Risk vs Reward. How investing in new headless technology from SAP paid off big dividends
“Whilst the decision to implement SAP Spartacus while still in BETA had some inherent risk, the end result generated significant rewards.”
Technology is a risky business. Many solutions tend to emerge at the same time solving the same problem but you are faced with a fork in the road. For example, when flat screens first became a thing, there was a debate between choosing Plasma or LCD. For those older, you probably joined the debate around Betamax and VHS. Whilst these technologies are now old and irrelevant, the wisdom and principles applied to choosing new technology remain the same.
Technology decision-making is a wide topic that even a book cannot contain. However, for those who prefer to understand solutions from real-world problem scenarios, here’s a short outline of how Tacit Knowledge took a calculated risk to adopt new technology, executed the plan and produced a result that brought big rewards for our client.
Early Adoption of Spartacus – Project Challenge
Our client wanted to move faster and scale globally so that they can go direct-to-consumer. They were using an older version of the SAP Commerce (hybris) and they wanted to take advantage of the latest capability of the SAP platform. They also desired to go headless and take advantage of the SAP technology roadmap, take advantage of economies of scale and make use of emerging technologies. There was a choice to be made whether to go with SAP Spartacus, SAP’s state-of-the-art storefront technology, or use one of the many third-party storefronts available.
Whilst it might seem like SAP Spartacus is an obvious choice now, at the time of discussion, the latest version of SAP Spartacus was still in the BETA phase with no enterprise-scale project deployed to production. This meant that if we used SAP Spartacus, we would be early adopters, navigating the inherent risks of new technology in order to reap significant rewards.
A few of the technical risks were:
- Technical Experience and Volatile Product Changes
The main problem is the number of technical unknowns. For example, since SAP Commerce was traditionally a monolith, it was not clear from the beginning what is now the responsibility of the storefront, and what remains the responsibility of the commerce platform. Since Spartacus was a new product, no system integrator had extensive experience working with Spartacus; this makes hiring engineers with technical expertise difficult.
Furthermore, since it was only at the BETA stage, Spartacus was expected to evolve and contain breaking changes, increasing the risk of code waste and refactoring.
- Feature Availability and Product Roadmap Alignment
Spartacus was under heavy development. Many of the features found in the old accelerator such as Guest Checkout, Cancellation & Returns, SmartEdit integration, Assisted Service Module, Product Variants, SEO readiness and so on were not available in the BETA version of Spartacus. This meant we could potentially be doing more customisation compared to a project where we were utilising the traditional SAP accelerator.
- Production Readiness and DevOps Control
Another significant risk was production-readiness in Commerce Cloud Version 2 (CCV2). Tacit Knowledge is a DevOps organisation with strong Infrastructure capabilities. However, CCV2 is fully managed by SAP with limited configuration capability for the SI. We could not rely on our internal Infrastructure Engineers to help solve critical issues.
Early Adoption – Risk Mitigation
Knowing that significant risks would be present in our first Spartacus project, we devised a technical strategy that allowed us to minimise the technical impact of early adoption.
Skill & Expertise – Technical Experience and Volatile Product Changes
The only way to mitigate a lack of experience is to compensate with highly skilled adaptable engineers. Tacit is full of engineers who respond well to volatility and learn systems quickly! An engineering team with good engineering foundations that understands both traditional architectures and technology such as MVC, Spring and Java, but also embraces newer technology and patterns like Reactive Programming, Angular and TypeScript.
While Tacit Knowledge did not have specific experience relating to Spartacus, our depth of knowledge in software engineering gave us a solid foundation to understand and successfully implement a Spartacus project.
Timing & Collaboration – Feature Availability and Product Roadmap Alignment
To mitigate, we worked on project features that required heavy customisation first. This allowed the Spartacus team to continue to develop the product while ensuring we did not customise code that was planned for SAP’s product roadmap. It also allowed Tacit to understand the Spartacus architecture early since we are extending it heavily. A few features and extensions we developed were as follows:
- Generic CMS Components for the Marketing team
- Product Comparison
- Ability to compare different laptop specifications
- Single Sign-On (SSO) Identity Server
- Product Warranties – similar to AppleCare
- Intermediary Cross-Sell Page
- A dedicated page for selling accessories and warranties
- Checkout Features
- Address Lookup and country-specific integrations
- Payment Provider integrations – WorldPay, Affirm, Invoice, GiftCard, PayPal
- Stock Checks and Product Availability
- SEO requirements
- HREF Langs, Sitemaps, Robots.txt, Product & Category URL customisations
Prioritising custom features in our development meant that we simply integrated product upgrades from Spartacus as and when they became available; this required close alignment and collaboration with SAP Product Teams. While it generated quite a bit of overhead setting up meetings to synchronise, it allowed us to have minimal code waste and refactoring. This also meant that the project is proven to be easily upgradeable, aligning to the SAP product roadmap.
Resilience & Planning – Production Readiness and DevOps Control
There was no simple solution when it came to production readiness, we simply had to be there and fix things until everything is done. We encountered a few issues such as memory leaks, server-side rendering issues, and not knowing what caused the issue in production due to lack of infrastructure access combined with the product immaturity. However, SAP helped a lot by sharing heap dumps and logs, which allowed us to identify potential causes of memory leaks and code issues.
Furthermore, production rollout was done per country using Akamai’s phased release approach, allowing us to run a dual-platform reducing customer disruption. Doing so provided a safety fallback and time to stabilise the new platform before the legacy platform was fully deprecated. This meant we were able to control the volume of issues and reduce the impact to our most important customers.
Our client is reaping the rewards of early technology adoption that was delivered on time and budget despite the COVID19 pandemic.
Here are a few ways our client benefited from this project which would not have been the case had we chosen a different option.
- SAP roadmap alignment
- Take advantage of future SAP roadmap
- Influenced SAP roadmap to prioritise the client’s business requirements
- State of the art technology and user experience
- API-first headless architecture
- PWA storefront with Angular framework
- Drag and Drop live preview CMS through SmartEdit
- Reduced cost of operation
- Core integrations with the OCC API are done by the SAP team
- Infrastructure is fully managed by the SAP team
- Technology debt for their storefront like Angular upgrades are done by the SAP team
Whilst the decision to implement SAP Spartacus while still in BETA had some inherent risk, the end result generated significant rewards. This project showcased Tacit’s ability to deliver a challenging project and solidified our reputation as an expert System Integrator who makes decisions based on providing business value instead of easy project delivery.
Tacit Knowledge helps clients solve challenging problems—sometimes that involves taking a calculated risk implementing new technology. If you’re looking to innovate and reap big rewards, we are the experienced, safe pair of hands that can help you succeed.
This article is written by Kane Balagtey—Front-End Consultant for Tacit Knowledge leading the Spartacus storefront integration for re-platform projects.