Finally the day has come, when we get to know, what all new exciting features are there in another major version of Sitecore, that is Version 9.  This article is for all those folks, who were not able to attend that big Sitecore launch event today.

Now, let’s come the points and talk about what’s new.

Sitecore has raised the quality bar with 9.0 release. There are many improvements and added new features, that may be game changer in the market and will be discussed later. But if we are talking about at very high level, below are the major improvements in version 9.0

Improvements

  • Embracing more open standards and technologies
  • Quality of documentation has been improved
  • Quality of UI and overall usability is improved
  • Speed of applications improved
  • Increased Supported databases
  • Easiest upgrade ever
    • Direct from 8.1+
    • Migration tools from other versions

Introducing Sitecore Experience Cloud
Sitecore Experience Cloud is the marketer’s answer to personalization, offering everything the marketer needs to deliver business results: industry-leading content management, native digital marketing and commerce tools, continuously optimized data, and advanced machine learning the generates intelligent, impactful insight.

Sitecore Experience Cloud provides customers with flexibility and choice:

Sitecore Experience Manager– the industry’s leading content management solution

Sitecore Experience Platform– deliver personalized experiences though connected tools, data and insights

Sitecore Experience Commerce– Revolutionizing commerce through personalized customer experiences

First two XM and XP 9.0 has launched today and XC 9.0 would be launched early next year. Sitecore has re-architected and re-branded Sitecore Commerce and will be launched, under Sitecore 9 with the name “Sitecore Experience Commerce”

The “9” elevator pitch
Brands are expected to deliver personalized customer experiences across the ever-changing digital touch points of today and tomorrow, but often are challenged with distributed data sources, separate marketing tools, time-intensive analytics, and vast array of omni-channel delivery options that impede a clear view to the customer, and how and where they interact over time.

[A part of the Sitecore Experience Cloud], the Sitecore Experience Platform provides marketers with everything they need: comprehensive, native digital marketing tools, a holistic view to customer data, and machine learning-generated insights that deliver effective personalized experiences.

Unique to this new release are Sitecore xConnect open integration tools, advanced machine learning, plus headless capabilities and JavaScript services that bring data and intelligence together to bring real-time, highly optimized contextual experiences across the channels of today and tomorrow.

Summary of New and Enhanced Features
More detail on each new and enhanced features will be available in Sitecore version 9.0 in Sitecore SPN but here, we will discuss all these features briefly.

Note: Publishing service, Marketing automation, xConnect,  Commerence, EXM in Sitecore 9 are on .Net Core.

xConnect:
We already discussed briefly about xConnect long ago in one of my Article, and it is going to be available now in Sitecore Version 9.0.

xConnect is a  promising new framework that gives us an (easy) API to work with analytics data. Sitecore will be using the framework itself in several modules. We will be able to use it to integrate all kinds of external data into xDB (write) or get all sorts of combined data out of xDB (read) to be used in code or external tools (e.g.Power BI).

Features:

  1. It enable true omni-channel collection at scale. Collection includes…
    • Website visits
    • Fit devices
    • In-store visits
    • Beacons
    • Call centers
    • IOT and any 3rd party data
  2. Cloud First
    • 100% feature parity between cloud and op-premise
  3. Secure
    • Encryption at rest and in motion, with PII support
  4. Expanded database options for xDB with integrated ARM & Azure marketplace setup
    • Microsoft SQL Server 2016
    • Microsoft SQL Azure
    • CosmosDB
    • mongoDB
  5. Empowers new CRM Connectors
    • Salesforce
    • Microsoft Dynamics CRM

xConnect provide full data interoperability between Sitecore and other 3rd party system. It enable native, omni-channel access to customer data in the Sitecore Experience Database [xDB], you can really start to see exactly how your marketing efforts are affecting the way customers interact with your brand.

That means any other 3rd party system has equal citizen as a contribute to customer data and can leverage customer data. The same API that say commerce merchandise manager and personalization application is going to use to communicate to xDB is xConnect and the same think is also exposed to you to developer your integration.

With xConnect Data Model, we have much more programmatic way writing and capturing the customer data into SQL and NoSQL definition.

With the storage of huge customer’s interaction data into xDB, there is also greater need for security. xDB already supported with encryption at rest in version 8.2 and now in version 9, it is going to support SSL encryption for data in motion.

Previously, Sitecore xDB was originally available from mongoDB to big data solution that would scale to the level we needed, in version 9, Sitecore expending that choice both for the partners and Azure customers, to the cosmos dB and sql Azure become the solution for the integrated Azure.

The migration and conversion tools are available for the customers who want to migrate xDB data from mongoDB to these newly supported databases.  This is to keep in our mind that, mongoDB will remain greater choice for on-prim solutions.

Sitecore has now supported two connectors natively due to the great demand from the customer. These two connectors are Salesforce connector and Microsoft Dynamic CRM connector.

Redesigns Sitecore Forms (Not Sitecore Web forms for Marketers)
Important to note this point here that it’s a brand new module and not a rewrite of “Sitecore Web Form for Marketers“. This module is written from ground up. It involved lot of efforts and lot of research with the user experience with the sitecore product team and customers. Finally it has been written to better separate the marketing task from development task and very much designed for marketers. It allows the marketers to easily create and drag and drop fields and blank canvas to design forms and interactive forms for different devices and for the sites.

It collect data of the highest quality at the right time and in the right context. The data that is captured from these forms are xConnect compatible and managed in xDB. Thus its available real time for the personalization.

