Q&A with Orium CEO, Jason Cottrell
What does Orium do?
Orium is a consultancy and systems integrator specializing in composable commerce, customer data, and retail platform engineering. We have over a decade of experience in digital programs— building deep capabilities in composable commerce and MACH architectures- while also perfecting the data-driven skill set needed to design and implement highly personalized customer experience.
The notion of digital commerce is evolving, from website-only, add-to-cart shopping to something more immersive, dynamic, and personalized. Subscription models and purchase-through-anywhere experiences are on the rise and the technology that can best power these new commerce models is also coming into primetime. Today’s brands need modular commerce solutions that can be fit together, adapted, and flexed to fit their specific needs. As the leading composable commerce consultancy we’re at the forefront of this change.
Tell us a little about Orium’s origin story
Orium was founded in 2009, with a small group of passionate people excited to create really great digital experiences. Our strong emphasis on user experience paired with expertise in open source CMS and commerce products emerging at the time quickly earned us an enviable roster.
We’re now roughly 200 team members strong and our business has evolved quite a bit through the years, but at every stage we’ve remained a diverse group of passionate people excited to work on the next generation of digital experiences.
How did you evolve from your original focus on custom digital experiences to composable commerce?
Having worked on more than 100 commerce commissions for many of the world’s most influential brands, we recognized a pattern in those who were succeeding with innovation and scale. The name “composable commerce” had not been applied yet, but the concept of headless and API-first commerce suites was beginning to catch on. And after more than a decade of working with globally recognized brands on complex digital transformation programs, we started to see a market shift towards that pattern: the emergence of truly game-changing tools purpose-built to work together. A composable framework.
We’ve always worked with headless platforms—the flexibility they offer made them the superior option for our clients and the experiences we wanted to create for them—but these new solutions could be mixed-and-matched like never before to create something that was not only flexible, but also endlessly extensible and as customizable as you wanted.
We recognized that to become the premier consultancy for composable commerce, it had to be our entire focus. Working with these modern architectures is quite different from more traditional vendors like Oracle, SAP, Adobe, Salesforce, or even Shopify. We had dabbled for years, but to truly master this we needed to go all-in. We made the decision to commit entirely to composable commerce in late 2019 and haven’t looked back.
Why do you believe composable is the future of commerce? What are some of the benefits of this approach over traditional, monolithic platforms?
For most of the history of commerce, retailers were operating exclusively in-person. Then the dotcom boom hit, and retailers had both the in-person and online experiences to manage, but even the most progressive retailers were still only dealing with two kinds of purchasing experiences. Over the past decade, however, the entire landscape of commerce has changed, and any brand with any degree of complexity is being challenged to keep pace with market demand. We truly believe composable commerce best supports the new models for commerce that define retail today.
Composable commerce gives brands a level of flexibility and adaptability—ultimately, a level of control—that traditional monolithic platforms don’t offer. To meet the growing demand for shop anywhere, through any channel, at any time experiences, brands need to be able to meet their customers where they are. And they need to be able to do it without months or years of development time, with the vendors and solutions that actually make sense for them— not the ones they’re locked into because of their pre-existing platform and its constraints.
To support the complexity of “multi”— multiple channels, brands, languages, geographies, currencies, business models and more—composable is really the only viable option. New models require new tooling.
What cloud did for computing, composable is doing for commerce. It’s a natural evolution that has happened in many markets (look at Twilio for communications, or Stripe for payments). The shift to composable is the shift from Saas to Paas.
Orium was one of the first integrators in the MACH (microservice, API-first, cloud-native, headless) Alliance. What role do you think an organization like this plays?
Make no mistake: composable commerce is a paradigm shift. It’s completely refiguring the existing models into something new, something greater than before. For that kind of shift to occur takes not just one or two vendors, but an entire ecosystem built around the new paradigm. Once that’s in place, you can drive down the costs, reduce the risks, and speed time to market for brands ready to make the change. The MACH Alliance plays an essential role in encouraging this ecosystem, and we recognized that very early on.
As soon as the MACH Alliance was announced we knew we wanted to be a member. We’ve been building headless solutions since our founding. We like to say we adopted the ethos of MACH before the “MACH” nomenclature even existed, so we were keen to align ourselves with an organizing body that matched our way of thinking and could advance the space.
One of your customers, Harry Rosen, won the 2022 MACH Award for Best Retail Project. What can they do now with a best-of-breed composable architecture that they couldn’t do before?
We were delighted when Harry Rosen won Best Retail, but I must admit we weren’t overly surprised, because it is a perfect example of everything a composable commerce framework can enable. The Harry Rosen brand is built on an exceptional customer experience, and for the majority of their 65+ year history, that experience revolved around in-person interactions between their advisors and customers. Rejigging that model to suit modern needs without losing the highly personal experiences they were known for was a significant undertaking and didn’t come without risks, but current President & COO Ian Rosen knew iterative changes weren’t going to be enough to meet the high bar of their in-person experiences.
