Sitecore User Group 2016 recap

During the last Sitecore User Group session here in Belgium, Ryan Donovan was featured as the central speaker. Read what he had to say in our Solution Architect Kris' report.

 Sitecore Commerce

The following two topics were on the agenda:

  • Sitecore Commerce
  • In-depth information on versions 8.2 and 8.3

Sitecore Commerce

I was impressed by the drive behind Ryan and his team(s). This emphasized the drive that is pushing Sitecore forward. As Sitecore is putting a lot of effort in producing well hardened and tested product releases. These releases bring new features and rich applications.

Previous Sitecore commerce solutions were structured around either SCpbCS and SCpbMD. However, the vNext commerce product has been newly developed from the ground up.The commerce solution was focused, in the past, around the architecture of Commerce Server to provide an API, manage the products and to derive the entire feature set form.

With this Commerce vNext solution, Sitecore shows aspiration to become one of the market leaders in commerce. The first aim is to focus on the Enterprise and Upper Mid-Market B2C/B2x (think Magento Enterprise).

This new module or feature will remain true to the nature of the Sitecore beast. And yes, that could (and most likely will) mean, extra DLL's, databases, configurations and so on. But inherently also loads of functionalities, extensibility, pipelines, events and integrations into the xDB and hence the analytics profiles and dashboards.For example, Sitecore will offer some out of the box implementations for payment and fulfillment solutions. More implementations with custom, local or very specific payment solutions can then be developed by the customer or partner and even be made available onto the marketplace!

I was especially impressed by the fact that this product comes with a full set of pricing rules and promotion offers such as loyalty points, entitlement options, discounts on amounts, group price settings etc. It would even be possible to set prices for groups of products based on rules that identify a set of products. Sitecore has even gone so far as to think of offering a full-fledged Demo environment that they will be populating in close collaboration with some agencies. They want to have a fully filled product and media catalogue. This could really help solution architects, presales and sales wrap their head around the ins-and outs of the commerce product solution.

Sitecore claims to have built a commerce solution that does not only offer a commerce solution for physical goods but is able to handle any marketable product through their offering. Something they claim very little to no competitors can handle correctly at this point (Digital River was mentioned as a strong competitor there).

The only downsides that I could find for now are the following:

  • Even though the products would be stored in a separate database, the images will still be stored in the media library. This separate product database will offer its contents through a data provider into the content editor environment as if they are all POSI's (Yes, Plain Old Sitecore Item's - remind me to make a T-shirt on that).
  • Specific modules such as customer ratings and review are not present in the solution and could be integrated through use of some of the available solutions on the web. (I believe BazaarVoice was mentioned.)

All deep dive information should be coming our way around the Symposium in New Orleans! And according to Ryan, it will ship "When it is ready" and that should be around Christmas as I understood, so based on either SC 8.2 or 8.3.
You can download the full presentation here.

Sitecore 8.2 in-depth preview and an update into 8.3

Sitecore 8.2 in-depth preview and an update into 8.3

Those who attended the SUG Conference in Denmark end of April 2016 already gained some insight and information on what the next XP versions will offer us. However, as the release is becoming imminent, Ryan decided to provide some more in-depth information on the upcoming releases.

So, what are those main features and capabilities that Sitecore's Experience Platform version 8.2 will ship?

  • Express Migration Tool
  • Publishing Enhancements
  • Platform Improvements
  • Native Azure Support Improvements
  • CRM Connector
Express Migration Tool

What, the buzz is real? Yes, it is. We had heard about it, we had even been solemnly promised this tool but we remained sceptical. I guess that until we have done our very first (successful express migration) we will remain somewhat sceptical.

In short, this tool promises to address the issue that Sitecore has had with their upgrades for a while now. Upgrades tend to be too time consuming and hence too expensive as they have to be done step by step. The current approach is very error-prone which brings risk to the customer and the partner alike. Even countless discussions have not been able to offer a good alternative upgrade solution that is able to fit into everyone's needs.

The express migration tool aims to solve all that and deliver smooth upgrades from 6.6 and 7.2 into Sitecore 8.2. The (stand-alone) migration should even bring reporting, pausable migrations and project specific data.

There was even a roadmap presented that showed what features will come in downstream releases. One of those being the actual migration of analytics data.

As it would base itself on a migration rather than an upgrade, it would be easier to compare solutions and configurations.

I feel that this is something that could potentially move a lot of customers into the last version of Sitecore if this works as promised. It is definitely something we all need.

Publishing Enhancements

Sitecore publishing has not always been the most fleet-footed functionality in the box. It tends to be slow, confusing, non-transparent and (did I mention this already?) slow. As publishes are now done one at the time, this can cause huge issues and run-through times, especially if you are working with databases distributed across the globe.

The new publishing process is not a tweaked process, but rather an entirely new one.

This obviously will have its implications on current publishing pipeline overrides... These will have to be evaluated very carefully as the architecture will change significantly.

It will even be possible to publish to CD's ahead of time and it will bulk SQL operations to handle the load that comes from the publishing process.

Platform Improvements

There were some general obstacles and lessons (7.1 and 8.0 anyone?) that Sitecore has been working on so that these will never ever happen again :-)

  • Enterprise performance is one of these, more focus is set up to improve startup times, tweaks on cache performance as well as releases that are fully tested against real world data sets and solutions.
  • Search and indexing enhancements, by improving SOLR support (both version5 and ootb setup).
  • Silverlight functionalities start to get removed.
  • Consistency in JS library usages, D3 for charting in Analytics for example.
  • Technology modifications: use of MVC to match or supercede Webforms, .NET 4.6, .NET Core.
  • Better and stronger MongoDB support and finally some guidance on how to purge unneeded data (and hopefully also support for data trimming or cleanup - nobody needs analytics profile data that dates back 2 years or more).
CRM Connector 8.2

The new CRM Connector version aims to tighten the link between offline and online information. CRM contained information should be much easier to use in personalization, segmentation and campaign information.

The new integration will allow bi-directional synchronization. It will be possible to map properties into Sitecore without having to develop these functionalities.

Especially the use of campaigns that exist in your CRM from the Sitecore platform was a missing link at this moment and seems to be tackled in this coming update.

The XM/XP 8.3 Update

Then the 8.3 update, the update that should bring us wonderful things such as the new WFFM module, or as it is being called: (also by Ryan) WFFD (Web forms for developers instead of Web forms for marketers) ...

But this update will also bring us the XConnect Client API that will be used by both Sitecore products and custom developed integrations (mobile, web services, reporting, ...) alike. Through the use of OData, this will open up a lot of the data flow that is behind your Sitecore solution.

 Other features:

-Windows Server 2016 compliant.
-SQL Server  2016 support.
-All Silverlight things be gone!
-The continuation, expanded functionalities and version support of the migration tool.
-Continued effort on quality, testing and support.
-Federated authentication support.
-Ongoing support and improvements for engagement automation and personalization.

You can find the full presentation here.

I was impressed by everything Sitecore has planned for use and I am already looking forward to the Symposium and MVP Summit later this year. I've got a real good feeling about this!

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