Senior Software Developer Dwain Maxwell discusses some of the benefits we have found in using a headless CMS in our software and website development projects.
Anyone who has a digital presence, whether that is a website or a publicly available service, is constantly having to deal with a “keep it up to date or get stuck in the past” situation. In an ever competitive world where striving to stay at the front of mind for your users while simultaneously making things efficient and simple is an extremely difficult path to navigate.
Here at Ember we have taken a strategic approach of decoupling our technology stack in order to provide a more interoperable and integrated set of platform services which then enables us to reuse, reconfigure and open up functionality and data easily through API’s.
This ‘Headless’ approach involves separating the viewable front-end of an application (website, admin or mobile application) from the back-end platform where the logic and functionality exists, allowing for greater flexibility, security and scalability. We have adopted this Headless approach across all our projects and in this blog post we will explore the benefits in adopting this strategy.
One benefit of using a headless platform strategy is the flexibility it offers our designers and developers, it means we start projects without the need to build everything from first principles and can instead provide existing Good Practice designs and software components as a foundation. With a traditional website or application, the front-end and back-end are tightly coupled, making it more difficult to make changes to one without them affecting the other. With a headless platform though, the front-end and back-end platform are completely separate, allowing for greater flexibility in the design and development process which, as an adopted agile company, we value greatly.
This allows our clients to easily swap out the front-end of a website or application without affecting the core logic in the back-end platform. This can be particularly useful when it comes to redesigning a website or mobile application, as the back-end platform remains the same while the front-end is updated to meet changing user needs, design trends or brand changes.
This approach also means that landing pages to support digital marketing campaigns can be spun up easily and quickly without affecting the main website functionality or content management system, so marketing efforts can more easily be separated from the core function of the website and concentrated on delivering Agile marketing campaigns.
Another benefit of using a headless platform strategy is improved scalability. With a traditional or legacy CMS, scaling up can be more difficult due to the front-end and back-end being aligned. With a headless platform, the back-end platform can be scaled independently of the front-end, providing our customers with a greater level of future-proofing.
Legacy CMS systems have historically been associated with bloat throughout the whole platform, where adding and updating plugins to accommodate specific functionality has resulted in a scalability and performance effect throughout the whole system and over time this often results in poor page experience, slow page load times and overall user frustration.
With a Headless approach, if a website or application experiences a sudden increase in traffic, the back-end can be scaled up to handle the increased load without affecting the front-end. This can help ensure that the website or application remains responsive and functional even during times of high traffic, allowing for growth for our clients.
A headless platform strategy also allows for greater customisation. Because the front-end and back-end platform are completely separate, Ember’s developers and designers can easily create custom front-ends that are tailored to the specific needs of their users without being constrained by a legacy CMS’ limitations. This leads to having demographic specific personalised and contextual user journeys through the system, leading to a more trusted, quicker and smoother user experience.
A project might require that we create a custom front-end that is optimised for specific devices, a specific integration with an external system or includes additional functionality that is not available on the default front-end. By using a headless platform approach, we can handle edge cases and integrations with confidence that we’re constrained within the barriers of a single system.
This can help improve the user experience and ensure that the website or application meets the specific needs of its users, and that new ideas can be applied without major upheaval in the back-end. A good example of this approach is on our GoSESTran Project where we layer transportation information based on geographical availability of that information, while maintaining a consistent user experience. This means we can add, remove or change specific geographic data streams without the need to change any mobile applications or web applications.
Because the front-end and back-end platform are separate, developers and designers can choose to use pre-built front-end frameworks, design components or tools, rather than building a custom front-end from scratch. This has a two fold benefit as we can deliver products quickly and in doing so, reduce project costs.
Looking farther ahead, with a back-end that can be scaled independently of the front-end, businesses can further save money by only scaling the parts of the system that are experiencing increased traffic, rather than scaling the entire system.
A Headless platform strategy also improves security. Because the front-end and back-end are separate, the back-end can be hidden from public view, making it more difficult for attackers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities.
Additionally, because the front-end is separate from the back-end, developers can easily implement additional security measures, such as two-factor authentication or encryption, without affecting the back-end. This can help ensure that the website or application remains secure and protected against cyber attacks.
Finally, by using a Headless approach, we reduce all Application carbon footprint by optimising the performance and efficiency of its hosting and data delivery. Communicating only the data needed instead of bloated full pages offers faster loading times, lower bandwidth consumption, and less server load. In a society where we are conscious of the Environmental impact in what we do Ember have recently invested heavily in reducing our AWS hosting Carbon Footprint to Net Zero and the adoption of a Headless approach has been a key strategic part of this plan.
A headless platform strategy can feel different to a standard CMS approach but it does help future proof your initial investment and reduces future cost and impact of any changes needed. By separating the front-end and back-end of a website or application, businesses can enjoy greater flexibility, scalability, customisation, reduced costs, and improved security. If you're considering a new software development project, be sure to consider a headless platform strategy as a way to maximise your development resources and create a more flexible, scalable, and secure system.