Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From monolithic to holistic: a smart shift for your business

by Steve Gale, CCO, CTI Group

With operational costs continuing to go through the roof, it’s more important than ever that businesses maximise their investments and spend wisely, especially when it comes to technology, which can be costly. But often organisations get stuck when it comes to deciding between a monolithic approach, where all the components are tightly integrated into a single, unified codebase or a holistic approach to tech systems, that encompasses various aspects, components, and interconnections to create a unified and synergistic environment. 

This is particularly true of larger organisations, where multiple departments are often intertwined on various programme components. That’s why, when it comes to considering the technology needed to support a brand’s digital ecosystem and customer experience, businesses have typically favoured the convenience and effectiveness of monolithic systems.

Though monolithic architecture might be the more straightforward (and therefore first) choice, it frequently falls short of the mark. In my experience in an agency that helps brands revamp and enhance their digital operations and online experiences, monolithic systems consistently emerge as sizable obstacles. As the digital landscape continued to rapidly evolve and customer requirements are constantly changing, this poses a significant challenge.

Instead, companies achieve the greatest value when they adopt a holistic approach to their business systems. Instead of relying on a single all-encompassing system, the ideal approach is to leverage multiple best-in-class systems and integrate them seamlessly. As well as fostering innovation, this empowers businesses to get the best of what they need.

Choosing the right path for your business

From the start you need to assess the requirements of your business and customers; taking a customer-first approach is key to aligning your tech with their needs.

Consider what your customers need. Examine the pros and cons of your existing systems and identify any deficiencies. (And of course, cost-benefit analysis will also be a crucial factor.)

To successfully implement bespoke tech, it needs to be backed by a strategic plan for transformation. This process should be a gradual evolution rather than abrupt revolution, so be pragmatic. After all, radical sudden shifts can disrupt the whole organisation and alienate customers. 

Initially, prioritise the areas that have the greatest impact on both business and customer requirements and establish a well-structured programme for phasing out or updating core functions. By focusing on incremental improvements, you’ll ensure that operations will continue to facilitate growth and enhance customer satisfaction.

Ultimately, the key to propelling business growth and equipping your organisation with the agility to meet evolving customer demands lies in harnessing a blend of top-tier systems and technologies tailored to your precise requirements. By adopting this tailored approach, your transformation efforts will be finely tuned to address the specific challenges and opportunities that your business faces.

Short term vs long term

Many businesses are initially drawn to singular systems due to their apparent simplicity. Monolithic architectures come with pre-built functionality, allowing for a speedy path to market, reduced setup requirements and lower development expenses. They provide all the essential components a business requires, in one convenient single package.

In contrast, holistic systems demand greater engagement and often entail a slightly higher development cost. Add to that the up-front complexity and customisation involved in designing a holistic system, and it could be off-putting.

But while there’s no denying that upfront costs can be daunting, businesses need to look at the bigger picture. 

This isn’t me denying that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. There will be specific situations where adopting the monolithic approach might be best for your business. For example, if you view the monolith’s initial quicker, cheaper route to market as paramount to your success.

But, long term, opting for the monolithic system is unlikely to be the most prudent choice for your business, thanks not least to their skyrocketing costs compared to holistic systems.

Monoliths tends to accrue technical debt because of patches and add-ons made to the system to address evolving requirements. These patches introduce complexity and inconsistencies, which can cause increased maintenance costs and decreased system efficiency as time passes. So, while the initial investment in a holistic system may seem steep, your business is likely to save money in the long run. 

The importance of flexibility

Like Ronseal, a monolithic system “will do exactly what it says on the tin”. It’s set to a fixed road map. And while that’s great for some projects, it leaves little room for core customisation. That means it’s very difficult to change what it does, and when business needs evolve, companies face the horrible task of throwing everything out and starting all over again. That’s a considerable cost and a major stress.

In a holistic system, you have the flexibility to swap parts out and integrate various technologies to scale and align your evolving business needs. This ecosystem offers a library of pre-built components and modules for seamless integration, enabling a far more adaptable roadmap. It also provides businesses with best-in-class capabilities via the partners they can plug in.

Now, it wouldn’t be accurate to claim that a monolithic system is entirely inflexible; certain elements can be altered and adjusted. But it’s nowhere near as quick and agile as a holistic system.

So, yes, while there’s no denying that the initial stages of a holistic system may present greater challenges, they ultimately offer superior long-term value. Their enhanced flexibility and adaptability empower businesses to meet changing market dynamics and customer demands more efficiently, without the need for costly and time-consuming system overhaul. This gives them a significant strategic advantage in today’s constantly evolving business landscape.