Elevating Sitecore as the Next Digital Experience Platform

Digitas

Ryan O’Hara & Charlie Bleau

Elevating Sitecore as the Next Digital Experience Platform

'Elevate the Experience’ was the theme of this year’s Sitecore Symposium at the Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, held October 8-11 and attended by over 3000 prospects, customers, partners and Sitecore enthusiasts.  The conference featured a wide array of product enhancements to the Sitecore Experience Platform (XP) and roadmap across keynotes and break-out sessions. Symposium showcased a much more focused and clearer vision around where Sitecore sees itself as a company (and a platform) compared to the product direction and acquisitions of recent years. Sitecore is working to competitively position itself against other leading DXP solutions as showcased through new integrations with Salesforce; advanced data & analytics capabilities through Sitecore Cortex; and true multi-channel content and personalization capabilities enabled through the Sitecore Javascript Services (JSS) headless CMS framework.  All of these new features and capabilities will be culminated in the upcoming release of Sitecore XP 9.1 - release date still to be announced. 

Without further ado, let’s dig into some of the major Sitecore Symposium announcements:  

DAM is back in vogue - Digital Asset Management (DAM) has always been a missing link in the Sitecore product portfolio compared to other enterprise DXP clouds. Enabling DAM capabilities has historically been accomplished through 3rd party connectors with enterprise DAM platforms and related technology partnerships (e.g., Adam Software, Widen, Digizuite). StyleLabs adds DAM and more to Sitecore, including: Marketing Resource Management (MRM), Product Information Management (PIM) and Web-to-Print services. The vision is that these features together will help orchestrate an end-to-end solution to manage the content / asset lifecycle and help to enable data-driven, highly personalized, cross-channel experiences.

Sitecore + Salesforce is here to stay - Sitecore and Salesforce have been technology partners for several years now, and have already built the Salesforce Sales Cloud (CRM) connector to bi-directionally sync contacts between Sitecore XP and Salesforce. It wasn’t until last year at Dreamforce that the next integration with Sitecore was announced - Sitecore Connect for Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC). Although the current version of the connector is focused on digital asset reuse between the Sitecore Media Library with Salesforce Email Studio, one can only imagine the future possibilities for bi-directional integrations with marketing automation journeys. This will provide even more cross-channel personalization and customer data possibilities between Sitecore and Salesforce.

Chopping the head off of the CMS - Sitecore JavaScript Services (JSS) empowers implementations to leverage full or mixed headless architectures. This furthers options when designing your Sitecore solution based on your specific requirements, and at the same time keeps support for layout design, personalization, analytics, multivariate testing, and preview capabilities. If you have circumstances where Sitecore is not available for the Front End team, JSS enables development isolation from Sitecore using a mock Sitecore JSS proxy. You can develop using a code-first approach and later move to a Sitecore-first as the solution matures and becomes more complex. JSS has included the ability to push analytics events by using the Tracker API, JSS has support for the top front-end web application frameworks (e.g., Angular, React, and Vue.js) and features Sitecore GraphQL which supports query batching to reduce requests to the server when working with Sitecore APIs. Regardless of the architectural and development approach you choose or when deciding to adopt JSS, keep in mind the complexities that come with CMS development and ensure your team is equipped with the right experience, process, and tools. Make sure you are thinking about a well-designed content architecture, component design, leveraging Helix design principals and conventions and other best practices your teams and the community have built up over the years. 

The new head is Sitecore Cortex - At this year's symposium, we learned a great deal more about enabling AI and machine learning with Sitecore Cortex. Sitecore has xDB, collecting data at scale, and xConnect, a mechanism for moving data. Now Sitecore Cortex and its Processing Engine will give you the tools to apply intelligent algorithms to understand and find opportunities within your data. Cortex allows you to act on those insights immediately or store for later consideration. Sitecore designed Cortex with both programmers and data scientist in mind, allowing each to use their tools of choice (e.g., C#, R, Spark), or plug into external APIs. There is direct integration with Microsoft Machine Learning Server which supports industry standards ML modeling languages. An example given in one of the sessions was a music store, where after purchasing an album, recommended products were suggested by integrating with an external API, Spotify, in this case. The applications of machine learning in Sitecore are vast and will help marketers fine-tune profiling, personalization, user journey analysis, attribution models or even automate tasks such as content tagging.

Accelerating Sitecore - Although Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SxA) is not new, it is worth mentioning as there were many valuable sessions and significant evolution of the product. SXA is many things; a component library, a framework for paralleling workstreams (e.g., content, user experience, design, development), enhanced features for developers’ and authors’ productivity. Even if you think you don't need all those pre-built components and want to design on your own, various features set up an excellent foundation for development and authoring that are worth considering. If you have many sites in one Sitecore instance maybe the enhanced multisite features will be helpful, maybe cloned sites if you have many sites following a similar content architecture/layout, snippets, rendering variants, grid framework support, and column splitter are all additional features to explore.

There's a lot of exiting news coming from Sitecore and it will be interesting to see these expanded capabilities in action, driving highly personalized and connected experiences with compelling customer case studies over the coming year.  

Ryan O’Hara & Charlie Bleau

VP/Director, Technology; VP/Group Director, Technology

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