Headless Architecture: A Brief Overview

A headless approach to web-based architecture deviates from the traditional all-in-one approach of yesteryear.

Traditionally, a business' primary point of sales was a single website, which would have—understandably—been powered by a single piece of software. We refer to these kinds of applications as "monolithic" in the web & software development industry. A large amount of code resides in a single place (the web server), and all end-user requests are routed through to this single application. The application in question would typically be referred to as a Content Management System (WordPress, for example). Traditional content management systems offer an easy, oftentimes efficient means to an end: They're highly accessible in that they can be setup and configured on any simple web server, are fairly customizable, and provide an easy-to-manage, all-in-one experience for the entire user base involves. End-users are able to access content and website pages via the CMS—perhaps even authenticate or purchase products—and content and marketing teams can (in theory) quickly update pages, add new content, and manage users, roles/permissions and multimedia.

The traditional monolithic CMS has long been the go-to approach for building and serving a feature-rich website with all the bells and whistles. What's more, they're customizable, often user-friendly, and boast diverse digital ecosystems.

Even today, monolithic content management systems are an embedded cornerstone of rapid deployment of dedicated digital presences on the web.

Regrettably, it's this very capability (their ability to provide such a cookie-cutter, templated experience), that is leading disruptive brands to look elsewhere.

Today, consumers are interacting with technology at an increasing number of varied digital touchpoints: the traditional computer, tablets, smartphone web browsing, OS-specific applications (on both PC and mobile), digital watches, televisions, in-home speakers—and more. We predict that this access-anywhere trend will continue, and is only likely to become further diversified with time.

The stakes of correctly maintaining, servicing, and thriving with your digital presence have never been so high.

Businesses can no longer rely solely on the traditional responsive website to ace their digital presence, particularly in an era where digital experiences are evolving so rapidly. Many brands today provide their core experience through native apps over websites—and others rely on progressive web applications and desktop experiences to deliver the level of immersion required to entice consumers into their always-on digital ecosystems.

As a brand's tally of distribution channels expands over time, the associated costs and maintenance of servicing so many touchpoints reaches a point of contention. At the same time, a failure to effectively strategize and fully engage with a robust digital transformation plan can potentially leave a business in a weak spot, stunting growth while further embedding preexisting issues with the technology stack.

It's from these angles that headless architecture is able to provide a strategic and technical transformation for businesses—entirely redefining the possibilities for user experience design and the smoothness of digital operations management.

Headless architecture reinvents the wheel—in that a brand's content becomes merely a dataset—which can be endlessly repurposed and applied in an infinite number of contexts; whether those exist on the desktop, a smartphone, external web marketplaces, numerous mobile apps, a television, virtual reality headset, or elsewhere.

A business's investment in headless architecture doesn't just fuel the now: It fuels the future.  Content, data, customer-specific personalization become available anywhere, and can be utilized within the context of any application, on any operating system, or any physical device, whether it exists now, or in the future.

In contrast, traditional ("monolithic") architecture aims to service a single application, and can often only be bent (and broken) into a multi-, or omni-channel direction.

The importance of a modern approach in the current digital landscape

For ambitious businesses, it's imperative to actively implement solutions that not only cater to the now—but to the future. We're now living in an age where technology is accelerating at a phenomenal rate, and the pace at which the digital landscape reinvents itself is exponentially increasing.

There has never been a time more prudent than now for businesses to invest in scalable digital solutions that boast longevity and are sustainable.

And with so many advancements in tech and its growing accessibility, it's more important than ever to stay ahead of the curve, readily agile, and prepared for swift change.

Businesses leveraging a decoupled approach are more prepared for the volatile shifts in the changing digital economy and the evolving landscape of technological approaches and solutions.

For businesses looking to maximize their multi or omnichannel digital growth in a way that is scalable and sustainable, headless architecture is the only viable way forward.

In order to be best poised for success in the changing digital landscape, businesses must:

  1. Stay ahead of the curve
  2. Be agile; adaptable
  3. Be ready for change

Digital agility, and the capability to efficiently innovate and iterate, are key factors in a brands ability to reach its audience as distribution channels diversify. Businesses should view headless architecture as a paradigm shift in the way they market and distribute digital content—echoing a fundamental change in how modern consumers are connecting with the web. Strategically, this realignment in the use and implementation of web technology serves to secure a business' ability to adapt digitally in the ways it distributes its content, in order that it can continue to best reach consumers.

Decoupled frameworks sport a level of flexibility which is unrivaled by that of the traditional CMS—something which is very much required in order to respond to market changes efficiently today.

For CTOs and marketing professionals who find themselves navigating multi or omnichannel implementations, understanding and acknowledging the potential benefits of a truly headless solution is imperative. And as such a significant shift from more traditional, monolithic implementations, the integration of a headless architecture into a company's digital stack is one that's likely to provide tangible, quantifiable results and a cumulative return on investment over the medium to long term.

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