MACH Alliance featured image with Sonja Keerl headshot and MACH Alliance logo

MACH is accelerating a bit like... well, Boeing's X-37 orbital spacecraft.

Just how fast can this experimental plane go? According to several sources, it can easily reach speeds of MACH 25.

MACH 25. Wow! That's fast. And it's exactly how the growth of MACH has felt: like we're heading into orbit.

What's fascinating is not just the velocity at which MACH has taken off, but the community awareness and adoption it has garnered in a relatively short period of time. The banner of MACH (which stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless) has become a symbolic flag across the digital industry, crystallizing the vision of a composable enterprise – one in which every component is plug-and-play, scalable, replaceable, and continuously improved to meet the evolving demands of businesses. 

And what better wingman on this meteoric flight than the MACH Alliance: an industry organization founded by commercetools, Contentstack, EPAM Systems, and Valtech to "future-proof enterprise technology and propel current and future digital experiences." Formed in June of 2020, the MACH Alliance has sought to bring together like-minded tech companies to push for MACH as an enterprise standard. Over the last two years, this fledgling community has exploded to 50 certified members composed of market-leading headless CMS and DXP systems, e-Commerce providers, consultants and integrators, and three major platform enablers – including AWS

The MACH Alliance has certainly become a voice for change at an industry level, ushering in a new era for enterprise experience technology. Heck, Forrester's Joe Cicman described them as the "bouncers controlling the velvet rope at the entrance of the Coolest Tech in Town Club" – a quote that would put a bit of swagger in anyone's stroll. But despite the measurable energy and chatter around MACH, there's still that eight-hundred-pound gorilla of a question:

Are companies really investing in this technology? And if not, are they planning to move to MACH?

That's what the MACH Alliance set out to determine in a recent study. The data from its report was interesting, to say the least – and we had a chance to connect with Sonja Keerl, President of the MACH Alliance, to inquire about the findings and help further "demystify MACH."

MACH adoption is a growing focus for tech leaders

Announced earlier this month, the "Enterprise MACHified" 2022 study – conducted by Mel Research –  polled IT leaders on their current adoption, readiness, and future plans for the use of MACH architecture and technologies. The study provides a snapshot of the current state of MACH adoption across several key geographies, revealing that many tech leaders have continued to progress towards MACH architectures over the past year – with a 19% increase in companies that have moved away from monolithic to best-of-breed, composable solutions.

According to the study, these same tech leaders see MACH as the "future of architecture," with 79% planning to increase their investments over the next year and beyond. At the same time, the research highlights some challenges around speed and flexibility as it relates to the cycle of customer experience (CX) improvements. Organizations also continue to struggle with on-premises costs while focusing more budget around speed, privacy, and other CX considerations. 

For the study itself, Mel Research spoke with a range of technology decision-makers (CIO/CTOs, VP/SVP, Senior Managers) across the UK, Germany, and the US. All organizations had at least 5,000 employees and a revenue of at least $500M annually. The research sought to:

  • measure and monitor readiness to transition to best-of-breed
  • identify drivers behind decision making
  • reveal the barriers to MACH architecture uptake
  • understand experiences from companies in transition
  • detail who the key stakeholders are in the decision making process

The report is both optimistic and cautionary – and further codifies the MACH Alliance's agnostic mission to serve its community with meaningful knowledge and resources. The data is presented through a frank and unbiased lens while illustrating where the most significant barriers exist to MACH adoption. There's a ton of rich detail in the study itself, which can be downloaded here.

Q&A with Sonja Keerl – President, MACH Alliance 

CMS Critic had an opportunity to connect with Sonja Keerl, who also serves as the Global Head of Product Marketing at Contentstack (one of the founders of the MACH Alliance). We asked for her perspective on a few key data points, and she provided some fantastic insight. We highly recommend reviewing the study and cross-referencing the answers below.

CMS Critic (CC): What might account for the variance between the UK and German data when it comes to decision-makers seeing MACH as the future of architecture? It’s a fairly wide gap. Is it just the sample size – or is something else going on from a tech culture perspective?

Sonja Keerl (SK): The sample sizes are roughly the same for all intents and purposes. The data shows that generally, Germans are less “bold” than other nations. Respondents from Germany expressed more caution when it comes to being early adopters than those in the US and UK. They seem to consider more of the “rational” factors, often needing more specifics around the tech-specs of things, clearer explanations of features and benefits, and the like.

