Static vs. Adaptable B2B Platforms: Definition, Differences, Pros and Cons.
Static platforms are not a good fit for the future; adaptable B2B solutions, on the contrary, are designed for innovation and continuous change. Since the need to innovate and deploy new marketing and merchandising functions quickly is more compelling than ever, you have to know the difference. Here's how.
IKEA’s popularity for half a century speaks volumes about the benefits of a composable, DIY approach to everything from the production process to design. Not only is IKEA’s furniture easy to build, but it’s also easy to modify and fine-tune to suit any style, be it bohemian funk or ‘fussy-free’ minimalist decor. Turns out, such a plug-and-play approach has spread to other areas, particularly software development and ecommerce.
Gone are the days when customers required simple and standardised experiences and static platforms offered the most bang for the buck. The unwavering growth of digital commerce, the addition of new touchpoints, and ever-growing customer expectations for engaging digital experiences have profoundly changed the status quo.
Now, in order to keep up with fast-changing market realities and evolving customer appetites, companies are rethinking their technology stacks, turning away from static platforms, and switching to modern, adaptable solutions. Indeed, the need to innovate, evolve, and deploy new marketing and merchandising functions quickly is so compelling that companies increasingly dispose of old-shoe legacy systems and turn to replatforming. However, while adaptable solutions have gained massive popularity, static platforms could still be a viable choice in specific circumstances.
Choosing the right solution is extremely important. The success of any ecommerce endeavour is directly related to the underlying platform’s capabilities, including, first and foremost, its ability to change and adapt to new circumstances.
In this piece, we’ll explain the key differences between static and adaptable B2B solutions and why the concept of adaptability is crucial for businesses that want to stay ahead of the curve.
Looking for a modern ecommerce solution but don’t have time to read the article? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered: Virto Commerce is the modern, adaptable, cloud-based platform at the most affordable price on the market.
A Note on Terminology: Static vs. Adaptable
The terms “static” and “adaptable” have been coined by Nick Sidelnikov, Product Manager at Virto Commerce.
Since platforms are typically categorised by the architecture, such as monolithic or microservices, Nick saw the need to differentiate further, based on the needs of the business rather than development.
The problem with architecture-based definitions was that while monolithic solutions can be deployed on the cloud or use microservices, they are still considered static because they cannot be easily modified and adapted to change.
This way, Nick came up with the following definitions:
- A static platform is a collection of services, scenarios, and integrations that a vendor provides as a complete solution.
- An adaptable platform is a well-architected framework designed for the continuous change of eсommerce services for an arbitrarily long time.
So, the terms static vs. adaptable are not about how things work under the hood but the solution’s capacity for change. If a platform cannot be easily modified, it’s static; on the contrary, if the platform is easily modified and extended, it’s adaptable.
Now, let’s break down those terms further.
What Is a Static Platform?
Why static doesn’t equal monolithic
Indeed, the availability of services within the static solutions can be customised and configured through additional plug-ins and extensions. Only those customisations will have a limited effect on business scenarios and integrations because the static platforms have not been designed for change. For example:
- A static system can be built on microservices, which can be independently modified, but lack APIs. If one of those microservices needs to exchange data with a third-party application, a company might need to develop its own APIs to make that possible.
- A monolithic app can be deployed on the cloud. Even though it’s a cloud application, a monolithic application won’t work anywhere near an adaptable cloud-native solution.
In digital commerce, static systems are built on the premise that ecommerce is a one-time undertaking that only requires occasional maintenance instead of significant overhauling. Such applications are designed for a static world where the market rarely changes.
Although static doesn’t equal monolithic, the best way to demonstrate the solution’s inability to change is still to look at the classic monolithic architecture.
Monolithic architecture: features, pros and cons
Features of monolithic apps
Since monolithic apps are single-tiered, multiple components are combined into one large application with a single, massive codebase that becomes extremely difficult to manage, update, or upgrade over time.
Because components are tightly coupled, if one of them requires an update, other elements may also require rewriting, and the whole application recompiled and tested. A seemingly benign change to one area of a monolithic app might have dire consequences on another part of the application. As expected, such a process is time-consuming, inefficient, and unfriendly to agile practices as it makes iterative development almost impossible.
Monolithic databases also have their limitations and cannot scale indefinitely, while most databases don’t auto-scale at all.
Security also becomes an issue. Since there’s one database behind the scenes, it’s easy for an attacker to get access to all the data.
Finally, packaged monolithic platforms typically require ownership of all commerce data like products, customers, and orders. That means that a company cannot take and develop single components on their own but have to own everything.
Example of monolithic architecture
To better understand monolithic architecture, consider an example.
A static business commerce application first authorises its customers, logs them into their accounts, and enables them to purchase goods and services. There are several components involved in this process, such as a customer-facing interface, user authentification, a catalogue component, an ordering system, a payment element, and so on.
