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7 Things to look out for with Sitecore in 2017

News

2016 has been an eventful year for Sitecore. Early in the year, we witnessed operational streamlining which paved the way for a buyout in April, by a Stockholm-based private equity investor. The transaction valued Sitecore at circa $1.14 billion, a remarkable figure given the company was only founded in 2001.

The rest of 2016 has been spent realigning strategy, modernising core functions and building new capabilities that reinforce Sitecore’s position as a leader in “Customer Experience Management”.

At Sitecore’s Roadshow in Manchester earlier this month, Paul Fennemore described attention as a “commodity” and how centralised content management is fundamental in empowering you to commanding this.

"Attention is a commodity"
Paul Fennemore (Sitecore Business Optimisation Consultant)

Sitecore’s UK MD, Simon Etherington, also recognised the importance of content in delivering positive customer experience but stressed that omnichannel content and customer experience management goes well beyond website content, it touches on all areas of your business, impacting every system. Your ERP, PIM, SMS, CRM and WMS must work in tandem to deliver an optimum experience.

The key therefore to enabling a relevant, coherent and engaging conversation across every touchpoint, is a unified platform with a single view of a customer and it is this that is driving Sitecore’s product development strategy.

So what have Sitecore been building and what can we expect in 2017?

1. Sitecore Azure

Sitecore are working ever more closely with Microsoft on refining their cloud hosted, PaaS offering.

Sitecore Azure will be made available on Azure Marketplace for a basic installations, requiring no technical skill to deploy. If you need more flexibility then developers will have the option to use Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates to install Sitecore and deploy to Azure using PowerShell.

The platform already supports geo-replication but will be rolled out to an increasing number of data centres over the year ahead as more Microsoft data centres support Azure Search, a component central to Sitecore’s cloud platform.

Sitecore Azure is perfect for auto-scaling resources during peak times, e.g the frenetic Black Friday sales.

Also noteworthy is that Sitecore now offer a new licensing option that is based on consumption (site visits/page views) as opposed to the number of servers. This is obviously a great thing for customers who need to scale their solutions temporarily during the busy periods, yet don’t necessarily need to keep those extra servers fired up all year around.

Expect a big push on this from Sitecore during 2017.

2. Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SxA)

Creating Sitecore websites just got a whole lot easier with Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SxA).

Sitecore’s new “drag & drop” website builder has 80+ common components built in, perfect for creating brochure sites, microsites and landing pages.

Sitecore SxA Components

Components offer multiple presentation options depending on how and where you want to display the content. The example below shows how the Page List component has numerous options including present as a carousel, as a list including image and text or as a large thumbnail list.

Select your preferred presentation option from a dropdown list.

Built on the responsive 960 grid system, SxA is mobile friendly as standard. Sitecore will be adding support for other responsive frameworks, e.g. Bootstrap and Foundation next year.

SxA’s built in wireframing tool allows multiple work streams to occur in parallel, thus reducing time spent on design and dev which means the client can get straight on with personalisation and marketing automation, to achieve ROI over a shorter time frame.

Another cost saver is Theming, which enables multiple CSS to be applied without specialist knowledge of Sitecore.

Sitecore will encourage partners to promote this to their existing client base over 2017, in particular clients who create lots of microsites and campaign landing pages throughout the year and those who follow a white label business model whereby they spin up the same site for different brands, as it is these clients who will reap most benefit from SxA. SxA will likely be unsuitable for Clients requiring a heavily customised, unique solution so whereas you may not use it for the primary website in these cases, it may be helpful if they want to create lots of peripheral sites going forward.

SxA training is in the pipeline.

3. Sitecore Commerce

January will see the launch of a brand new, fully-featured ecommerce solution built by the team acquired from Commerce Server on ASP.NET Core and utilising Sitecore’s Commerce Connect API.

Sitecore are proud of this development and will be showcasing new features such as split payments, dynamic pricing and back-office customer service screens over the year ahead.

This new commerce offering is a game-changer for Sitecore and will put them in direct competition with vendors such as IBM, Hybris and SAP.