CC: Can you expand on the data’s revelations about headless and microservices benefits not being top of mind for most respondents? What can be gleaned from this insight?

SK: It’s not so much that the benefits aren’t top of mind, but instead that many IT leaders are still in the implementation phase and are not seeing the benefits yet.

CC: There’s been increased sensitivity around cybersecurity as of late, elevated by the crisis in Ukraine. How might this impact the importance of MACH, especially given that it’s already seen as a key factor for driving the transition?

SK: The focus on cybersecurity has never been more important, and having good digital hygiene, as we’ve called it, is crucial. MACH tools do play a part in this, as they are compartmentalized by design, which can be used to define security access rules. The “M” in MACH stands for microservices, a type of software architecture that breaks up an application (think: an e-Commerce platform) into smaller individual services (such as product information, pricing, or checkout). 

The key here is ensuring employees and contractors only have access to the information they need to do their jobs, and nothing more. A compartmentalized security approach creates zones of permissions that provide relevant parties access to the services and data they need, but access to the full scope of data is extremely tight. Stolen credentials then have a limited amount of movement and become less valuable.

The security implications have indeed been a driving force toward the increased adoption of MACH.

CC: The research on the barriers to MACH is especially poignant, with a large majority of respondents citing a “resistance to change” as the key obstacle. That is closely followed by “vendor lock-in,” which seems to be a centerpiece of the MACH narrative. How is the MACH Alliance working to help overcome these challenges to adoption? Is this a typical technology cycle of early adopters versus late, or are we seeing something different with these trends? And how might organizations achieve greater insight around the ROI of investing in MACH solutions?

SK: To an extent, it’s a fear of newness and change. If things have been done the same way all along, even if that way is no longer the best, it’s familiar, it’s comfortable and it’s going to be an uphill battle for change. That sense of familiarity carries a high price, though, as we see with this research. MACH Alliance was formed for this very reason, to help demystify MACH and help organizations see how it could work for their own business, and we’re doing that by providing every resource possible for businesses that want to learn more. 

Some of the things we encourage companies to ask themselves as they consider the transition from monolith to MACH include: 

  • Does your current ecosystem make things difficult to change?
  • Are you currently operating a big monthly or longer release cycle?
  • Does it feel like you are upgrading your systems all the time?
  • Do you seem to be using 50% of a platform but paying for 100% of it?
  • Are DevOps, CI/CD, and Product-led roadmaps blocked by your current setup?
  • Would the increased revenue from a MACH ecosystem outweigh the costs and risks associated with a full re-platform?

CC: The cost of upgrades is telling. How does this underscore the opportunity for MACH?

SK: It’s straightforward: When you break free from the release cycle, which could be likened to a hamster wheel, you can allocate time, money, and people towards other things, like innovation, that drive new revenue streams or other forms of business value. The opportunity for MACH is tremendous. I think execs see that. It’s just about getting them to make that commitment to change that can be a slower pull, but we believe we’re pulling in the right direction. 

CC: One of the final recommendations from the research firm is to work with IT teams to convince them of the benefits of MACH. How is the MACH Alliance taking action on this? What sort of programs and resources are you providing from a community perspective to help overcome this obstacle? And if leaders are largely convinced, how can they play a bigger role?

SK: Our role is to educate IT professionals about the benefits MACH can deliver through use cases and practical sessions like this webinar discussing when and how to move from a monolithic approach to a composable platform. And this article is about calculating the TCO and ROI of MACH. Our ambassadors are independent of our member companies, and all have first-hand experience implementing these technologies.

The leading-edge companies who could recreate their core concepts, who could restructure, reorient and reprioritize, grew three times the rate of their peers in the first two years of Covid. With an anticipated increase in IT budgets on the horizon, IT leaders first need to look at getting all the pieces they have into the cloud. By nature, MACH supports an incremental approach to digital transformation. By breaking the platform down by functionality, they can add new MACH elements which only affect a small part of a business process and meet specific business needs, so people don’t have to spend their entire way of working just to test out a new feature. The MACH approach allows for easy, incremental change without a huge investment and disruptive change.