Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sitecore 9: The Latest Version of Sitecore’s Engagement Platform

Rob Ahnemann, Director of Technology
Innovation / Platforms / Technology

Sitecore 9 is here! At Sitecore Symposium 2017 in Las Vegas, three of my Rightpoint technology teammates and I got the new certification in Sitecore 9 and had a chance to try out the new product. As a Sitecore Technologist MVP, I’m always excited to play with new software, and this version of Sitecore has me grinning from ear to ear.

There are a few broader topics I’d like to drill into when it comes to the latest version of Sitecore’s Engagement Platform.

  1. DevOps
  2. All Roads Lead to Sitecore
  3. Cloud First


From a DevOps perspective, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. Sitecore still uses configuration patches to augment and modify the default configuration, leading to increased flexibility.  In fact, the current number of patch configurations in Sitecore 9 are almost up to 200! That’s a lot of files to manage. As a Dev, configuration of Sitecore in the various server roles and environments was cumbersome to say the least. Sitecore listened though, and there’s a couple new features here that will enable smoother deployments and a more simplified DevOps cycle.

  1. Role-based Configuration - Previously, developers had to go through a particularly elaborate dance of remove/adding/renaming configuration files to ensure an evirnoment had all it needed to function properly. With Sitecore 9, the heavy lifting is done in the form of per-environment configuration files that rely on a global setting in your web.config. To switch an environment’s role, you update one file, in one place. For more complicated deployments, post-build transforms can handle this for you—this allows for faster horizontal and vertical scaling.
  2. Custom Configuration Load Order - Typically Sitecore loads config files in alphabetical order. In Sitecore 9, you can create a configuration script (an XML file) to tell Sitecore how it should load the files. This removes the clunky naming convention that was required to load files previously.

sitecore symposium 

All Roads Lead to Sitecore

I could probably fill a few blog entries with this, but at the highest level, Sitecore is positioning xDB to become the master data source for your customer data. With the new Sitecore xConnect, you can feed data into xDB from any source: mobile, retail, custom apps, point of sale, you name it. That may sound great, but without some serious data analysis, what does it help? Enter Sitecore Cortex. Imagine Cortex as your own personal data analyst. Cortex relies on Machine Learning to help discover new segments you may not have imagined. It can also help you refine segments to give your customers a more hyper-personalized experience. Rather than rely on hours of laborious analysis of your data, just let Cortex do that work. This is a big step that is going to be necessary with the new ways to gather data.

Cloud First

With Sitecore 8.2, Microsoft Azure started treating Sitecore as a first-class citizen. This meant you could log into your Azure Portal and create a new AppService, and then Azure took care of the rest. The latest version of Sitecore is called the “Sitecore Experience Cloud” which consists of xConnect, Cortex, Commerce, and Cloud. During the Keynote at Sitecore Symposium this week, Sitecore gave an intriguing example of how these tools play together. The scenario was for a company that sells electronics. It played out like this:

  1. Data from numerous external sources, such as MLS listings are fed into xDB via xConnect.
  2. Cortex recognizes a trend in user behavior that prompts the Marketing team to create a segment for new home buyers. With this segment, specific personalization rules can be created to target customers with relevant content based off their external behavior.
  3. Using the Commerce engine, promotions can be relayed to potential customers driving them to purchase. 
  4. All of this happens on a cloud-based architecture, allowing for vertical and horizontal scalability like never before.

I wanted to call special emphasis to the latter. One of the limitations to a previous version (including 8.2) was that Sitecore Commerce was not supported in a PaaS model. With Sitecore 9, that’s no longer an issue. This means your commerce solutions are now fully scalable in every sense of the word.

Is this all that’s new with Sitecore 9? Hardly. There’s numerous other enhancements to the product, including Dynamic Placeholders, HTML5 support for the marketing tools, a completely new Marketing Automation tool, a replacement for Web Forms for Marketers that’s intuitive to use, and much more. It’s a great time to be a Sitecore partner and customer!

Find out more about our partnership and how we leverage Sitecore to create personalized commerce experiences. 

Rob Ahnemann is a Senior Solutions Architect and Sitecore Technical MVP at Rightpoint. Follow Rob on Twitter and LinkedIn.