Digital Acceleration: The Single Biggest Business Benefit of GraphQL

Or how to pitch GraphQL adoption to your leaders whether they are developers or not.

Looking at the big GraphQL adopter list at graphql.org makes you think all these companies must be right. They vary in industry and size greatly, but they’ve all adopted GraphQL. What else do they have in common?

All of them need to deal with data, one way or another.

All of them serve their customers.

While both statements may seem trite, they’re key to understanding what I believe is the ultimate business benefit of adopting GraphQL—digital acceleration.

How so? Before I explain this, let me first take a step back to outline the problem area.

Ubiquitous APIs

Every company in the world today is involved in exchanging all sorts of data, both internally and with the outside world. This happens all the time and inevitably so by means of Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs.

It’s useful to think of APIs as the glue that connects everything together. APIs mediate communication between different software as well as between devices. There are APIs involved in whatever you do online.

Someone has to make these APIs work though. At large organizations this may become especially tricky due to the sheer number of services that need to be connected. Scale aside, this is the kind of work that distracts software engineers from what any organization considers their main job—delivering value to customers.

GraphQL is a technology that helps solve this inherent problem of API busywork and much more.

Now, I’m not going to pretend GraphQL APIs are the best APIs ever and everyone should turn to GraphQL for everything. Depending on a number of factors, REST APIs may be just fine for what you need and there are other alternatives worth considering too. It’s also true GraphQL has certain trade-offs. However, its impact on digital acceleration has been tremendous for many adopters, including the likes of PayPal, Netflix, Volkswagen, Expedia Group, and Wayfair, among others.

Faster Delivery = More Value to Customers

Digital acceleration is all about making the most out of technology for the business. A huge part of this is enabling developers to work smarter and faster.

GraphQL considerably facilitates managing data in your applications and together with proper tooling makes the developer experience a breeze. This is crucial because of the relentless demand for new services and apps in today’s digital economy.

Earlier, I mentioned how API busywork puts a burden on developers, especially in the enterprise. There’s lots and lots of complexity in the interactions that involve data. Devs need to deal with multiple sources of data, most likely built on different technologies.

GraphQL enables a new approach to handling this integration complexity that’s called data federation.

Federation architecture relies on a central data gateway that has the power to query multiple data sources in one go. This doesn’t happen directly but is mediated through subgraphs, which are layers of abstraction placed over individual data sources. Together with the gateway, the subgraphs make up a larger entity called the supergraph.

Such a setup results in a number of benefits. The supergraph is a game changer as it provides a single and always up-to-date catalog of data to developers, enabling them to work much more efficiently and collaboratively. Each subgraph can be developed independently of other teams, allowing them to work in parallel. Best of all, since GraphQL is programming language agnostic, everyone can keep on using the frameworks of their choice.

Combined with smart developer tooling, data federation provides a huge productivity boost to software engineers, which directly translates to creating and shipping more value to your customers.

Facilitating Omnichannel Experiences

An area of special interest when it comes to speed of delivery and developer productivity is customer experience, or CX. Now, as an API technology, GraphQL may seem to have little to do with UX/UI at first sight. The truth is, the graph is transformative for the way teams build and deliver next-level customer experiences, especially in an enterprise challenged by architectural complexity.

Let me explain this by taking a quick look at the example of Expedia Group, a company operating a massive amount of travel fare aggregators and metasearch engines. The sheer scale of their activity requires the effort of thousands of developers to deliver great CX across all channels.

Before turning to GraphQL, Expedia’s teams found it increasingly difficult to focus on improving customer experiences of their products. In Expedia’s RESTful API model, every single client frontend needed direct connections to numerous underlying services. This architecture considerably slowed down client teams and became especially problematic with the rise of native mobile clients, which led to Expedia eventually facing diverging customer experiences and a duplication of effort.

In an attempt to remedy this, the teams started experimenting with the Backend-for-Frontend (BFF) pattern. While this approach was an improvement in that it freed the clients from business and orchestration logic, it quickly turned out that it doesn’t scale, since each and every client would require a unique BFF. So they dropped that idea and instead turned to GraphQL with the goal of using it to connect all of the organization’s app data and services into a single graph.

Combined with state-of-the-art tooling provided by the Apollo platform, GraphQL proved to be the perfect answer to Expedia’s woes. Client teams now had a single entry point to connect to, freeing them from directly connecting to numerous services. Service owners, in turn, were enabled to expose data with ease through a schema which provided clients with the exact portion of data required. The technology ultimately allowed Expedia’s CX teams to transcend all of the complexity they were facing, speed up the design and experimentation process, improve customer experiences and work towards aligning them across different products.

GraphQL’s impact on client development is invaluable as customer experience remains a top priority for businesses inclined on driving growth. Recent research shows that 88% of senior IT leadership (including C-level) perceive CX improvement as an important goal, while 38% of that cohort expect considerable revenue growth in return.

Interestingly, the same report found that 90% are facing technology challenges in that regard. With its proven track-record in facilitating CX delivery, GraphQL is definitely an appropriate answer to this problem area.

Unleash digital intelligence across your organization

We’ve already covered how GraphQL enables faster delivery and its impact on improving customer experiences, however, there’s one more aspect to this technology that’s perhaps its biggest contribution to digital acceleration.

Since the graph gives developers convenient access to data from multiple sources, it effectively unlocks data in your organization for numerous possible use cases.

In result, you can utilize pre-existing data to create new value streams with minimal backend effort. For instance, thanks to GraphQL you can quickly develop a new business intelligence app. All you need to care about is how to present the required data in the frontend, because the backend part has become a walk in the park.

Adopting GraphQL then seriously contributes to a data-first approach to digital transformation. In that sense, it is a technology that facilitates digital acceleration.

It’s worth noting that in spite of all the talk about the need to become data-driven organizations over the past decade, companies continue to struggle in their efforts to obtain this goal. Last year’s NewVantage Partners survey among executives representing 85 Fortune 1000 companies found that only 39.3% respondents are managing data as a business asset while only 24% managed to create data-driven organizations.

Of course, adopting a data-first mindset in the enterprise is an immensely complex undertaking and one that takes place over many years. On the other hand, GraphQL adoption doesn’t need to be as big of a change, especially that barriers to adoption have never been lower. However, GraphQL can still provide an important piece of the data-first puzzle and contribute to this change of mindset, consequently accelerating digital enablement.

Summing up, here are the ways in which GraphQL can impact digital acceleration at your organization:

  1. GraphQL enables developers to work faster and smarter, thus helping create more value for your customers.
  2. Customer experience is an area that’s most affected by this efficiency increase, especially in enterprises facing architectural complexity.
  3. GraphQL unlocks data availability across your organizations which contributes to becoming data-driven.

Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below.


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