Reasons for context-aware frontend architecture

User interfaces must meet more and more diverse requirements. As digital infrastructures undergo constant evolution and transformation, the cycles in which software must be adapted are also shortening. This change in adaptation cycles does not affect the frontend and backend to the same extent. By decoupling the frontend and backend layers right from the start, separate release cycles can be realized by perceiving and designing the frontend architecture and its components as independent modules.

Requirements for modern user interfaces

While in the past there were simply desktop applications, native interfaces, and web-based interfaces operated by a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen, the range of options has become much wider: language, gestures, eye and body movements are all part of the repertoire of control and interaction options. In the coming years, human-machine interaction will continue to change steadily and fundamentally.

Pick-by-vision is a facilitator for employees, especially in order picking. Image: DHL

Existing systems must be able to adapt to this development if they are to take advantage of the new possibilities in their business processes. Compared to other logical layers of the overall IT architecture, user interfaces have a much shorter lifecycle, averaging around two to three years, while other layers remain stable and thus unchanged for three to six times as long. During this cycle, the features that user interfaces can offer change fundamentally.

To ensure flexible use of human-machine interactions that are state of the art, the user interface must therefore be clearly separated in its control and functionality from the business logic of the backend.

The Backdrop of context-aware frontend architecture (CAFA)

.If future user interfaces change more quickly and, above all, independently of the backend business logic, then the software layers of frontend and backend must be decoupled accordingly. In general, a reduction in complexity can now be observed in both backend and frontend systems currently in use.

Applications become more specific at the user interface level depending on the device, are specifically optimized for their intended scenarios, and drop unsuitable use-cases at the respective end device. A good example of this is a smartphone-based Data Terminal, which only uses a fraction of the theoretical available apps and functions of an android device. Accordingly, the IT architecture is evolving into a collection of micro-services that can be developed separately from each other.

Such an architectural approach replaces the classic monolith in the backend to achieve a significant gain in flexibility. The division into independent modules not only keeps the overall system more flexible, but also reduces dependencies.

Nowadays, communication also no longer takes place between a client and a single corresponding server backend. Instead, a client increasingly communicates with several independent (micro) services internally, with external providers via online interfaces, the Cloud and also interacts with external partners as well as service providers using their services, as is the case with Software as a Service approaches (SaaS). In this context and especially in intralogistics, the connection or implementation of IoT solutions (Internet of Things) in warehousing processes is an equally relevant application scenario.

In the course of digitalization, user behavior is changing and so is the way computers are used. Particularly in the work environment, there are fewer and fewer activities that can do without corresponding devices. Whether smartphones, tablets, AR glasses, or special wristbands – all devices serve in their entirety to support their users at work, irrespective of a fixed workstation.

Communication with customers and business partners via different channels serves as a prime example here. This interaction has changed rapidly and fundamentally in recent years. This interaction and the permanent and flexible use of computers and their computing power is also referred to as ubiquitous computing. Another relevant aspect in the context of CAFA is the strongly increasing networking of people, objects and sensors interacting in a network, which is also called Pervasive Computing. In intralogistics in particular, it is common for entire processes to be automated by computer-based systems using sensors to perceive their environment and share the information thus obtained with others; these can then be machines or even people, as is the case, for example, with the widespread use of RFID.

The ever-increasing networking combined with the ever-expanding use of electronic devices and tools ultimately means that applications must be designed to be context-sensitive so that they themselves can become an element in the overall network.

Deployment and utility of context-aware frontend architecture

The ever-increasing networking combined with the ever-expanding use of electronic devices and tools ultimately means that applications must be designed to be context-sensitive so that they themselves can become an element in the overall network.

Cloud computing with SaaS solutions acts as a driver of this development since numerous, special applications have to be connected to the company’s own IT infrastructure quickly and easily by means of interfaces. This is even easier if the IT architecture is modular with the components of the back end and the front end. This ensures that the release cycles of the individual components do not adversely affect the IT structure as a whole.

Structuring of context-aware frontend architecture

A context-aware frontend architecture is first based on the clean architecture principle The individual levels present themselves as follows:

  • Service Level: This is where the business processes are provided, it corresponds to the classic backend.
  • Supply level: Here the business processes are aggregated for display as well as processing in the frontend and the requirements regarding intermediate storage are met.
  • Client level: Here all possible clients are contained, in which the application portion is represented.

The following diagram illustrates this structure more clearly:

Structure of the context aware frontend model with clien,t delivery and service layer
Structure of the layers of the context-aware frontend model

By means of such an architecture, especially in very mobile markets, particularly complex projects can be optimally structured over a longer period of time. The most impressive advantage compared to suite solutions is the maximized flexibility, as all modules and processes are flexible and independent by using business rules as a central component and thus avoiding overflowing interdependencies.

Summary of the context-aware frontend architecture model

The classic IT architecture has a monolithic structure. With increasing digitization, such a structure proves to be disadvantageous, especially in terms of flexibility and the much shorter life cycles of user interfaces and APIs. The rapid, uncomplicated integration and incorporation of external services, such as with SaaS, into a company’s IT processes, requires an IT structure based on the clean architecture principle and clear business rules. To ensure flexibility and independence of individual applications, the backend and frontend are therefore decoupled with their respective components and designed and developed as independent modules. This architectural approach is particularly suitable for intralogistics since automation with the interaction between people, objects, sensors, and electronic devices and auxiliary tools is very widespread and is also increasing in the sense of an optimized value chain.

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