Since it’s a static app that uses a monolithic architecture, it’s built and deployed as a single unit. If a change is required to one of those components, all other components are going to be affected as well.
Developers involved in maintaining this software are working on one indivisible application and its tightly coupled dependencies so that iterating a feature requires retesting and redeployment of the entire application.
Consequently, individual components cannot be scaled independently but require scaling a single stack both horizontally and vertically.
Many early applications (some that are still in use today) have been designed as monolithic apps. While monolithic development has obvious disadvantages, many companies still continue to use monolithic software as it offers benefits in specific circumstances (more on them in the next section).
However, when it comes to ecommerce, static development is a way of the past as composable commerce becomes the default approach to building new commerce applications.
Advantages of monolithic architecture
Since a lot of applications are still developed using monolithic design principles, the static approach has its advantages.
- Earlier in the software development cycle, monolithic architecture is typically simpler: a unified codebase makes development issues like configuration management more straightforward.
- Scaling and deployment can also be easier if frequent changes and changing scalability requirements are not expected.
As a result, the monolithic approach is best suited for simple and lightweight applications and completely unsuitable for complex apps that require recurrent modifications and continuous delivery.
Disadvantages of monolithic architecture
When the product’s complexity increases and the team grows, monolithic apps become significantly more difficult to manage.
- The codebase becomes difficult to understand as it matures and expands, baffling new team members and making changes to the system unnecessarily difficult.
- As technology and business requirements evolve and become more complex, it becomes increasingly challenging to implement changes without affecting the quality of the code and the overall operation of the software.
- Updates to components require redeployment of the whole application, while its growing size affects its load time which adds up to delays.
- In addition to limited scalability, monolithic applications cannot easily accommodate new technologies. A new language or framework may become extremely costly, making companies on a tight budget unable to change their systems and lose their competitive advantage.
Many companies are realising the drawbacks of using static systems and are increasingly moving away from monolithic technologies toward more flexible solutions. Particularly in ecommerce, where adaptable and composable commerce is becoming the gold standard for building new commerce applications.
Example of a static platform
One of the most well-known examples of a static platform is SAP Commerce.
Even though SAP steadily makes baby steps toward transitioning its customers to the cloud and advancing its microservices strategy, it’s still an unwieldy beast with exorbitantly dramatic pricing.
To see how monolithic platforms compare against composable solutions, you may look at the table that’s provided at the bottom of the B2B ecommerce platform product page.
What Is an Adaptable Platform?
How to determine if a B2B platform is adaptable?
The question is, then, how to identify whether the platform is static or adaptable.
Unfortunately, there are no specific or definitive markers that allow a platform’s adaptability to be easily determined. So it’s extremely important to seek the expertise of in-house (or third-party) technical specialists when it comes to choosing an ecommerce solution. Software engineers will need to thoroughly analyse and assess the platform’s capacity to change and accommodate different business scenarios.
Still, composable commerce, microservices, API, and cloud are worthy indicators of the platform’s flexibility and capacity for change.
If you’re looking for an adaptable solution, you’re in luck because Virto Commerce is built on the principles of adaptability. Virto Commerce is API-first, composable, modular, headless, cloud, and open source.
What is composable commerce?
Since no single vendor can offer all applications required to deliver ecommerce experiences in line with evolving customer expectations, companies are increasingly switching to composable commerce, which allows them to assemble the best-of-breed applications and compose a solution that’s unique to their business requirements.
A composable stack is a collection of best-in-breed applications which includes a range of services that cover various capabilities.
For example, a composable commerce application stack can include Virto Commerce for ecommerce, Azure Cognitive Seach for search, PayPal for a payment gateway, ShipStation for fulfilment, Mailchimp for marketing, and so on.
In other words, composable commerce is about modular API-first headless architecture, microservices, agile delivery, faster time to market, and improved experiences across all touchpoints.
Learn more about composable commerce in the following articles:
Since microservices are one of the fundamental tenets of a composable approach, it’s worth elaborating on microservices architecture a bit further.
In contrast to monolithic design principles, the microservices architecture supports modular applications, wherein components are split into multiple loosely coupled services that can be deployed and scaled independently without affecting other elements in the system. Modules communicate with each other, have their own databases, and can be scaled and tested individually due to the loose coupling between them.
Such modularity and mutability allow for a more agile and iterative development, which is extremely important in a digital commerce environment.
Core tenets of adaptability
Again, microservices architecture, cloud, or APIs do not guarantee the adaptability of the ecommerce solution. Sure enough, they indicate the platform’s ability to accommodate varying degrees of change. However, the well-architectured framework allows for almost infinite adaptability rather than a few small changes here and there.
