a car key shaped plastic object with www.sitecore.net written on it.
PHOTO: Frank Daugaard

Sitecore released the latest version of its experience and commerce platforms last month with the promise of making both developers and marketers happy. Sitecore solution architects and MVPs gave the latest version of the San Francisco-based Digital Experience Platform (DXP) provider's software suite some thumbs up for long-awaited moves in containerization support and in marketer user experience.

The first big question to answer: Should you upgrade?

Sitecore 10 comes nearly three years after the company's 9.0 release. Sitecore 9.0 debuted October 2017. Sitecore and some others naturally support an upgrade to Sitecore 10. Ken Gray, CX strategist for Konabos, gave five reasons why it's a good idea, but even he cautioned, "I would not usually recommend upgrading to a major-release-version of a software before it has released its first set of updates and fixes. However, the Sitecore 10 upgrade has some compelling reasons for doing so."

Sitecore upgrades "remain a sacred profession," according to Kelly Rusk, Sitecore architect for Rackspace and Sitecore MVP, who blogged about some pros and cons of Sitecore 10. "And I just don’t trust in place upgrades yet given years of previous upgrade pain. Perhaps that will change in Sitecore 10."

Container Support Gets Big Thumbs Up from Devs

Not many practitioners would loop "software upgrade" in the "easy" class. However, developers reviewing the Sitecore Experience Platform (XP 10) and Sitecore Commerce Platform (XC 10) platform lauded some moves made by Sitecore in its latest major release, including the now official support for container-based Sitecore development with Docker and Kubernetes technology-based container infrastructure. “The Sitecore team also provided image repositories so that development teams can start development and deploy quickly without having issues in installation of supporting software and prerequisites,” said Amit Kumar, senior technical architect and Sitecore technology MVP for 2019 and 2020. “With container-based infrastructure, organizations can easily adopt industry standard DevOps practices for continuous delivery (integration) and continuous deployment.”

The containerization move by Sitecore is “huge” because it allows developers to organize, deploy and manage Sitecore using a containerized approach, according to Ryan Bennett, technical architect and co-founder of Cylogy, a San Francisco-based Sitecore consultancy. “Developers have been containerizing Sitecore for years, but have been hindered by a lack of official support, both from the community and from Sitecore itself,” Bennett said. “The prevailing wisdom, up until very recently, was that it was technically possible, but that if you ran into problems you were likely on your own.”

Related Article: Sitecore Updates DXP, Commerce Platforms

Whispers At 2019 Symposium

Some early adopters of the containerization capabilities in Sitecore 10 give it early praise:

Of course, nothing is perfect in technology:

For a little history: In September of 2019, Sitecore announced that it would provide support for the use of Sitecore products in containers, while cautioning that it would not provide guidance on how to develop or host them in a containerized environment, Bennett added. “At Sitecore’s Symposium conference that month, there was a real buzz about the impending uptake of the containerized approach, including anecdotal evidence that both performance and ease of use had improved dramatically,” he said. “The scales had seemingly tipped, and developers were officially excited about the possibility of taking advantage of technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes.”

Bennett noted that Sitecore 10 brings officially supported images, documentation and presumably enhanced support for deploying Sitecore in a containerized fashion in environments ranging from development laptops to production. “This means,” he added, “that technologists can finally recommend this approach with confidence to all stakeholders, without fear of being left out to dry.”

DevOps Requires Continuous Integrations, Delivery

Vijayanta Gupta, vice president of product and industry marketing at Sitecore, told CMSWire that operating in a DevOps way is both a mindset and a cultural change that requires the ability to do continuous integrations and continuous delivery. “And you can't have the technology standing in the way … and that's where our container support comes in,” Gupta said. “And this allows our customers to get away from, ‘Hey it was working on my machine. I don't know what happened. When you deployed it, it broke.' With containerization with Docker and Kubernetes, with automated deployment, we are taking that challenge away. We are ensuring that if a customer wants to go into a DevOps model to do continuous integration and continuous delivery, we are giving them the tools and the technologies that are required.”

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Digital Experience Platforms

Serialization, Headless Development

Kumar noted Sitecore’s development in the Sitecore Content Serialization (SCS), a system for serializing sharing, and deploying content items, as well as keeping them in version control. In Sitecore 10.0, Sitecore provided native content serialization support for moving content from one Sitecore instance to other using Sitecore Command Line Interface (CLI). Sitecore also introduced the Graphical User Interface-based Visual Studio extension called Sitecore for Visual Studio. “With the help of Sitecore CLI and Sitecore for Visual Studio you can quickly move the content into different Sitecore environments,” Kumar said.

Bennett called the serialization developments a “big deal” because, he said, prior to Sitecore 10, if you wanted to manage critical content elements in source control and deploy them along with your code updates you either purchased Hedgehog’s TDS product or used the free Unicorn tool. Sitecore acquired Hedgehog Development, a digital consultancy, in May of 2019. “With Sitecore 10, it’s clear that Sitecore has gotten tired of leaving such a critical developer and automation function outside of its own control and has included advanced serialization features into Sitecore 10, including command line and Visual Studio integration to allow for ease of automation and developer updates,” he said.

