dinosaur figurines in the snow
PHOTO: Lucas George Wendt | unsplash

History is full of examples of software products and solutions stalling in the face of progress and inevitably going extinct. Successful software vendors who are too large to change tend to do business the same way for years with little regard to innovation. While these dinosaurs bask in their own size, new products and solutions are always propelled forward because they are smaller and nimbler, hence they cater to the needs of the customer.

Just as the cloud revolution changed the landscape in the early 2000s by paving the way for SaaS products everywhere, we see a new form of change underway today: the MACH revolution.

MACH Architecture: Future-Proofing Your Stack

MACH (Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless) is quickly becoming an industry acronym that is synonymous with progress and innovation. MACH is a solution methodology that disrupted the martech space by rewriting its role in digital transformation. Despite lack of support from the biggest players in the space, MACH has captured a significant piece of the industry by fundamentally focusing on solving business problems rather than selling solutions that ignore them. At its core, MACH solutions ensure composability, scalability and future-proof architecture by following their self-definition: microservices, APIs, cloud-native and headless.

  • Composability: Building a MACH solution provides the ability for every organization to “compose” its architecture on best-of-breed solutions with little concern for compatibility and interoperability. A MACH solution should fit a MACH architecture like a glove.
  • Scalability: Another self-described benefit of MACH architecture is the ability to scale seamlessly, both vertically and horizontally. With this design pattern, no business is constricted by performance and sizing. More importantly, if those issues do arise, they are easily identified and addressed because of the decoupled nature of the architecture.
  • Future-proof: Building tightly coupled solutions and platforms can also lead to effort multipliers for upgrades in order to keep those products up to date. Worse of all, if a part of the solution becomes obsolete or behind-the-times, you are stuck with it until you undergo a major re-platform effort. With MACH architecture, you have an easy path to replace what needs replacing without disrupting the larger ecosystem of your martech stack.

The biggest value in MACH architecture is the culmination of these benefits to give each organization control of their own destiny. Not only does it give brands the ability to select the best product for each need, but it also it puts all vendors on notice with the knowledge that everything is replaceable.

Related Article: The Business Case for MACH Architecture

MACH Alliance

MACH architecture isn't a new concept. Mature organizations the world over have been building with this design pattern in mind. However, the phrase MACH was formalized with the formation of the MACH Alliance in 2020. The MACH Alliance is a self-defined “non-profit co-operation to introduce a new, open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystem.”

While it began with a handful of vendors, the MACH Alliance currently boosts more than 40 product and services organizations dedicated to promoting this methodology to brands in every industry. Though the alliance is still in its adolescence, it has put the technology landscape on notice, garnering much praise from leading analysts in the process. My favorite quote comes from Joe Cicman, a digital transformation senior analyst at Forrester: “They’re [MACH Alliance] the bouncers controlling the velvet rope at the entrance of the Coolest Tech in Town Club.”

(Full Disclosure: My employer, TA Digital, is a member of the MACH Alliance.)

Related Article: MACH Architecture, What It Is, Why You Should Know It

Buyer Beware

Like any revolution, the MACH Revolution has its share of doubters and naysayers. There is plenty of criticism on the complexity and upfront investment that is typically associated with new MACH projects. Out of the gate, MACH implementations require some uplift to stand up the infrastructure, like the API gateway and microservices platform. This type of early lift can cause some anxiety around the initial cost, timeline and complexity that needs to take place — especially when the business value of those initial investments is not easily visible to the untrained eye.

Along with this early lift come concerns around whether it is “done right” and “why all of this complexity?” The reality is, yes, MACH architecture promotes a custom and bespoke approach to digital transformation. The best MACH products out there provide the ability for each brand to leverage the APIs as needed but the customer still needs to do the leveraging.

If you compare this approach to the standard monolith platform, it may feel like too much unnecessary work is required to get simple features and functionality working. That is in fact true. Monolith platforms often promote using an out-of-the-box (OOTB) solution or accelerator that shouldn’t require much customization thus making it easy, cheap and quick to implement. However, the reality for those who buy a monolith with such expectations is a rude awakening. Very rarely does an organization employ an OOTB solution or accelerator of a monolith platform as is and find they're happy with it. Most brands have their own unique set of requirements and business use cases that require further customization to any product. So, if you are not one of those brands that can leverage a platform as is, you will not enjoy the advantage of the only benefit monolith platforms have over MACH products.

There is an old saying in our industry, you will not get fired for buying a [insert name-brand legacy platform]. Maybe that is true. But nowadays, you won't get promoted for doing that either. Be careful out there, it is cloudy today with a chance of meteor.