Infinite adaptability has many aspects to it, which will vary depending on the company, but its core tenets are the following:
- Functional adaptability: The ability to add new and modify existing services without affecting costs and the pace of innovation. There’s no difference between coding new features and modifying legacy code.
- Non-functional adaptability: The ability to quickly adapt the system to changing market requirements and customer expectations for speed and stability. The system can easily scale and accommodate changes in volume orders and traffic.
- Usability adaptability: The ability to continuously improve customer experiences and adapt to new usability trends without affecting the nature of the service or its purpose.
- Industry adaptability: The ability to create new digital channels customised per new markets by reusing existing components and services.
- Regional adaptability: The ability to quickly scale the solution to accommodate new geographies by reusing existing components or adding new ones that are region-specific.
- Integration adaptability: The ability to extend the platform’s functionality by easily integrating with internal and third-party systems.
- Component adaptability: The ability to replace external services and provide any data via a digital channel. Any function is easily replaced with a third-party service.
- Development adaptability: The ability to regulate and balance the speed and cost of development by increasing or decreasing the number of people working on the adaptation of the ecommerce solution. Adding people is easy at peak times, and collaboration is productive and smooth.
Although the list is not exhaustive, it gives a good idea of what an adaptable solution actually implies.
Advantages of adaptable platforms
In terms of ecommerce, there are many advantages of adaptable platforms.
- First and foremost, there is the ability to innovate. Adaptive digital commerce platforms allow small teams (1–3 developers) to add new features (e.g., services, integrations, scenarios) every 1–2 sprints for at least 3–5 years.
- The speed and cost of development remain stable, manageable, and utterly predictable during the entire platform lifecycle.
- Customisation becomes substantially easier: teams can easily and quickly create personalised end-to-end customer experiences and rapidly respond to market changes.
- Scaling, adding new business models, and testing products and services – all that was previously unfathomed with static solutions – become possible and simple.
Learn more about the advantages of adaptable platforms and the importance of adaptability in ecommerce in the following articles:
- On the challenges of replatforming from static solutions: How to Replatform Correctly
- On the practical importance and challenges of adaptability in ecommerce: Infinite Adaptability in B2B eCommerce and How the Concept of Change Should Shape Your Approach to eCommerce.
- On the financial aspects of adaptability and cost of ownership of static and adaptable solutions: The Most Expensive Problem in Digital Commerce.
Disadvantages of adaptable platforms
- Integration with many third-party solutions means that a company needs to manage multiple vendors, enterprise subscriptions, service-level agreements, and so on.
- Adaptable commerce is also a complex approach that requires expertise, deep cross-functional collaboration, and, therefore, an adequate level of digital maturity.
- Switching to adaptability is not easy either – it requires changes to infrastructure and tools, and possibly personnel.
But once that switch is accomplished, everything else becomes so much better!
Bottom Line: Static or Adaptable?
In terms of ecommerce, adaptable solutions have become critical to meeting ever-evolving customer expectations, adding new features and services, and overall, becoming a successful digital business. So, the choice for ecommerce is quite clear – it’s an adaptable platform.
Virto Commerce Adaptable eCommerce Solution
Virto Commerce is one of those adaptable solutions that can turn any business into a thriving digital enterprise.
Virto Commerce is an open-source ecommerce platform that’s based on Microsoft technologies. It is cloud-based and API-driven, so it is scalable and flexible by default. Virto’s headless nature allows businesses to extend their digital ecosystem with multiple channels and tailor them to specific market requirements. The solution’s modular and composable architecture allows IT teams to create new functional components quickly and integrate them seamlessly into the ecommerce platform.
Virto Commerce offers multiple out-of-the-box features, including those that are specific to the B2B market, such as corporate account management, permission management, pricing, and contract-based catalogue management, among other features. Any functionality can be added, modified, and extended per specific business requirements.
Moreover, Virto Commerce provides its users with access to a wider ecosystem of apps that would complement the solution, including advanced search, product information management systems, payment processors, back-office systems, and more.
The following technologies are used in the development of Virto Commerce:
- .NET Core 6.0 and as a base web API platform
- EF Core as primary ORM
- ASP.NET Core Identity for authentication and authorization
- OpenIddict as OpenID Connect server and for OAuth 2.0 protocol implementation
- SignalR Core for push notifications
- HangFire for running background tasks
- Redis as cache backplane on scale-out
- ASP.NET Core 6.0
- Vue 3.0 progressive Java Script framework
- Tailwind CSS as the main CSS framework for presentation
- Typescript for building clean working code
- Vite Script and CSS bundler
If you would like to learn more about Virto Commerce and ways to replatform from a static platform or extend your existing solution, you can talk to our experts who can advise you on the best way to move forward.This piece has been prepared with the help and profound expertise of my colleague, Nick Sidelnikov, who coined the terms ‘static’ and ‘adaptable’ solutions.