Watch this space as Delete go under the hood of Sitecore Commerce in 2017.

4. Email Experience Manager (ExM)

At last, Sitecore ‘almost’ has an email solution worth shouting about. Sitecore Principal Strategist Anthony Hook, has led a complete overhaul of the email management system that has been built on the SPEAK framework.

With the recent release v3.4, the backbone service from Dyn was replaced by SparkPost. SparkPost is said to be powering 50% of Sitecore’s new “Email Cloud” service. ExM will ship with Sitecore XP out-of-the-box with email despatch available via Sitecore Email Cloud on a “pay-as-you-go” model. Alternatively, you will still be able to integrate with a third party mail server such as SendGrid.

Although the system is not yet quite on par with other leading email management solutions (e.g. Campaign Monitor), it’s very much heading in the right direction, and it looks like 2017 is the going to be the year when Sitecore finally gets it act together on email.

As of version 3.4, the solution on offer from within Sitecore does nearly everything that most clients will ever need. Granted however, the interface is not as intuitive as others. This is partly because of the interface design, but partly because of the way in which it’s integrated into the whole Experience Platform, i.e. it’s potentially a lot more advanced than your typical ECM, and this is part of the challenge which Sitecore has to overcome if they’re ever going to sway the hardcore marketers from their addiction to Mailchimp and Marketo. It must be easy to use!

We’ve witnessed a lot of recent progress and dedication from Sitecore on their email manager, and are really excited to see the next release. We’ll be releasing a full review as soon as we get our hands on the new version.

Enhancements to ExM include:

  • New high performing mail server with reputable IP's - the legacy email server Dyn has been replaced by SparkPost
  • EXM now supports the sending of up to 25 million emails per month
  • Personalisation rules engine for 1-to-1 communications
  • Reporting now includes contact lists in campaign reports
  • New charts on the dashboard and in campaign reports
  • Litmus, the service used to provide an actual screenshot from different devices - not a simulation, is now included as part of the licence fee
  • Spam checking service no longer requires a separate subscription
  • Dynamics connector for using contact lists and segments from Dynamics
  • Email comms now visible on Experience Profile timeline
  • Recipient and subscriber management process has been redesigned
  • Double-opt in capability
  • Additional options for controlling dispatches in scaled environments
  • Komfo Connector enables Facebook retargeting for users who logged in with their social credentials

The key benefits to an integrated email platform is that all your website content is available to use in emails and because users exist in xDB, you can report and A/B test based on total engagement value rather than just clickthrough rate.

Next year will see Sitecore make further improvements to ExM in areas such as email reporting, where they will be providing more granular reporting capabilities that allow you to drill down deeper into your email stats.

5. Express Migration

Sitecore are keen to get existing clients using the new features available on Sitecore 8, so they have created a tool to migrate from 7.2 to 8.2 so you don’t have to go through the full upgrade process. The Express Migration Tool takes content, files and CSS and imports this to your 8.2 installation.

However, the tool does not convert analytics or upgrade all modules, e.g. Web Forms for Marketers, but you’re better to simply reinstall these anyway.

Read more about Express Migration on the Sitecore Developer Portal.

6. xConnect Client

Accessing your customer data is critical to implementing your customer experience strategy. Sitecore recognise this and have recently launched xConnect to help make this process straightforward.

Built on the Open Data (OData) protocol, xConnect Client offers a single API to get data from every customer touchpoint in and out of Sitecore xDB. Expect Sitecore to promote this further in 2017.

7. Sitecore 8.3

Summer 2017 will see the launch of Sitecore 8.3.

New features to expect:

  • Federated authentication “out-of-the-box” - initially only ADFS and Azure AD with more to follow
  • New Sitecore Forms module will replace Webforms for Marketers with a brand new forms interface
  • Dynamic placeholders
  • Data encryption
  • New HTML5 omnichannel marketing automation builder
  • New Sitecore Commerce module

Here at Delete, we look forward to exploring these new features and building more award-winning websites on Sitecore in 2017.

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