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How to Tell if Tech Vendors are "MACH-Washing"

  • Article
  • 5 MIN READ
  • MAY 1, 2023
Wells Stringham
Wells Stringham

Head of Experience



Companies are increasingly turning to MACH and composable technologies to evolve their stack. According to the MACH Alliance, 87% of leaders who embrace MACH report that their teams are more responsive and ahead of the competition. Between a volatile economy and relentless innovation, more teams are seeing composable tech as a way to gain a competitive edge.

While the benefits of the model are clear, the steps needed to make it happen are less so. Companies need clear guidelines to evaluate what degree of MACH they need, and what combination of tooling is best. This includes everything from selecting new software vendors to reorienting teams, and updating ways of working.

In addition to this, there’s a new set of criteria that companies need when selecting their tech: how to tell the difference between real MACH vendors, and the ones who are ‘MACH-washing’.

More vendors are describing themselves as ‘composable’ and ‘MACH-led’. Marketing materials, company announcements, and product tutorials, tout ‘best-in-class composable solutions’. But many of them are not. They’re ‘MACH-washing’.

The problem? Many business leaders are left confused, or worse — they’re unknowingly implementing large-scale solutions that will put them at a serious disadvantage down the road.

As a certified, and experienced creator of MACH-led digital innovation, we want to set the record straight on how you should think about your MACH readiness. And what to look for when selecting your vendors, to avoid walking down the wrong, expensive road.

A refresher on MACH

To ground our analysis of vendor solutions, let’s revisit the tenets of MACH. Here’s how the MACH Alliance describes the approach:

“MACH is an industry tech standard describing modern technology. The prerequisites to achieve this standard are: Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, and Headless.”

In principle, MACH architecture is fully composable and modular, giving organizations the ability to experiment, scale, and rapidly react to changing market conditions by using best-of-need tools.

MACH is an amazing approach for many businesses who want to build for the long-term. But it comes with a caveat: it’s not a blanket solution. And not every business is ready for it.

Not all companies should adopt MACH technologies, yet

There’s no denying the huge benefits of MACH. At Apply Digital, we work on creating these benefits for our clients every day, building composable, future-proof MACH ecosystems that work with a range of tools. But if you’re not quite ready to make this change, you’ll only be inviting more headaches your way.

If you’re an enterprise with a complex product and customer journey, MACH may be a great fit. But if your tech needs are simple, like an eCommerce business selling a handful of physical products on a small scale, there are great monolith options available that could be a better fit. Making the switch to a MACH setup is not just about swapping in new tools. Your team structure, culture, and available resources play a role too. In many ways, you’ll need an entirely new operating system for your team.

One of the things we’re excited to see help with this is the maturity assessment calculator the MACH Alliance is building. With it, companies will be able to determine if they’re ready for MACH, and what they need to make it happen. This aligns with our approach of doing a thorough audit of each client’s situation before we make a build recommendation – whether that includes MACH, or not.

Know that MACH-washing exists in legacy tech

With that caveat out of the way, we want to clarify another point of confusion cropping up in the industry: not all solutions being described as MACH, are offering a MACH-certified level of composability.

This shows up in different ways. Legacy tech vendors who have built up brand equity in the past are using labels like ‘MACH’, and ‘composable technologies’ when referring to their repackaged services. These sound like MACH, and look like MACH, but they’re not MACH.

In some cases, products have some composability, but are fundamentally built in ways that sit squarely outside of the MACH philosophy, with the label slapped on top. These vendors are not MACH Alliance-certified, nor do their offerings independently stand up to the industry criteria set by the MACH Alliance.

Whether you’re new to the philosophy or a seasoned ambassador, the criteria for being a true MACH solution is quite clear. Table stakes include solution interoperability, and the ability to change up your tools over time, as your business evolves.

It’s important for decision makers to understand the nuances and risks of choosing the wrong applications, and vendor partners. The MACH Alliance published a great article diving into the technical distinctions between composability and MACH, along with the fine print that your technical team should be evaluating for your unique scenario.

Beyond buzzwords: Tips to evaluate your vendor partners

So what can you do as a business leader to separate fact from fiction when it comes to selecting MACH-forward, composable technologies and vendor partners?

Here are the top three elements we recommend you pay attention to when evaluating a MACH partner.

1. Ask: are they MACH Alliance-certified?

There is rigorous evaluation criteria and an in-depth application process for solutions to become certified, and for vendors to become a member of the MACH Alliance. If a tool is presented as composable, but the vendor is not certified, it might not meet industry standards.

Be on guard for exaggerated claims creeping in, and do your due diligence. You can quickly check if a vendor is certified by doing a scan on the MACH Alliance’s member page. MACH Alliance Certified Badge is also a good indicator of a vendor's credentials.

2. Ask: how interoperable is the platform?

The goal here is to find out how easy it is to swap in and out products in your stack. Some tech vendors describe their tools as composable, but some of them have a catch – they require a ‘versioned API’. This means that someone will need to do custom configuration to make APIs connect seamlessly together.

Ask, are you able to change out your payment provider, or commerce engine? Activate a new dynamic search tool that better suits your customers’ preferences? If not, it’s not MACH.

A core tenet of MACH philosophy is having total flexibility over your stack. If you’re moving towards MACH, you want to look for tools that easily plug in and out whenever you like. That’s what microservices, APIs, cloud-native, and headless architecture are all about.

3. If it's an uncertified vendor, ask: how closely do you adhere to MACH principles?

Ultimately, some solutions and vendors may operate fully with MACH principles, but are simply not certified. If this is the case, vendors should be able to speak to how all the parts of a MACH ecosystem are satisfied and have ample examples of interoperability. If you’re not sure how to distinguish between these nuances, it can help to connect with a MACH-certified system integrator to get an agnostic opinion.

System integrators should not only give you an unbiased view of potential tools, they can provide case studies and recommendations on how to tackle complex business challenges. At Apply Digital, we go beyond the traditional system integrator role by taking a holistic approach to building MACH ecosystems. We look at market demands, what your customers want, and evaluate your existing technology constraints along with team culture and structure, to recommend a setup that’s designed to achieve business goals.

We’re excited about the future of MACH and composable technologies. We want to see businesses succeed with this approach, and get set up with solutions that will carry them well into the future. Wherever you are in your journey, our team is happy to answer any questions you might have. If you’re interested in chatting, connect with us here.

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