Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
Head of Technology Insights
April 2024, 14 min. read

Ever-changing markets, regulations, and customer trends demand an online product configurator that can adapt. Automated web configurators streamline processes and enhance customer experience, but without scalability, they can become a bottleneck for growth.

Building a scalable infrastructure from the outset ensures your configurator seamlessly adapts to new demands and heavier loads. Get it wrong, and you risk costly rebuilds and missed opportunities.

Keep reading to find out more about why it’s important to start designing applications for your business with scalability in mind. We’ll also share our best practices for building a scalable product configurator infrastructure that ensures sound performance even when growing.

What is a scalable product configurator?

A scalable configurator can handle more products, more customization choices, and more user interactions over time. This means designing it in a way that lets you make changes without having to rebuild the whole system.

On the business front, scalability is making sure your configurator can grow with your ever-changing feature requirements and workflow complexities. Technically, it’s about maintaining top performance, no matter how heavy the usage gets. 

By syncing these two elements, a scalable product configurator stays reliable, efficient, and responsive as requirements change.

10 Best practices for building a scalable web configurator

Now you know the scalability meaning, here are our ten battle-tested practices to build an application that is adaptable and grows with your brand:

1. Choose the right architecture 

Choosing the right architecture is crucial for scalable web configurators. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the key software development models:

  • Microservices architecture divides the configurator into smaller, independent modules and allows for independent development, testing, and scaling. It’s ideal if you expect rapid scaling, as it can adapt quickly to changes in data volume and user numbers. However, managing these services requires careful planning and a skilled team, as the complexity of design and maintenance is higher. This complexity often translates into higher costs.
  • Monolithic architecture: In some cases, a monolithic structure can be a practical choice, particularly for less complex configurators. It’s a solid option for systems with predictable scaling and without extensive integration needs, offering ease of maintenance and scalability within their defined scope.
  • Modular monolith architecture: This hybrid option combines elements of both. It maintains a unified codebase while allowing for modular scalability. It’s an effective choice for configurators that need the simplicity of a monolith but with added flexibility for future expansion. 

Despite popular belief, microservices and monolithic architecture don’t need to battle. When selecting the right scalable software architecture for your app, the decision hinges on understanding the specific needs of your project:

  • Your business objectives
  • Infrastructure
  • Application size
  • Its intended goals
  • The scale in terms of users and data in the long term

A careful assessment of these factors will guide you in choosing an architecture that meets your current needs and is capable of adapting to the future demands of your web configurator.

2. Consider cloud or mixed infrastructure

Cloud-based infrastructure, like those offered by AWS and Azure, is a popular choice for scalable product configurators. But, it comes with higher costs compared to traditional server hosting solutions. 

Modular architectures especially align well with cloud capabilities. They often take full advantage of cloud features like data files streaming, video streaming, AI algorithms, and data funnels.

On the other hand, monolithic architectures might not fully utilize the cloud’s functionalities, leading to paying for services you’re not fully using. 

A practical approach for many businesses is to blend cloud services with traditional servers. For example, you could host a specific function, like data processing or AI-driven features, on the cloud while keeping the rest of the application on servers. This hybrid approach can still offer good scalability while keeping costs in check.

Choosing the right infrastructure for your complex product configurator depends on various factors, including cost, the type of architecture you’re using, and the specific needs of your business. A well-thought-out decision here can ensure that your application is both scalable and economically viable.

3. Optimize performance

To ensure your web configurator continues operating at peak efficiency, optimizing its performance is essential. In scalable software configurators, this involves several key strategies:

  • Code optimization: Efficient coding is essential for a high-performing scalable application. It ensures smooth handling of complex tasks without lag. Software developers should follow best coding practices and be guided by technical leads to ensure the code is both optimal and fully functional.
  • Infrastructure optimization: In traditional setups, this step focuses on hardware resources such as RAM, disk space, and processor capabilities. It’s important to scale these resources appropriately to strike the right balance between performance and cost. 

Cloud-based systems offer easier scalability. The cloud provider lets you adjust server numbers with just a few clicks. But, you still have to monitor it closely to ensure you’re not using more than needed, thus overpaying.

  • Functional optimization: Streamlining your configurator’s processes and better organizing product information can significantly boost its speed. By categorizing products more efficiently and incorporating additional user input fields, you enhance data processing and reduce loading times. This way, the users will see the results on the screen within seconds rather than minutes.
  • UX optimization: Thoughtful design choices result in great user experience (UX). A simple change like replacing a minute-long blank screen with a loader animation can significantly uplift user perception and experience. Adding a predictive search is another great move. As users start typing, it suggests options, making their search faster and easier. 