Bennett also noted Sitecore’s headless development using a .NET core. The core Sitecore application still runs on standard ASP.NET for now. This, Gupta of Sitecore said, gives developers the flexibility to make choices like JavaScript services or ASP.NET. Sitecore now offers an SDK for the .NET core that runs independently of Sitecore itself and allows developers to pursue headless development as well as more sophisticated application structure, according to Bennett. “Developers would develop headlessly against the SDK," Bennett said, "which communicates back to Sitecore to get what it needs to perform the desired operation.”

What Marketers Need to Know About Sitecore 10

Sitecore’s XP 10 and XC 10 release came just a week or so after its release of the 3.4 version of its  Sitecore Content Hub, the platform Sitecore inherited from its fall 2018 acquisition of Stylelabs. It offered enhanced digital asset management (DAM) capability, updates in AI and video capabilities and updates in workflows with extended integration to third-party solutions.

Rackspace's Rusk, called the Content Hub developments and the XP and XC updates interesting because marketers will be able to manage microsites or micro-campaigns easier than before. “The changes to the base platform allow more extensibility for micro campaigns and things of that nature because of the headless development that can occur,” said Rusk, who also praised Sitecore's updates in xConnect, personalization and Salesforce integrations.

Sitecore 10 moves to make the integration between Sitecore and Content Hub more seamless for editor usage, according to Bennett. The ability now to share taxonomy between Sitecore and Content Hub supports the tighter integration, he added. “With Tom De Ridder — formerly from Stylelabs, which created Content Hub — as Sitecore’s CTO are we going to see more of the very slick Content Hub UI in the core Sitecore product?” Bennett asked.

Personalization Upgrades

Sitecore officials in a press release on XP 10 said marketers can get deeper insights for audience segmentation to strengthen personalization capabilities through enhanced data capabilities, coupled with ability to extend targeting with auto-personalization.   

Multiple-year Sitecore MVP Jason St-Cyr said in a blog post a big bonus to the digital marketing team in this release is the "ability to roll out basic session and device personalization even with CMS-only installations." Kumar noted that in Sitecore you can personalize content on the basis of user behavior tracked by the Sitecore and stored into Sitecore xDB for future use.

Analytics Segmenting, Salesforce Integration

Bennett also cited the following notable developments for marketers in Sitecore 10:

Segment-Based Filtering Out-of-the-Box with Analytics

Filtering by user segment has been doable in the past, but only with "annoying customization," according to Bennett. With Sitecore 10 that annoyance goes away. Filtering data by segment is now a standard option.

Privacy and Anonymization in Sitecore Forms

Sitecore 10 adds new anonymization and privacy options for the Forms product. This is important for security and GDPR initiatives, Bennett said.

Real-Time Integration With Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Marketers can sync data and connect single visitors directly to the Marketing Cloud Journey Builder and have the site respond to events in realtime. “With the use of updated version of Salesforce Marketing Cloud connector earlier you can push the data into Sitecore Analytics (xDB) to capture user’s interactions from other sources,” Kumar said. “Additionally, you can now in real time engage users into Sitecore marketing automation plans.”

Sitecore users want visibility of the customer interaction in the web experience in real time, and that's why Sitecore made the Salesforce connector in real time, according to Gupta.

Content editors should also note these developments:

Horizon Editor Improved

Horizon is the future of the editing experience with Sitecore, Bennett said, and with Sitecore 10 support was added for multi-site, multilingual and SXA sites, according to Bennett. Additionally, you can now drag and drop content in the Page Tree. “Horizon also includes some great and long-requested features such as auto-save, undo and redo,” Bennett said. “Add to this a better device specific preview process and ability to edit fields that aren’t visible on the page, and Horizon is a legitimate option for editors. Expect to see more and more editors move to a Horizon-based experience as the tool approaches feature parity with Experience Editor over time.”

Copy and Pasting from Word

This was a huge long-standing issue, believe it or not, according to Bennett. Users now have the ability to cleanly copy and paste from Microsoft Word into Experience Editor and Sitecore 10.

New Templates for Email Experience Manager (EXM)

Sitecore 10 delivers three more email templates for editors.

Sitecore Experience Commerce 10 Adds Product Bundling

Sitecore Experience Commerce 10 (XC 10) includes new product bundling capabilities. Gupta of Sitecore called XC 10 an extension of XP 10 that gives users the ability to do experience-driven commerce transactions. Product bundling is something for which customers have been asking. It allows customers to improve their average revenue per user through product bundle offerings in a more simpler way than before, according to Gupta.

Product recommendations have been updated, and personalized messages on or around birthdays is another feature added to the commerce experience. Rusk said in his blog post he hopes commerce is better integrated and easier to deploy going forward. "Commerce has always been a struggle given its large complexities and somewhat disconnect from the base Sitecore platform," he wrote.

Marketing, IT Need Equal Empowerment

Sitecore’s Gupta told CMSWire Sitecore 10 was built with the belief that marketing and IT should be equally empowered to work better together. “And what we mean by that is not about whether marketing drives customer experience or whether IT drives customer experience,” Gupta said. “It is a combination of marketing and IT working together so that great customer experiences are delivered. We wanted to ensure that both of them get capabilities that are needed. We will continue to develop on each rather than focusing on one over the other.”