It is commonly accepted that digital technology is transforming the way companies across industry sectors do business. What is less widely agreed upon is the best way for companies to adapt to this transformation. Take the world of newspapers and magazines, for example. In spite of the massively disruptive effect digitization has had on certain other content-providing sectors, there is still a surprising amount of resistance to change among some traditionally print-based organizations.
My wife is a high school journalism advisor and, through her, I’ve witnessed the transformation of the publishing industry from print to Web firsthand. The parallels to larger media outlets are surprisingly relevant. Most news outlets accept the need for a compelling Web presence but they are increasingly faced with readers consuming content on mobile devices. Therefore, they need to optimize their sites for mobile. In some organizations, transferring an established user experience to the context of a mobile browser is a significant development challenge.
It gets worse. Many mobile users no longer consume online content via a browser, preferring to use dedicated apps. Any company that wishes to engage this audience needs to develop a compelling app, but business and technical stakeholders often balk at the cost and complexity of building another user experience for yet another platform. Consequently, some are eschewing mobile apps altogether and concentrating on what they do well – delivering an excellent desktop experience.
These companies are asking if it’s worth investing in app development and deciding it isn’t. Given what we’ve said about digital disruption, this seems like the wrong answer. But the real mistake being made here is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking whether they should launch a ground-up development effort to address a new digital platform, they should be asking how they can adopt architecture patterns that will simplify the process of developing apps for any platform.
The world of journalism has clearly shown that digital transformation is an ongoing process. First, news providers needed to deliver content via the Web, then the mobile Web, then HTML5 apps, then native apps and increasingly through differentiated social and aggregator channels where readers get personalized content. With the Internet of Things becoming a reality, content delivery will move beyond tablets and phones, into smart TVs, connected cars, wearables and beyond.
Separate the client-side presentation layer from the data that fuels it.
Companies can address this by adopting architectural patterns that simplify the process of repurposing and coordinating services across online channels. With the right backend architecture in place, they can escape the cycle of always needing to develop solutions for the next hot platform. They can future-proof their digital assets by creating a framework for quickly and cost-effectively developing applications for whatever channels and devices may emerge in the future.
This means separating the client-side presentation layer from the data that fuels it. It may be easy to develop a user interface for a new device or channel but using that UI to deliver your content or service in a meaningful way is another matter. If the interface you currently use to present your data is too tightly coupled to the backend systems in which that data resides, you will have to reformat the data for every new use case, which will inevitably be a slow, resource-intensive process.
The idea of decoupling backend systems from client-side presentation using various standards is not new, but an approach based on RESTful Web APIs is the preferred method. APIs deliver the best solution for quickly building engaging apps and coordinating the delivery of content across channels. In addition, they play a central role in microservices architectures, which are beginning to help companies decompose monolithic applications into more agile components enabled by APIs.
To return to the example of news media and content providers, microservices architecture presents all sorts of new possibilities for accelerating the delivery of relevant online experiences – making it possible to address even the most ephemeral of contexts, such as sports championships, TV competition shows and product launches. Adopting an API-centric architectural approach becomes a method for future-proofing these systems against subsequent changes in client technology.
APIs come with their own challenges. If a media company opens its content repository via APIs to the open Web, it increases the risks of its content being used without permission, its IT systems being hacked or its servers being overwhelmed. Therefore, it will need to include security, identity, monetization and scaling functionality into its API infrastructure – a process that can be simplified using one of the API management solutions that have become available in recent years.
But, with the right infrastructure in place, you will never have to ask if it’s worth your while building an app for a new platform. You’ll be future-proofed and ready to adapt.
Feature Image: The New York Times BrandStudio on behalf of CA Technologies.