With 83% of consumers placing high value on how they interact with brands, optimizing your configurator’s performance is key to meeting their expectations.

4. Store and manage data your data effectively

Businesses need to manage their data effectively, especially as its volume expands every minute. When selecting a database, balancing cost and performance is key. Some databases offer quick data access but at a higher cost, while others are more affordable with varied speeds. Therefore, estimating the data volume you’ll handle is critical to making the right choice. 

There are many tools available that help manage your data more effectively, allowing for scalability in access speed and storage space. 

Load balancing, which distributes data and user requests across multiple servers, can play a crucial role. It prevents any single server from being overwhelmed, ensuring smooth and efficient data handling even as usage spikes.

Considering your backup strategy is also essential. How often do you make backups? How long do you keep them? These are often regulated by company policy or legal requirements, but perhaps you keep more than you have to.

Implementing data replication, where your data is copied and stored in multiple locations, helps in maintaining data integrity and availability. 

Keeping detailed changelogs is another important aspect. They are invaluable for analyzing trends and making better decisions later on.

In managing data, it’s wise to rethink which pieces of customer information you actually need. For instance, in a configurator, you might only need to collect an email address at the end of the process. This makes your process simpler and protects your customers’ privacy.

It’s important to note that while businesses are collecting more data than ever, the focus tends to be on optimizing access time rather than reducing the amount of data.

5. Plan your UX and UI design for growth

When designing user experience and user interface (UI) for product configurators, it’s important to think about how they can grow and change in the future. This means making sure there’s space to add new features or for your business to branch out into different processes. It also includes being able to add new kinds of products and users who might have different levels of access.

Ensure there’s a way for adding extra steps to your configurator as your services or products get more complex. The design should allow these new steps to be added easily, without having to redo the whole system later on.

The cost and effort needed to make these amends depend on how much you plan for growth at the start. If you design with future changes in mind, it will be easier and cheaper to update your configurator later. This strategy helps make sure your web configurator works well now and can easily adapt as your business grows.

6. Implement robust security and compliance

In scalable web configurators, it’s essential to handle security and compliance to the best standards. As your product configuration platform grows, so does the importance of these elements in maintaining its integrity and reliability:

  • Training and awareness: Often, the weakest link in security is human error. To strengthen security, implement robust measures like strong passwords and limit the number of people with access. Also, multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be implemented. MFA asks users for additional verification via phone or email. Additionally, device authorization adds another layer of security.
  • Adapting to legal changes: Laws, regulations, and standards are areas that are constantly changing. Your configurator needs to be flexible enough to quickly and easily adapt to these changes. This means being up-to-date with data protection regulations like GDPR if you’re operating in or dealing with clients in the European Union, for example.
  • Security in code development: On the technical front, ensuring your code is well-written and using the right development tools is crucial. Following good coding practices and using reliable software tools translates to creating secure code. This makes your software configurator more resistant to hacking attempts. 

Storing your application’s environment in the cloud introduces extra security challenges. Cloud environments are more susceptible to risks like unauthorized access or data breaches. This is because they rely on shared resources and managing data over the internet. 

That’s why it’s important to put strong security measures in place and select cloud providers with robust protection strategies.

7. Incorporate analytics for continuous improvement

Incorporating analytics is crucial in continuously improving and scaling product configurators. Analytics turns user data into helpful tips for making your application better, more effective, and adaptable as your business grows. 

By analyzing how users interact with the software and their feedback, you can make better decisions on how to fine-tune it. Users have different preferences and opinions. It’s important to filter through this information to make the configurator more user-friendly.

Analyzing analytics regularly for the first six months of using your app helps you see how the system performs over time. Tools like Google Analytics are useful here. However, they require careful setup, especially if users don’t consent to data collection. Sometimes, creating custom tools for specific client needs is necessary. 

From analytics, you can glean a variety of information, including: 

  • User-friendliness
  • Popular products
  • Product recommendations
  • Effectiveness of your advertising campaigns
  • Server load
  • Configuration time

These insights are a roadmap for growth. They help pinpoint which products to highlight in sales strategies and identify areas needing improvements for scalability. Turning user interactions into actionable data, helps you continually improve your business. With the insights in hand you can make informed decisions for expanding your business and your configurator’s capabilities.

8. Adapt to different markets

Scalable software configurator adapts to different markets easily. This way, you ensure it’s relevant for different target customers, from all around the world. Translating the copy into different languages is one thing. But from the design’s point of view– there’s much more to it. 

