Digital Recombination: Another digital buzzword or a 90-year-old tried-and-true approach to innovation?

6 min readMay 21, 2021


Science, technology, and innovation have always had an interdependent relationship, with science contributing to technology and innovation in a number of ways. Science is often a powerful inspiration for technology; providing new knowledge and serving as a direct source of ideas for new technological possibilities.

So we’re taking a term (recombination) from the biology world, where DNA strands swap segments of code to promote genetic diversity. The process causes advantageous gene mutations which enables out-competing in the wild. But this term can apply to innovation as well — recombinant innovation involves bringing two distinct technologies together to create something new.

What is digital recombination?

When we equate this to an enterprise, digital recombination is the ability to constantly recombine modularized existing business and technical capabilities (represented as APIs, Services, and Events, mapped to a business capability model). More importantly, the ability to recombine rapidly and innovatively to gain competitive advantage.

Stick with me… it sounds like another digital buzz word, but it is really relevant to the large enterprises of today.

Large organizations already have most of the business functions they need. Business domains have remained largely unchanged over the years. But, where enterprises struggle to evolve and react to competition (think Fintech) and market shifts (think Covid-19) quickly and safely, is unlocking that business functionality by exposing it as APIs (but it’s not all APIs all the time, so also as Services, Events, and whatever comes next as needed) and reuse, extend, or bundle them together for digital recombination.

We talk a lot about this concept of digital recombination a lot. You can learn more here on what it means for digital market leadership, read our innovation playbook, and you can also join our upcoming webinar on the topic.

Why do you care?

Because you’re trying to do it anyway, and likely struggling. You need to be launching new platforms, products, and modernizing your IT all at the same time, so you’re not adding more to the mess of technical debt. But, you’re likely having to pick and choose, prioritizing this over that, when you’re under pressure to do it all and do it all safely and fast.

You all know the stat — A fifth of Fortune 500 companies won’t make it out whole this year it’s predicted . Covid-19 and the tectonic shift in consumer demands and business operations it’s caused is helping weed out the technology-lagging Fortune 500 companies who will struggle to make it out alive. And your shareholders sure care about that. There’s a reason the past year has shown us heavy investments in tech focused companies.

But it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom; there’s good news. We’re saying that you can take all the things that have made you an industry leader over the last 50+ years and use that to your advantage. The key to this? Enabling yourself to expose your business functions as reliable building blocks, able to be bundled together and represented in the format that the platform and client require, supporting your roadmap of ideas and initiatives, as well as your internal and customer standards.

Really cool examples of recombination from companies that are winning (which are also why you care)

But my favorite part, and where I think it gets really exciting, is examples of digital recombination that are causing enterprises to set themselves apart competitively and offer their customers great products, and their consumers great experiences.

1. The Payments Space:

With significant pressure from Fintechs taking away market share from big banks (with products they should be able to offer), this space serves as a great example of the power of digital recombination.

Fintech companies like the Stripes of the world have this concept right. “This is how software eats the world: by taking business functions one at a time, turning them into well-documented API calls with useful error messages (but infrequent errors) that can be chained together with arbitrary complexity and then run with minimal human involvement,” writes Byrne Hobart.

But big banks have much of the capabilities needed to support great payments experiences and Nedbank and Mastercard launching WhatsApp Payments is a great example of it. They are exposing banking functionality via reliable APIs and embedding the combination where the customer is. It also provides a good example of a clean user experience, with below the surface complexity. Systems integration (connecting and mapping banks’ systems to the clients) is difficult. A platform that allows banks to get better at this has become business priority.

2. Other Industries

Johnson Controls CTO Looks to Further Digitize Buildings Management serves as another example of a great vision of unlocking business and IT functions to make lives better via APIs.

More evidence: Job Openings Supporting this Shift

A critical role delivering solutions that enable an agile, modern Wells Fargo, rationalizing the 10s of thousands of APIs they have. This role presents an excellent opportunity to guide the future of the Wells Fargo API strategy — the future of integration with the firm — which will accelerate customer value realization and engineering efficiency. They are focused on building APIs with reuse in mind, providing a standard authentication method and an easily applied subscription model across APIs, creating a catalog for finding and consuming APIs, and applying full lifecycle management to APIs.

Job opening with one of our large Healthcare customers providing enterprise-wide business solutions throughout the Care Delivery, Health Plan, Digital Corporate Services, Business Infrastructure, and HealthConnect portfolio Leading Healthcare company

Demystifying foundational data sets to help better serve customers and employees at AWS

What’s the but?

Sounds too easy right? Well, yes it is a bit more complicated, since those same large enterprises usually have lots of systems, and when you add in embedding functionality where your customer is, it gets hard. Digital for the enterprises means taking on system integration, mapping, tailored policies, and multiple runtime targets as you align your systems with your clients and input/export different artifacts.

For this concept to work, enterprises need to also focus on the lifecycle and collaboration between business and IT. That’s where a catalog comes in to help. By cataloging your APIs, services, events, mappings, rules, artifacts, metadata, transformations, lineage, and provider/consumer relationships, you’re able to autogenerate artifacts for anything, whether it’s a gateway or a customer’s own systems. When done well, you offer your whole enterprise (both the business and IT) the ability to self-service the roadmap, complexity, and bundling of capabilities to spin off new products for your own enterprise and for your customers where they are and in what formats they need. All this while maintaining alignment to standards and an audit trail that a regulated industry requires.

How to do it

Stage 1: Chaos to a discoverable catalog

• All APIs Web Services and API streams need to be abstracted from code

• Auto organized into designs and versioned implementation specifications

• Auto Classified as design types e.g. public, IT internal, Business Capability

• Auto Mapped to a business taxonomy

• Auto Aligned to data model

• And a record of lineage

Stage 2: Normalize your existing, new, updated, and bundled APIs, Services, and Events

• Governance checks and assisted remediation

• Coding standard checks and assisted remediation

• Auto alignment to output templates ensures security and policy compliance

• Assistance to align to corporate data models when not aligned

• Top down & bottom up lifecycle management including automatic versioning

Stage 3: Capture the complexity to enable accelerated recombination

• Mapping

• Orchestration

• View of where APIs are running

• View of who is using this and lineage

• View of where the code is and is it current and complaint

• Upstream and downstream integrations

If you want to learn more we have an upcoming webinar — “The Roadmap to Digital Recombination for Enterprises” — that will explore taping into existing IT and business functions for compounded innovation. Register here.




Large enterprises use our ignite Platform for digital recombination, APIs & Services at scale, Rapid IT Modernization, and Business & IT alignment