In summary, we can say…

  • Forms data helps to surface when your prospect start looking like a customer
  • Designed for marketers, forms enables easy drag and drop of fields onto the canvas to design for sites and devices
  • Forms that are reusable, and re-skinnable so that it can be made available across sites and devices
  • Now, sitecore supports multi-page forms

Marketing automation and email at scale (XP)
Once we capture information, and capture user, we want to automate.  Thus, sitecore introduce brand new marketing automation module with new interface and remove the dependency of Silverlight. Its critical to execute experiences at scale so sitecore needed to improve not just the UI but also its architecture including improvement in xDB and xConnect to support offline channels.

Sitecore 9 provides Omni-channel marketing automation for Experience Platform. This feature is not available for Experience Management user. There are many new inhancement in marketing automation UX and capabilities like..

  • Purpose-build for marketers
  • Drag-and-drop UI
  • Automation has been built for
    • Email marketing at scale
    • Experience Commerce
  • Integrate Email and Forms as part of marketing automation

 Security and privacy
There are also good improvement in security and privacy. Sitecore now in version 9, supports Federated authentication that includes the active directory services federation services (ADFS) as well as Azure Active directory. User can login into the system by Azure active directory or via any other open id connation and SAML. This is both for marketers access to Sitecore as well as the user or visitor and customers that coming to website from Facebook or twitter.

We have now capability of encryption of analytics data at motion with xConnect using Secure Socket Layer (SSL)

Federated Authentication

  • Flexibility to use other systems for authentication without writing a provider
  • Decoupling authentication. Abstract IIS from users. BYO user-management.

Security and privacy for Customer data

  • Encryption at-rest and in-motion
  • Support for personally identifiable information (PII) compliance

Streamlining migration and upgrades
The lot of the effort from the Sitecore product team has been made to make upgrading and migration more easier for the team to migrate the content from once instance to another or migrate the apps from one instance to another and in some cases where we can directly upgradable.

And the efforts has been put into the different database migration user may want to have from No SQL tp SQL.

Migration Tool:
More efficient way of moving from older versions to newest version of platform:

Through Express Migration 3.0

  • Support for 6.6, 7.2, 7.5, 8.0 to 9.0
  • Support for WFFM
  • Quality improvements

Conversion Tools:

  • xDB migration to xConnect
  • MongoDB to SQL migration

SxA enhancements
There are lots of new features coming in Sitecore 9, in terms of Sitecore Experience Accelerator. There are around 100 pre-build components and there are more to come with Sitecore Experience Commerce.  These in build components can be utilized to take advantage of personalization capabilities.

SxA enables faster onboarding and quick starts. Enhancements includes..

  • New simplified page architecture
  • Flexible layouts
    • Drag and drop toolkit
    • Around 100 pre-build components
    • Wire framing mode for site building before design
  • Export and import visual designs
  • Mobile first with responsive and adaptive options
  • Site optimization enabled for immediate testing and personalization

Sitecore Machine Learning
There are lot of controversies out there on the differences between machine learning and artificial intelligence. To make it very simple, we would simply say that Machine Learning is a subset of artificial intelligence. Here in Sitecore, Machine Learning will be used for automated personalization, different segment and audience discovery.

Sitecore machine learning engine is a dedicated engine for processing Sitecore ML algorithem’s at scale. It is a windows service composed of a series of specialized machine learning processing pipelines. It scales by enabling varying number of configurations. Customer can configure based on their performance requirements.

 Components

  • Automated personalization
  • Segment/audience discovery
  • Attribution analysis
  • Other ML processors
  • Send time optimization

Headless & new Sitecore JavaScript Services
These are the terms, that has generated lot of excitement and interest specially in front end developers and sitecore continue to make new investment on this to allow content that is managed in sitecore, accessed in sitecore while the presentation is delivered by a device or application that isn’t managed by  sitecore.

The JavaScript service module allow developers to request the content with minimal sitecore expertise. This gives us collectively a access to much broader audience of java scripts develoers that don’t necessarily need to know sitecore.

What is Headless?

  • “API-only” approach to WCM
  • Front-end developers to access “pure content”
  • Marketers have limited control over the content presentation
  • Personalization and analytics are integrated separately

How does Sitecore support this?

  • Content separated from presentation
  • Sitecore SSC Web API
  • Sitecore Experience Accelerator Data Modelling & JSON Rendering
  • Sitecore JavaScript Services

Sitecore JavaScript Services (Sitecore JSS)
Sitecore JavaScript Services that is coming in 9 series, provides a toolkit for audience that hasn’t been traditionally served by Sitecore, its JavaScript developers. So the frontend developers can build there application in React or whatever JavaScript technology they want.

The JavaScript services allows the marketers to personalize each experience in the same way they would, any other Sitecore delivered experience.

In summary, it provides..

  • Complete toolkit for modern JavaScript develoers
  • Build full-fledged solution (SPAs, PWA, Websites)
  • By being completely unplugged
  • Deploy in a physically decoupled manner and run heedlessly
  • “Code-first”, beyond APIs

 

It’s fully integrated with XP

  • Automated app import
  • Same codebase – Sitecore runs JavaScript
  • Fully Experience Platform capabilities:
    • Experience Editor
    • Personalization and testing
    • Tracking & analytics

 

Credits and References
I am really thankful to the Sitecore product team as well as support team, involved in the Sitecore pre-launch event to give us an opportunity to have a deeper dive into what’s next in Sitecore. Full credit goes to the team for each content and image used in this articles.