This adaptation includes tailoring several aspects of the UX:

  • Text length adaptation: When designing your web configurator, consider the length of text in various fields. Different languages can have varying text lengths, and it’s important to design with this flexibility in mind. This ensures that your content fits well and remains readable regardless of language.

  • Units and measurements: Adapting units and measurements is crucial for international markets. Whether it’s metric or imperial systems, your configurator should accurately reflect the standard units of each market to avoid confusion and enhance user comprehension.

  • Customizing configuration processes: Depending on the market, certain aspects of the configure process might need to be altered or even omitted. This could involve hiding specific products, options, or steps that are not relevant to certain regions.

Using feature flags is a practical method to adjust scalable apps for different markets. The flags let an admin switch specific features on or off based on what each market needs. This customization keeps your web configurator useful and relevant everywhere. 

By paying attention to these details, your web configurator becomes a dynamic tool. It meets different user needs and helps you expand into more markets, growing your business.

9. Assess the need for APIs

Enabling access through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) is a strategic move to enhance the scalability and integration capabilities of the software. But, when it comes to integrating an API with your product configurator, it’s important to carefully consider if it’s truly necessary. 

An API enables major systems within your business, like supply chain automation tools or customer relationship management platforms, to integrate seamlessly with your configurator. 

While this ensures smooth data exchange and system integrity, remember that APIs also introduce additional development time, costs, and security issues. If your configurator doesn’t need an API, you might save resources by not developing it.

Your decision should be based on how integral the configurator is within your overall business processes. Weigh the benefits of seamless integration against the required investment to determine the best approach for your business needs.

When we talk about making your product configuration tool ready for the future, including AI (Artificial Intelligence) can bring big benefits. AI cannot replace the whole product configuration system. Its engine is designed to always deliver consistent results based on a templated system of operation. AI doesn’t work like that, but it can still play a valuable role.

AI is an assistant that adds extra smarts to your sales configurator. For example, AI algorithms can analyze user data to provide personalized recommendations, improving UX without altering the configurator’s fundamental operation. This is especially useful for internal users, saving time on data maintenance and providing AI-driven support, much like ChatGPT.

This technology helps in understanding your customers’ preferences and behaviors over time. It means that your product configuration platform can offer options that are more tailored to each user, getting smarter as it learns.

AI is also great for predicting trends. Predictive AI can help you figure out what users might need in the future. This can inform stock management, marketing strategies, and even future product development.

Plus, as your configurator keeps learning from users, it gets even better and more user-friendly. Bringing the latest tech to your configurator can make it even more dynamic and personal for users. 

Why is scalability in product configurators important?

Say your business grows exponentially, but your product configuration tool can’t keep up. The result? Slow performance, frustrated customers, and lost sales.

In a scalable system, you’re not constantly fixing performance issues or dealing with downtime. Instead, you’re prepared for growth, whether gradual or sudden. This is crucial for many business types, including manufacturers, who frequently update their product lines.

Let’s illustrate this as an example of a B2B manufacturer of custom machinery. When this company launches a new manufacturing configurator, it’s built to manage a standard set of its components and materials. 

Moreover, advanced sales configurators perform dynamic performance calculations and support the building of complex systems. If one component changes, it affects numerous aspects of the project, requiring the app to update and recalibrate seamlessly without needing a total system overhaul.

Then, our manufacturer is facing changes in industry standards that push for more eco-friendly materials. The company needs to adapt its configurator quickly to these new specifications. Scalability enables this swift transition, allowing the company to stay compliant and competitive with minimal disruption.

Additionally, when this company decides to partner with new dealerships or expand into new international markets, they face additional challenges. The application needs to adapt to new languages, regulatory standards, and increased user base. Scalable web configurator allows for efficient accommodation of these new requirements.

In each of these situations, the value of scalability is clear. Introducing a scalable sales automation tool in manufacturing empowers the company to adapt to changes without extensive downtime or resource allocation.

Conclusion

Rule-based product configurators open the door to a world of options and variabilities. These software tools handle anything from industrial components to complex assemblies with potentially millions of combinations.

But having such an expansive range of options means nothing if your web configurator isn’t scalable and reliable. You need a solution that fits your current needs and adapts easily without compromising on performance as your business grows and market demands evolve. 

That’s where these best practices come in. From modular architecture to incorporating the latest tech trends, each practice is a step towards a more resilient future for your business. They’re the foundation for building a robust and dynamic digital sales tool that won’t let you down, no matter how tangled their requirements get.

Any questions? We’re ready to help! Let our experts simplify Your complex choices.

→ Further reading: How to Choose the Right Product Configurator Software?