9 things I learnt from the Sitecore 8 Symposium in Barcelona

By Alan Yip, Senior Sitecore Consultant@ClearPeople

26/09/2014

The symposium showcased a lot of new features in Sitecore 8 and I was privileged to be part of the devoted crowd witnessing something of a new age in the CMS platform.

The main focus of Sitecore 8 is around experience, and this covers all aspects of experience from the developer through to the content editor - and of course an even more improved experience for the end user.

I want to share some of this insight with you that focuses on the main highlights that were covered in the sessions I attended, from a developer’s perspective.

1. Building the Sitecore Experience Platform

This covered areas in how Sitecore was built; where 7.5 was about laying the foundations of the data storage Version 8 focuses on the functional foundation.

The highlighted points:
  • Sitecore Commerce Server with Commerce Connect. This would be the main eCommerce connector which other third-party eCommerce partners like uCommerce would use to integrate into the new experience platform
  • Sitecore Print Experience which is the next version of APS (Adaptive Print Studio).
  • Sitecore Social which is powered by the newly acquired Komfo
  • Sitecore Federated Experience which enables the ability to personalise external sites not powered by Sitecore
  • Sitecore 8 focuses on 3 main experience areas for the editor: Experience collection; management; and optimisation

2. Developers aren’t marketers, but how can we coexist?

Marketers and developers have always worked closely together and it is often the case that we are always restricted by either the technology or fulfilling marketing requirements to its full potential.

This session focused on how we could use the technology to enhance this:
  • Personas and profiles are created by marketers and there is always some kind of assumptions being made about these
  • Create a tool which can analyse data in the Experience database (also known as xDB)
  • Compare profiles created by the marketing team against data stored in the xDB
  • Expose new profiles where a match is not found

3. Extending the experience profile

One of the most important aspects of the DMS in previous versions of Sitecore was the profile of a user. There was never enough data collected out-of-the-box which made the build phase time consuming.

Sitecore 8 now collects all this information a lot easier and even better, there is so much of this data that the new experience framework allows you to easily expose this new information.

This session focused on how we can extend this profile:
  • Easily segment and personalise the experience profile
  • Configure the service layer together with custom aggregation of data and expose this
  • Bind your data to a UI of your choice easily
  • Fully customisable views built via pipelines or even JSON

4. Sitecore 8 – New reporting services and custom aggregations

The symposium released a mobile site during its launch which we could all access via our mobiles and start to personalise our schedules for the sessions ourselves. What we didn’t realise was that it was built on the xDB platform.

The following is a list of highlights that inspired the build:
  • The site was built on the Sitecore MVC framework, xDB and jQuery HTML5 mobile framework
  • The theme of the mobile site was to collect, connect, analyse and utilise
  • Information collected via social data, on-site interactions, device detection interactions, etc.
  • The site connected with sources like scans made against our badges, custom aggregation of browser detection, social interaction returning information back into the session, etc.
  • Analysed traffic, social interactions, links, etc.
  • Utilise all this information and feed this back into the analytics database, used to further enhance the site by using the new Experience Optimisation tool, etc.

5. Sitecore X-Developer class 101

This was an overview of how you would develop against the all-new Sitecore 8 platform and this session covered the following areas for a hypothetical scenario:
  • A report was needed with a load of pretty charts
  • The REST API was used to pass JSON to the client and then using dc.js, render this into beautiful charts
  • A showcase of how easy it is to build experience analytics
  • An overview of the Path Analyzer which details pages that a visitor visited and a traffic light like system showing how engaged a visitor is during their journey

6. Skynet will change the way you work with content

This session was probably the most complex which covered the Experience Optimisation dashboard and how the underlying framework works. The following areas were covered:
  • Always test everything
  • Workflow approval step which includes testing
  • Integrate with Machine Learning
  • The engine is built upon statistical rules, intelligence engine, pipelines, etc.
  • Experience Optimisation dashboard gave the ability for users to check whether authors made a good guess on how successful a piece of content would be
  • Tuning and configuring the engine with statistical rules, algorithms, etc.
  • Automating personalisation rules

7. The power of a single customer experience

This was an overview of the whole basis of where Sitecore 8 came from and how it evolved. It covered such areas like:
  • Interaction with brand engagement, predicting your customer and knowing your customer
  • The problems faced which included things like multiple channels, the experience database
  • Where the system would engage, e.g. social, web, email, offline, etc.
  • Customer experience based on goals
  • xDB is to collect, aggregate and analyse data

8. Tracking your users activity on your non-Sitecore sites

This is FxM (Federated Experience Manager) which enables us to track and personalise external websites not on the Sitecore platform. It covered the following areas:
  • The analytics is essentially the same analytics that Sitecore sites run against
  • The ability to attach button events to track click events
  • The ability to add placeholders on the external site and add your own sublayout to these
  • Personalise this content in the same way as you would any Sitecore site
  • Redesign and personalise parts of the site via the Page Editor

9. Understanding the Sitecore Architecture

This session covered the Sitecore architecture and how it has evolved and how the underlying structure doesn’t need to change much even with such huge changes elsewhere. The following areas were covered:
  • Architecture is based on a layer perspective
  • Modules can be installed via places like the Marketplace
  • 4 core layers covering the render engine, analytics data, CMS application layer and the data layer
  • Same architecture is used for an MVC site, a mobile site and the backend UI
  • The experience database which is released with Sitecore 7.5 which laid the foundations for capturing large amounts of data
  • Scalable architecture based on the ability to scale content, analytics and delivery
You can download the Sitecore 8 whitepaper 'Simplifying the extraordinary' here.