Mapping the Rise of the MACH Alliance
Microservices, APIs, Cloud-native, and Headless.
That's MACH architecture, the apparent future of web content management and digital experiences.
The MACH Alliance, on the other hand, was formed in June 2020 to help that future arrive a little faster, promote the architecture's benefits, and essentially police the usage of the acronym.
What is the MACH Alliance?
Founded by Amplience, commercetools, Contentstack, Valtech, and EPAM Systems, the MACH Alliance is a non-profit organization of vendors, agencies, and ambassadors from across the DXP, headless CMS, and headless commerce spaces.
In less than two years, the MACH Alliance has attracted 44 members, who together have raised over $2.5 billion in funding.
To understand the Alliance and its purpose, I spoke exclusively to MACH Alliance President Sonja Keerl.
"From our inception, the Alliance has had a mission to champion the MACH principle as a global tech standard and to help usher companies along in their adoption of MACH technologies," said Keerl,
"With nearly 50 members today spanning three continents, our momentum has been exactly what we'd hoped for and expected, and we've done it without lowering our certification standards. That point is more important than ever since MACH-washing has become increasingly common. We're helping businesses weed through that noise," she continued.
Did the "Mach-washing" comment catch your eye? Mine too.
Despite its growing list of members, plenty of non-Alliance vendors embrace the MACH movement and adopt it into their content, branding, and sales assets.
And rightfully so, as the Alliance and the movement are not one and the same.
Surprisingly, though, it's Sitecore leading the charge.
The MACH Alliance was founded to highlight the shortcomings of suites and monoliths like Sitecore, but rather instead of ignoring the trend, the San Francisco-based software giant has chosen to go on the offensive, attempting to position itself at the heart of the MACH movement.
I suspect that this is what Keerl meant by "MACH-washing".
Whether or not Sitecore's suite of products can live up to the promised benefits of a MACH architecture is another conversation for another day. But one thing is for sure, Sitecore hasn't let this marketing and messaging opportunity pass them by.
MACH Alliance vs MACH Architecture
The MACH Alliance does not have a monopoly on the MACH architecture movement. Sitecore alone has proven that. But the movement is broader still.
Many software vendors inside the Digital Experience Platform (DXP) space already offer microservices (or, will present their SaaS as a microservice in a broader ecosystem), APIs, cloud-hosting, and headless content or data management.
That's MACH. An architectural philosophy that–like many buzzwords and acronyms before it–has no official gatekeeper, and is, therefore, open to interpretation.
The MACH Alliance is hoping to control that interpretation, and a growing number of headless CMS and headless commerce vendors think it's a good idea.
Why are Headless CMS Vendors Joining the MACH Alliance?
What exactly do MACH Alliance members get after they sign up? The Alliance's application form holds some answers.
"Our members have access to a global community of MACH vendors, system integrators, Agencies, and other organizations, pooling resources to promote the MACH ecosystem, sharing knowledge and opening opportunities to collaborate.
Members are able to claim that they are MACH certified and can use the MACH trademark.
The Alliance offers multiple opportunities for members to get involved and drive the Alliance forward, from specific councils that cover an area of activity (e.g. Marketing, Growth, Technology….) through to membership of the Advisory Board or Executive Board depending on level.
The Alliance will organize events and attendance at conferences and exhibitions working with members to make the most of joint marketing, but also supporting members to get the most out of these events."
That's interesting, but I wanted to hear from those choosing to join, too. What's motivating them?
I spoke with Ronak Ganatra, VP of Marketing at GraphCMS, a recent arrival at the Alliance. He told me that GraphCMS has, "always been aligned with the intent of the MACH alliance, as it eventually boils down to companies having better control of their technologies, and using modern software that compliments their business ambitions rather than forces them into using inflexible legacy software."
"Headless, API-first, and composable architectures are how we, at GraphCMS, have seen the future of software, and to get this ethos echoed at a larger scale from 50 other MACH members reassures us that we're headed in the right direction together," Ganatra said.
Storyblok, another one of the Alliance's newest members, felt that joining the Alliance was a natural move for the company. Co-founder Dominik Angerer explained to me that, "Storyblok is built on the same MACH principles that the MACH Alliance represents as an independent group."
"I genuinely believe the best-of-breed technologies the MACH Alliance represents will become the default way that businesses create digital experiences. Together we want to help enterprises and organizations of all sizes future-proof their content management," Angerer explained.
I also jumped on a call with Storyblok's VP of Marketing, Thomas Peham.
"We believe that the MACH principles are becoming the standard way of how software is used," Peham said.
"So, we asked ourselves, "How can we translate the benefits that come with the MACH technologies into a language that resonates with marketers and non-technical people?" And with the MACH Alliance, we've found a group that tells this story on a global scale," he continued.
Who Can Join the MACH Alliance (and How)?
Software vendors, system integrators (agencies) can both join the alliance. "Enablers" of MACH architecture will also be considered, along with non-MACH enablers.
Before we run through the MACH certification criteria, let's discuss the fees.
In short, your annual membership will cost you somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000+, depending on the size of your company and your appetite for council seats and advisory board access.
As for the criteria, here's the questionnaire you'll need to fill out to be considered a MACH certified vendor.
- At least three different microservices that each have their own domain
- Each with their own datastore
- Applications communicate with events or through API calls
- Able to release each application independently
- The only means of accessing functionality is through APIs. Must have 100% API coverage
- Customer-facing APIs must be REST and/ or GraphQL
- Internally, APIs built first. Then implementation happens
- Multi-tenant native SaaS (single instance of application can service many different users)
- No platform upgrades that customers have to apply (hands-free/transparent to customers). Your product isn’t versioned.
- Live projects with at least 2 other MACH ISV member companies. Please describe which other ISVs are part of that project and name the customers.
- Share an example of a recent MACH campaign/ content piece conducted by your organization (share link to website, landing page or campaign)
- Your entire company product(s) offering/ portfolio is 100% MACH compliant.
- Provide 3 public enterprise MACH references (customers willing to speak publicly about their use of member's product or service)
- Name > 5 customers, each generating more than $100M in annual revenue using [your] MACH compliant product(s)
- Do you have > 50 employees?
There are further terms and conditions of course, but the questions above give you a sense of what the Alliance is looking for.
What's Next for the MACH Alliance?
With a growing pool of vendors and agencies in the Alliance, it's time for the group to think of ways to make membership count for those paying the price for it.
Beyond the ability to claim MACH certification, attend events, and publish content in a quasi-aligned fashion, the logical next step for the Alliance is to give members a tangible return on their investment.
And Commercetools' CPO Kelly Goetsch agrees.
We're yet to find out the results of that brainstorming session Goetsch mentioned, but the comments under his post are full of interesting ideas.
In closing, nobody reading this article will be a stranger to acronyms and buzzwords. They've been flooding the CMS industry for years, and I suspect that will continue.
So. will the MACH buzzword come and go like many before? Or will it remain, marking a genuine turning point in the industry? From where I'm standing, the latter seems more believable by the day.