The Sitecore promotional junket, following the launch of Sitecore 9, rolled into London as part of its 20-city world tour, and Dog were there to see first-hand what new features and functionality have been delivered.
Sitecore 9 has arrived
As accredited Sitecore Gold Partners, and having worked with Sitecore for over 8 years now, it’s always exciting to see what new box of tricks our technology and marketing teams will have to play with in the months ahead. With this latest release, Sitecore doesn’t disappoint, the new developments in Sitecore 9 will, without doubt, take context marketing to the next level.
The event itself was very slick and well organised, and the line-up of technology partners and speakers was first class. We were treated to some inspiring and insightful talks and demos from Sitecore’s technology partners such as Forrester, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace and Coveo to name but a few.
Common themes across all partner talks was the focus on machine learning and leveraging the power of the cloud. From automatically spinning up Azure Cloud servers to handle increased demand, to delivering experiences personalised using online and offline customer data in real-time, Machine Learning is unearthing some ground-breaking and exciting opportunities for marketers and technologists alike to optimise operations, marketing and customer engagement.
There were a lot of new features and developments presented on the day, too many to discuss in one post, but we’ve called out some of the main highlights here.
Sitecore Cloud on Azure
Sitecore has released a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), offering deployment on the Microsoft Azure global platform, allowing us to build server infrastructure and specify server locations in a matter of minutes. The ability to scale the infrastructure based on peaks in demand can be handled using simple rules in the Azure interface – a great feature to give piece of mind to ensure availability of successful campaigns, product launches or during busy commerce periods such as Q4.
A big win, especially for an agency such as ourselves, is the ability on Sitecore Cloud to spin up a new instance of Sitecore 9 on an Azure server anywhere in the world, ready for code deployment, in under 30 minutes. Before Sitecore Cloud, this would have taken many hours, if not days of work for technical teams in the past – so a very welcome new feature!
The cloud offering now provides four separate options for Sitecore deployment; Sitecore on premise, Sitecore on IaaS, Sitecore Cloud PaaS and a new Sitecore Managed Cloud Service – offering maximum flexibility for customers depending on their needs.
xConnect for Experience Platform
Sitecore have extended the Experience Database (xDB) architecture to allow any third-party data to be imported via the xConnect API and includes out-of-the-box two-way connectors for Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce CRM systems. Allowing custom third-party data sources to supplement the already rich user profiles in xDB will allow the customer experience to be personalised in a deeper, more meaningful way using Sitecore 9.
Live on-stage, we were treated to a powerful demo of the xConnect functionality, where we saw Strava and FitBit data added to the xDB user profiles, the physical exercise data then being available to personalise the digital user experience in a much richer way to help drive conversion in both content or commerce platforms. The opportunities here are endless!
Sitecore Cortex powering the Experience Platform
Designed to exploit the enormous potential of machine learning, the Sitecore Experience Platform combines three key areas; contextual insights, content and commerce, and omnichannel delivery - bringing contextual experiences to wherever your customers are. The combined result is the ability to collect, connect and process massive amounts of data in real-time, powered by Sitecore Cortex, which is the intelligent marketing assistant underpinning the Experience Platform in the cloud.
Cortex enables the automated real-time analysing, testing and optimising of user journeys to increase the relevance and value of each customer interaction. Soon, Cortex will be profiling customers based on their content consumption, building smart attribution models, applying self-learning engagement scoring, automatic content tagging, making intelligent content recommendations and reading the unique context of every interaction. This is the future of digital marketing!
The old Web Forms for Marketers (WFfM) functionality is gone, and in its place, a new slick HTM5 drag and drop interface that is built with the marketer in mind. All data is managed in xDB in real-time, all fields track abandonment and reporting insights are served alongside the form builder. Multi-page forms are now handled natively, and applying specific styles to forms is much easier. The biggest feature here is that the new Sitecore Forms are now integrated with the Experience Platform’s personalisation and rules-based engine, so forms can also be personalised in real-time to make the data collection exercise more contextually relevant for each user.
Marketing Automation (Engagement Plans)
The clunky Silverlight interface which blighted Engagement Plans in previous Sitecore releases is thankfully gone. The UI has been redesigned from the ground-up to be much easier to use, and much more powerful. Aimed squarely at the marketer and not developers, the marketing automation is now truly omnichannel, allowing you to easily automate engagement across interactions in email, mobile web and applications, social marketing, commerce, dynamic print and even non-Sitecore websites using the Federated Experience Manager.
Much like the new Sitecore Forms, the UI uses drag-and-drop controls and integrates with the personalisation and rules-based engine to ensure actions and responses are relevant for each user. Another useful feature is the ability to set templated automation plans, or use an out-of-the-box templates for quick deployment. This is sure to be massive time saver!
Sitecore Experience Commerce
The new enterprise-level commerce platform from Sitecore is due for public release in early 2018, and we were given a sneak-peek at some of the key features. Fully integrated with the CMS and Experience Platform features such as personalisation, rules-based engine, automation, forms and the machine learning capability of Sitecore Cortex. This is a scalable solution built from the ground up to be best in class – expect to hear more about this next year!
Sitecore have continued to aggressively innovate their core products and I’m sure the new features will continue to cement their reputation as leaders in the Content Management space. The new tools in Sitecore 9 provide a fantastic foundation on which to base your marketing operations and activation. The key will be understanding how best to leverage the Sitecore and Azure tools to help deliver your marketing objectives and provide more relevant experiences for your customers.
Our marketing and technology teams are already working with Sitecore 9, and exploring how the new features and functionality can be cleverly applied to existing client challenges. Using Sitecore 9, our ability to create rich experiences for customers, at scale and in real-time, just became a more practical reality.
If you would like to find out more, please get in touch!
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