We started working with them on their digital transformation in 2018, moving them from their existing SAP Hybris monolith architecture to a composable architecture of custom selected solutions vendors. Our focus was on ensuring the Harry Rosen team had the flexibility needed to adapt to an ever-changing retail landscape and working diligently and steadily on their roadmap targets.
And then the pandemic hit.
Overnight they had to close down their stores nationwide and pivot to digital. Fortunately, because we’d already spent a year laying the groundwork for quick pivoting, we were able to adjust the plan on the fly and make sure their immediate needs were being met.
Working with Harry Rosen for 4 years now, it’s hard to identify all the ways this change has impacted their operations. Since the initial launch of their revised web experience, they’ve been able to add: Buy Online Pick-up In Store (BOPIS) and Shop By Store functionalities; a vastly improved search experience; new Shop the Look and Wedding experiences; and a robust My Account experience that integrates with loyalty, purchase history, and personalized offers and advisory services among others.
They’ve also been able to experiment with new technologies without overhauling or risking the whole system, trialing different service offers for their clientele to continue to improve on the experience. Deployments used to occur every six weeks, now they’re weekly. They even launched an entirely separate outlet offer—Final Cut—in just 8 weeks. With a catalog of their size, that’s an almost unheard-of turnaround time.
You are one of commercetools’ top partners in North America. Why did you choose to partner with commercetools and how are you different from other partners in their ecosystem?
Partnering with commercetools, an organization as purpose-driven and aligned to the MACH approach as we are, has been an incredible opportunity. commercetools pioneered headless in 2013 and has been at the forefront of everything that’s happening in the composable commerce and MACH space since. We have played an integral role in some of their biggest customers (including our award-winning work with Harry Rosen), and we offer them a partner that is as laser focused as they are.
This space isn’t just something we do, it’s all we do. We’re one of the largest non-GSIs, with 200+ people across North America, LATAM, and Europe. Our Composable.comTM Accelerators facilitate a shift to composable commerce, and our deep knowledge and expertise of their platform has also led to the creation of a custom-built Omniretail AcceleratorTM for commercetools. These solutions enable faster time-to-value for clients— a huge advantage in the fast-paced retail space.
Many services companies claim to have productized accelerators but it’s vaporware or just a few small bits of code. Your Composable.com Accelerator is the real deal, used by 80% of your customers and partners like commercetools and Elastic Path. Why did you invest here?
We believe composable commerce is the only way for complex brands to scale and innovate for the future, but we know it can be a daunting undertaking to make the switch. We wanted to ensure there was a way for retailers to take advantage of the architecture without getting lost in the weeds, so to speak.
Piece by piece is a great option, and we’re firm advocates of an incremental or staged-in approach, but for many brands that’s still too overwhelming to contemplate. By building our Composable.com Accelerator with over 35 integrations, we were able to give businesses the accelerated time-to-value necessary for them to make the leap. They can rely on proven patterns and leverage our pre-integrations to get their solution to market faster, without losing any of the flexibility of a composable build. And because it’s being used by so many customers, we’re able to continuously evolve it based on real use cases and needs. Best of all, everything remains modular, so they can swap out and customize where it makes the most sense for their business, instead of trying to optimize every aspect all at once.
What is Orium’s vision and how do you live those words?
Our vision is to become pioneers in adaptive experiences. We want to make it easy for businesses to assemble the perfect customer experience in real-time. We do that from the bottom up and from the top down, by providing the right composable technical architectures to accelerate the shift to an API-first approach, and combining them with the right data models and strategy to understand human behavior, predicting the right experiences for optimization and innovation.
Why did you decide to become a certified B Corp, and why do you think that’s important for services companies?
The simplest answer for why we became a B Corp is that I wanted to be able to scale the business without losing its soul. When we found the B Corp Program a decade ago, it fit the bill. It was an immediate fit with our beliefs that we can do good through our daily operations, that business can be a force for good.
We were among the first in Canada to be certified. Being a B Corp has been one of the most consistent things to set us apart in recruitment through the years, and candidates frequently cite it as one of the reasons they were interested in joining our team. Professional services are, inherently, people-driven businesses. Probably the most profound impact of being a B Corp has been for our team. Our roughly 200 team members know that our word means something, that when we make a commitment we stand by it.
It also means there’s an automatic level-setting that happens internally, something that’s important for any organization, but especially for a professional services org that has team members working across a variety of clients and programs. Our B Corp commitment helps ensure that we all know what we stand for, and it helps align us in how we’ll work toward our goals together.
Why do you think Tercera is a great partner for you in this journey?
Tercera is one of the few investment firms—maybe the only one—who truly gets it.
We operate in a unique space: extremely forward-thinking, innovative, and tech focused, and also deeply rooted, at its core, to people. It’s the nature of professional services in the modern era. But that blend is a hard one for a lot of firms to wrap their thinking around.
When we had a chance to review our models for growth, we quickly discovered how aligned we were. It became clear that not only were we finishing each other’s sentences, but also that their experience meant they’d challenge and coach us in the right ways.
Tercera understands through experience that a services business in the right ecosystem, embracing the third wave of cloud computing, can do incredible things. They can be scalable, profitable and impactful.