The 7 Best Sitecore 9 Features and Their Capabilities
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The 7 Best Sitecore 9 Features and Their Capabilities

Author: Praveen KM | Categories: Marketing Automation, Online Marketing, Sitecore CMS, Customer Experience, CMS

Sitecore 9 has taken the center-stage of discussions since its launch at the Symposium 2017 event. And, why not? Loaded with more powerful, integrated, and smarter features than its predecessors, Sitecore 9 has also introduced several upgrades for the Experience Platform (XP) 9, such as xConnect, Forms, Redesigned Marketing Automation, Sitecore JavaScript Services, and Federated Authentication.

However, to enjoy Sitecore 9 and its features to their full potential, you need to be aware of their capabilities. Also, you need to identify the areas in your business where you could expect these capabilities to make the maximum impact.

Here’s a brief outline of each to get you started.

Top features of Sitecore 9

xConnect

The new xConnect feature opens up Sitecore’s xDB analytics database making it the perfect core system for any enterprise marketing technology stack. The xConnect feature improves xDB by allowing the collection and interchange of customer data across channels and with external applications at scale.

xConnect is the service layer that sits in between the xDB and any trusted client, device, or interface that wants to read, write, or search for xDB data. The service layer makes it easy to retrieve and consume analytics data in a flexible way via the user-friendly APIs. Currently, xConnect is comprised of two services – Collection and Search.

Below is a screen-grab highlighting this:

xConnect

xConnect is a service layer, which exists independent of Sitecore. Due to this, there is no direct connection between the underlying xDB databases or search indexes and any client including other internal systems, such as processing servers. The client application is only aware of the xConnect endpoint.

Since xConnect is not dependent on Sitecore, it can be hosted separately on a dedicated server and can be scaled, based on the requirement. Communication to xConnect must happen over HTTPS and clients must have the appropriate certificate thumbprint.

xConnect implements the oData protocol, which in turn defines a set of standards for building and consuming RESTful APIs. xConnect is a provider base, which is built using the modular architecture approach that makes it easy for developers to swap search providers. For example, xConnect search supports Azure search or SOLR.

Forms

Forms addresses a few pain points that marketers faced with Web Forms for Marketers. The new features of the Forms functionality include:

1. A completely redesigned UI to make it easier for marketers.

2. The Form Builder is now set with drag and drop functionality to facilitate easy form creation.

3. Multi-page forms offer freedom from hacks and workaround implementations.

4. This feature enables the creation of form templates for creating reusable forms.

5. It also allows stylizing the forms, which helps prompt customers to share inputs and brands to collect valuable data to drive conversion.

6. The performance reporting feature allows marketers to review a form and make quick changes.

Sitecore Forms

The image above showcases how the drag and drop functionality works.

Marketing Automation

Sitecore 9 introduces a completely redesigned marketing automation tool. This tool has an easy-to-use interface that helps create automated marketing campaigns and engagement plans. The tool is a major improvement from the Engagement Plan toolset available in Sitecore 8.x and prior. It enables marketers to quickly deal with common marketing scenarios and nurture contacts by adapting communication relevant for each interaction.

Marketing Automation enables marketers to set up complex campaigns. Using this tool, marketers can set simple triggers to enter new contacts into the plan and effectively track them throughout the journey. The drag and drop functionality makes it simple to set up conditions and rules, which facilitate marketers to base campaign decisions on a vast number of data points, such as demographics, contact attributes, such as device detection or list membership, personas, campaign or goal triggers. This further allows them to deliver a more personalized online experience and communicate with clients more effectively.

Marketing Automation feature in Sitecore

The image above displays a plan created using the marketing automation feature.

Sitecore Headless and JavaScript Services (JSS)

Headless within Sitecore isn’t new; it was always possible to go headless within the CMS platform. You may check out this blog post by Lars Nielsen, one of the founders of Sitecore, wherein he shares why Sitecore has always supported headless to some degree. Until now the easiest way to implement headless was to use ItemService and RESTful API for the ItemService, or create an API using WebAPI.

Sitecore JavaScript Services (JSS) was introduced in the Tech Preview mode with Sitecore 9. JSS is a complete SDK for JavaScript developers facilitating the build-up of full-fledged solutions using Sitecore and modern JavaScript UI libraries and frameworks (React.js and Angular). The development can be done by being completely disconnected from Sitecore; even without having Sitecore installed on your system. You can deploy apps in a physically decoupled "headless" way on any platform, and virtually to any cloud with the full Sitecore Experience Platform capability preserved, including Experience Editor, Personalization, MV testing and Tracking / Analytics. This will allow your frontend developers to actively lead the development of the site, making it less daunting and more familiar to get involved in the full lifecycle. It can also allow your team to use the technology stack to its optimum.

Federated Authentication

Sitecore 9 offers support for OWIN authentication middleware that allows users to log in via standard Microsoft OWIN authentication providers. This facilitates authentication against a number of different identity providers, such as Google, Facebook, etc.

Before Sitecore 9, the permissions were essentially synced to the Sitecore membership database and managed locally by Sitecore. This created problems at times when the number of users in the organization was high, as all the users were inside the Sitecore database.

The currently-available OWIN middleware includes:

  • OpenId Connect (AzureAD, identity server)
  • Microsoft Account
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • WsFederation
  • OAuth
  • SAML

Below is how the login screen will look like once OWIN and external identity providers are implemented on the Sitecore instance:

Federated Authentication Sitecore

Sitecore Installation Framework (SIF)

The release of Sitecore 9 has replaced the traditional exe or zip-based Sitecore installation packages with a new installation framework. The new SIF provides an automated framework built on PowerShell that can deploy and configure a standard preset server architecture. This gives a modular approach to install Sitecore and xConnect.

The Framework can also be extended to include custom PowerShell functionality to add new tasks during the installation. This allows installing additional tools that are used by your organization.

Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)

Sitecore Experience Accelerator was an add-on to the platform for all versions till Sitecore 9. In Sitecore 9, this feature is included in the platform.

SXA is a framework, which allows web developers to speed up the development and production of websites and reuse components, layouts and templates across a variety of sites. SXA separates structure from design; front-end designers, creative designers, content authors and developers can work in parallel and deploy and maintain multiple sites quickly and cost-effectively. Once the primary user experience is implemented, the different teams can start working on the platform simultaneously. For example, content authors can start working on the content entry, front-end developers can begin work on the styles and theme of the site, and developers can set up the data templates.

Sitecore experience platform
Finally,

The different features of Sitecore 9 allow your technical team to speed up their work and come out with impressive results. Be it the re-usable components, the pre-built templates, or the OWIN authentication middleware; each enhancement can contribute significantly to the overall experience of working on this CMS version. For your marketing team, the marketing automation feature offers a host of benefits including deploying complex campaigns in a jiffy. So, in a nutshell, it’s a win-win situation for all!

We are shortly coming up with a webinar on how you can bolster you Sitecore 9 experience. To be a part, please register by clicking on the picture below.

Sitecore 9 Architecture Changes