7 Dimensions of Scale: How to Plan for Infrastructure Growth

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Like planting a plant in a too-small pot, or buying a Great Dane puppy, there are consequences when we don't ask: "Am I ready for this to grow?" It's a question that people fail to ask of their companies, too. And the results aren't quite as cute as an over-sized dog rampaging through your apartment.

Foundational systems that can't scale become crippling, resulting in lost momentum, expensive re-platforming, and an opportunity for competitors to race ahead.

Consumers expect websites, apps, and platforms to always be functional –– it's a truth you're probably aware of personally. Ever wanted to order your Friday night pizza and been hit with a sluggish website, or a dreaded 404 page? The smallest slip can frustrate your customers enough to scare them off and into the waiting arms of your competitors. If it happens enough times, it can seriously damage your reputation.

So, why do so many companies run into scalability issues?

Businesses that want to grow faster need more than just basic scalability. They need to consider that their businesses will grow in complexity and sophistication; there will be new technology, more digital channels, different security measures and legal requirements, and they might expand into more markets around the world.

Scalability is much more than a business’s ability to add users or get through website traffic spikes. It's about taking steps to face the complexity of the future head-on.

We’ve identified seven key dimensions of scale that business leaders should consider when choosing any piece of technological infrastructure.

1. Performance scalability: Increasing amount of traffic, data and usage

One of the most common concerns with digital products is load scalability. Scaling for volume means choosing platforms that can handle more customers, traffic, API calls, images, content and payments––even when it's unexpected.

Think about how your digital products would do in the rush of Black Friday, or if you had an advertisement in the Superbowl. Many well-established brands have faltered during these rushes, causing substantial losses. And it's not just the big once-a-year day that you have to think about. It pays to think about how to avoid slowdowns and bottlenecks in your everyday use. Growing businesses add customers, data, content, projects, and workflows to their systems all the time. Can your technology infrastructure handle this?

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2. Horizontal scalability: Adding more projects, products, channels and digital experiences

Alexa, Google Home, wearables, and smart digital displays are just some of the new IoT-powered digital products that have burst onto the scene in the last few years. Is your infrastructure ready for the new channels it will need to accommodate? Are you prepared for what is coming tomorrow, and twenty tomorrows after that?

Choose a channel-agnostic platform that is capable of powering a diverse range of products. There is no need to add multiple CMSes or customize a platform to the point where it's bloated with workarounds. Instead, choose a platform for multiple use cases that has features to manage large, agile teams.

3. Vertical scalability: More complex and sophisticated use cases

With more ways to get to know your customer––including market insights, experimentation, and customer feedback––there are more ways to make your digital products personalized, full of delight, and relevant to solving customer problems.

Look for infrastructure solutions that remove limits and empower teams to integrate with new technology. Don't get locked into one vendor and one way of doing things.

4. Geographic scalability: Expanding into new markets

Geographic scalability isn't just translating your digital products en français, and then giving yourself a pat on the back. Speaking your customer's language goes beyond simple translation. It requires localization––being mindful of different cultures, aware of holidays and seasons, and using local expressions and slang.

To scale globally, you need to think locally. Reaching global markets has challenges such as distributed teams, managing third-party translation software, legal and regulatory requirements, download speeds and reliability, and dealing with different currencies. Choose infrastructure that helps, not hinders, all of these considerations.

5. Administrative scale: Managing more internal users

Administrative issues with your infrastructure can be a massive headache for a growing business. Is there anything more discouraging (and hair-pulling) than getting stuck in endless administrative problem-solving?

Companies need the ability to organize and reorganize how users interact, streamline workflows, and adjust permissions as roles change. Being able to scale administratively also means having excellent implementation support, such as training for new users. Does your new infrastructure have a good support team?

6. Speed: Accelerate development speed

Companies that scale effectively sell more products, and they do it faster. It's not enough that your infrastructure works well at its current pace. It has to work well as your business grows and your pace picks up.

When you're working with the right platform, and it supports the right tools, you can see a considerable reduction in development time––from one to two big releases a year to multiple releases a week.

7. Security and reliability

Nothing ends the excitement of a fast-growing product like a security breach or major outage. The nightmare scenario, right?

Choosing platforms that have enterprise-level security and business continuity measures in place helps minimize risks as you scale. Only work with platforms that are transparent about their security and reliability, and ask your platform early if they can flex to meet your needs in the future.

Contentful: Future-proof your business

While it's impossible to predict the future, choosing a platform that addresses these seven dimensions of scale can help future-proof your business. And here is where we introduce ourselves! Contentful is an API-first content platform that scales with you. Our platform unifies content for all of your digital products. You don't have to have multiple CMSes to manage all of your different content channels. We're content-agnostic, which means we're ready for the channels and digital products of the future.

Contentful integrates with hundreds of tools, so your content creators, editors, developers and marketers have everything they need in one single platform. We've recently released the App Framework to make adding new tools even easier as you scale. To learn more about Contentful, and why we work with a lot of the world's biggest enterprises, you can visit us here.

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Kiersten Thamm

Managing editor of the Contentful blog and API obsessed. Kiersten collaborates with Contentful's makers and users to write articles that support the community. She’s happiest when helping others talk about their Contentful-powered dream projects.

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