The Best Approach for a Highly Successful Headless Architecture

September 25, 2019 | 4 minute read
Jay Atkinson
Senior Principal Product Manager, Oracle
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In the first installment of our headless blog series, I wrote that making the right choices in your headless strategy could solidify and elevate your customer experience.

I recently sat down with Matt Landau, VP of Software Development at Oracle, to discuss approaches you should be thinking about when it comes to headless commerce.

Matt has built industry leading ecommerce platforms for over 20 years including ATG as well as Oracle Commerce Cloud. Today, Matt helps new and existing customers look at their sites and infrastructure architecture to help them deliver the most seamless and beneficial customer experiences.

What do people mean when they talk about ‘headless commerce systems’ and how do these systems compare with traditional commerce platforms?

Let me explain how commerce platforms tend to fall into one of three categories; tightly coupled, fully headless, or hybrid headless, sometimes referred to as ‘head-optional.’

Tightly Coupled

In many traditional commerce platforms, the front-end presentation and the back-end business logic are tightly coupled.  The presentation is generated directly by the back-end and may be created directly in source code by using a page definition language like JSP, or with a server-side template engine like Velocity.  

Historically, most ecommerce platforms fell into the tightly coupled category and were only able to generate front-end experiences for a very limited set of channels or devices without customization or additional tools.

Fully Headless

A fully headless system is API-only by design, with no built-in presentation layer.  All business functionality is exposed through APIs, typically REST endpoints.  The platform is designed to be integrated with a third-party presentation layer provided by a content management system (CMS), a digital experience platform (DXP), or a custom application in each channel you want to support.  Fully headless systems can support any channel or device for which a front end can be made available.  

At first blush, fully headless platforms appear to provide the most flexibility in how you build out a solution.  The choice of languages, tools, and technologies is completely open.  However, both the cost and the technical challenges of integrating different front end and back end systems have to be taken into account.  There is also a long-term cost of ownership in maintaining the integration as the different components of the solution evolve independently of each other.

Companies considering fully headless systems need to carefully assess the time, budget, and the technical expertise required to take on building and maintaining the front-end / back-end integration along with any custom applications they may need.

Hybrid Headless

Between these two extremes, we find the hybrid headless, or head-optional platforms like Oracle Commerce Cloud.  These systems provide a default presentation layer for one or more channels that you can use if you choose to. But, they also offer a complete API so they can behave as fully headless systems where it makes sense.

In a well-designed hybrid headless platform, the presentation layer and the back end are loosely coupled through the platform APIs.  The presence of a default presentation layer serves as one proof point that the APIs are functionally complete and integrated with each other.  The most flexible hybrid headless systems provide a presentation layer that is itself extensible. This allows you to call APIs from other systems and integrate them into your user experience. These systems should allow you to extend the front end experience and back end functionality independently and as frequently as you desire.

Hybrid headless systems offer a best-of-both-worlds approach because they provide the flexibility to choose the best approach for each channel based on your schedule, your budget, your technical capacity, and of course your business requirements.

Where does Oracle Commerce Cloud fit in?  

Oracle Commerce Cloud is a hybrid headless system with a fully extensible presentation layer.

The default front-end communicates with the back-end entirely through public APIs.  If you choose to use it, you can build user experiences for the Web quickly and efficiently by arranging drag-and-drop components that are pre-wired into the Commerce Cloud APIs.  You can also create custom components that talk to anything.  They’re first-class citizens in the page, including the ability to drag and drop them onto a page and to interact with out-of-the-box components.

If you choose to, you can ignore the built-in front end and use Commerce Cloud as a fully headless solution.  You can also mix and match approaches by using the default presentation layer for the web while using the API to support connections to mobile applications and to novel channels like chat bots, smart speakers, and smart home devices.

Lastly, what would you say to a development or business team evaluating their approach to headless?

The key is flexibility to choose the technical architecture that works best for you in each channel, rather than being locked into an all-or-nothing approach. Determining your approach does not need to be a polarizing discussion. Business teams and development teams need to look at headless as just another tool in their arsenal to deliver a better customer experience to their customers. The goal should be to have the greatest amount of agility with the least required ongoing maintenance.

Check the results from our customers who have moved from ATG to Oracle Commerce Cloud. 

Oracle was named a Leader in the 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce.  Click here to get the full 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce








Jay Atkinson

Senior Principal Product Manager, Oracle

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