On arrival at the event I was greeted by the events management team who handed me the Orange Bus branded lanyard. After a bit of mingling and catching up with our Sitecore Partner Manager it was time to get down to business.
First on stage was Craig Talbot, Regional Vice President of Sales at Sitecore, who introduced the agenda and vision for the day, announcing, Platform 9 as, “…the single largest wave of innovation ever released by Sitecore.” Craig went on to thank all Sitecore customers, partners and sponsors before inviting Mark Wheeler, one of Sitecore’s Marketing VPs, to the stage.
Mark introduced some of the features of “Sitecore Experience Cloud”, explaining their new strategic partnership with Microsoft and the Azure Platform.
The new Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering will give Partners the ability to rapidly build and deploy serverless Sitecore platforms in the Azure cloud via a unified interface on Azure marketplace.
The benefits of this new serverless environment include reduced time-to-build and reduced management and maintenance. This is all possible due to the fact you no longer need to spin-up, patch or upgrade any virtual machines, all of this is now executed seamlessly as part of the PaaS offering.
Another exciting and attractive feature of Sitecore Experience Cloud in MS Azure is the ability to essentially replicate or clone an instance of Sitecore from one Azure Datacenter to another Azure Datacenter anywhere in the world.
This is fantastic news for those who have a UK presence and want to enter another geography with a country specific site. Once the platform is replicated you would need to apply local settings, language and so on but the time saved compared to a complete rebuild is significant.
In terms of migration, there was also good news for organisations running on older versions of Sitecore, the new version offers express migration from Sitecore 6.6, 7.2, 7.5, and XP 8. Any Sitecore XP 8.1 or later customer can upgrade directly to Sitecore XP 9.
The Microsoft partnership will also give Sitecore users more freedom of choice when it comes to selecting their chosen database, Microsoft SQL Server (2016 or later), SQL Azure, and in forthcoming updates, MongoDB and Azure CosmosDB (formerly known as DocumentDB).
Next on stage was Thomas Husson from Forrester, giving an energetic and engaging insight into why organisations must use digital transformation to meet and exceed customer expectations in order to drive sales.
Thomas urged the audience to reimagine the supplier/customer relationship, asking people to erase B2B and B2C from memory and simply focus on the consumer, explaining “we all demand the same personalised experience whether at home or at work”.
At this point it was clear to all in the room that the next wave of digital transformation will drive customer expectations to new heights; a new way of thinking and interacting with your audience will be required if you are to exploit the digital customer of tomorrow.
A third party search partner Coveo gave a thought provoking presentation and made the statement:
As a consumer we want to have a personal experience throughout our digital journey, so why not also, have a personal search experience that guarantees relevant and tailored content...
Lets think about this for a moment; how many times are you on a website, search for an item and are presented with non-relevant content? Your immediate reaction is to move onto another site; for the supplier this is a lost opportunity.
The features main benefit was to give the customer exactly what they wanted, first time, which reduced the risk of them leaving and trying to find what they are looking for on a competitors website. This advanced search facility uses a combination of AI powered search techniques and machine learning to give the user a truly personalised return.
Integrated and Intelligent
Charles Bell, Head of Pre-Sales, started with an overview of Sitecore XConnect, Sitecore Cortex & Sitecore Commerce. Key messages were centered around Machine Learning, 3rd Party Integration & Security.
Charles echoed the theme introduced by Thomas Husson, reinforcing the importance of meeting and exceeding the customers of tomorrow expectations and addressed how this will be achieved through adopting Sitecore 9.
The combination of Sitecore Xconnect and Sitecore Cortex will allow administrators to deliver optimised and tailored content via a range of tools, including third Party two-way API integration (ERP, POS, IoT), artificial intelligence and machine learning. Charles went on to demonstrate how these technologies will transform the customer experience, improve customer engagement, loyalty, and importantly drive sales.
Positioning Sitecore Cortex as your “virtual data scientist”, Mark set imaginations into overdrive as we contemplated what the customer of tomorrow will demand in order to satisfy their digital experience.
Further advancements were presented around security and compliance. Sitecore9 is the most secure release to date, with Federated Security options to authenticate using the SAML provider of your choice, such as Azure Active Directory. End-customers have the same capability which allows them to authenticate via social login such as Facebook, Google ID, etc.
Those organisations that need to manage personally identifiable information (PII) data against the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be pleased to learn this is now all built-in to the new release.
Following the lunch break we were invited into several sessions, the first of which focused on Sitecore Commerce which featured a mock Cinema site, named “Sitecore9 screen Cinema”, …no pun intended!
This presentation was designed to showcase the power of personalising the content for each individual customer through the use of machine learning. In the Sitecore9 screen Cinema, the member site automatically presented the customer with content relevant to them, what movies they liked, what snack and drinks they liked (for pre-order), up and coming offers that matched their profile, furthermore it also included push notifications to keep them engaged.
In short, Sitecore 9 presents significant opportunities for organisations and consumers, by directly addressing the simple question of “what they want”, giving sites the basic attributes to speak directly to any given audience. Furthermore, whoever is hosting Sitecore gets a range of new features which will intelligently apply data with a degree of security and manageability which few platforms can rival.