Sitecore, a digital customer experience software provider, held its annual Sitecore Symposium conference last week live from London in front of a small crowd of employees and to thousands of virtual attendees.

The big news? Sitecore’s unveiling of the Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud, a cloud-native CMS offering, which adds to the Sitecore SaaS Digital Experience Platform (DXP) built on composable architecture. It will be available next spring according to company officials.

Sitecore Dives Into Composable DXP

Sitecore is the latest digital customer experience vendor to push composable digital experiences. Marketers want flexibility in creating digital experiences, not tied to monolithic backend architecture, the vendors contend. And vendors are responding in the form of composable DXPs.

A composable DXP builds a DXP architecture based on separate components with different capabilities that can work together but are independent from each other. These combine to build a best-of-breed digital ecosystem. A composable DXP entails more than just product modularity and API-based best-of-breed product integrations, according to Irina Guseva, senior research director at Gartner and lead analyst for the DXP Magic Quadrant. “The composability should come at the packaged business capabilities level and ‘valuex’ consumption-based pricing models, ” Guseva told CMSWire

Related Article: What Is a Composable DXP?

Where Does Sitecore Come in?

From Sitecore’s perspective, its SaaS DXP is built on a composable architecture. Company officials imagine users buying best-of-breed products or an integrated platform that scales to support high volume content, visitor and data processing needs. This modular approach is supported by Sitecore’s product portfolio integration via a composable architecture in the cloud where customers configure and connect products through APIs and microservices-based, cloud-native technology.

Meanwhile, Sitecore is integrating acquisitions made over the past year:

  • Boxever: A customer data platform (CDP) that now serves as Sitecore CDP.
  • Four51: A headless ecommerce solution.
  • Moosend: A cloud-native, API-first marketing automation platform.
  • Reflektion: Now Sitecore Discover, which integrates search with marketing and commerce capabilities.

It’s a lot of pieces to weave into the Sitecore suite. What’s ready for primetime now?

Dave O’Flanagan, chief product officer for Sitecore, demonstrated what the Sitecore suite looks like in this visual during his presentation last week at Sitecore Symposium, the company’s annual conference (image courtesy of Kiran Patil on Twitter; red hearts represent availability today; blue hearts spring 2022):

Illustration that shows where all Sitecore products fit into their full product suite.

“Everything shown on the slide is available now except for Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud, Sitecore Symphony and Sitecore Search, which will be available in Spring ’22 with betas coming sooner,” said O’Flanagan.

PaaS to Saas Transition

The push for cloud-native technologies and SaaS-based acquisitions represents a marked departure from the old Sitecore strategy of the 2010s. While competitors pieced together DXPs via acquisition route, Sitecore touted its predominantly natively-built platform with underlying components of a .NET programming language.

But the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) to SaaS transition is speeding up; Gartner reported Sitecore would do it over the next three to five years in its Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms earlier this year.

Perhaps Sitecore also heard the calls from another analyst firm (Forrester) that called the company a good fit for those that want an integrated, all-in-one experience platform and are locked into Microsoft Azure, and not so much for those that want cloud-native, full-featured, integrated experience platform.

“These changes are something I have been waiting for a long time to see,” said Chris Williams, chief customer officer of Read Watch Create and a Sitecore MVP. “When they bought Stylelabs a couple years ago I cheered because it was much needed. The same for OrderCloud and Boxever. They were necessary pieces that already work well with Sitecore XP and already had customers on XP prior to acquisition. Kind of like a best friend who you always got along really well with marries your cousin and now you are family. I feel that way about the acquisitions made. They already were best friends now they are just brought in closer.”

Related Article: What's Behind Sitecore's Avalanche of Acquisitions in 2021?

What About Legacy Customers?

The vision certainly seems in line with many in the digital customer experience industry. But what is the message to existing customers who have invested years and dollars in building their infrastructure on the legacy products?

O'Flanagan responded to that question, saying Sitecore will continue to invest in its PaaS portfolio (XM/XP/XC on Azure Managed Cloud) as demonstrated by its 10.2 release coming in November. And it expects to deliver 10.3 next year.

“However,” he added, “we are seeing most customers opt to add cloud/composable capabilities to their current installations (e.g. adding Sitecore CDP or Sitecore Personalize to XM) as many have made strategic decisions to move to the cloud to reduce hosting and infrastructure costs and do away with upgrades.”

If customers decide to buy into that vision, is the 2022-debuting Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud a rebrand of some acquired stuff? Is the historic product(s) in this mix gone, evolved or rebuilt for the cloud?

Learning Opportunities

"Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud is a completely cloud-native CMS,” said O’Flanagan. “Not managed cloud or PaaS. It’s a CMS offered as a cloud service. The technology is based on Sitecore’s current Experience Manager product but with a headless, API-first architecture and it also includes Sitecore Experience Edge for accelerated content delivery via CDN using GraphQL. And the exciting new addition is Sitecore Symphony, our new Front-End-as-a-Service product. This provides a game-changing visual editor to allow marketers to create and edit sites, pages and experiences in a modern cloud-based editor.” 

The Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud will be built using existing Sitecore XM and deployed to SaaS with additional capabilities like native headless, REST/GraphQL offering for content management and content delivery, cloud-native, elastic scale capability and Jamstack ready without thinking about Sitecore upgrades, according to Amit Kumar, senior technical architect and Sitecore technology MVP.

Sitecore still believes the central product in the DXP is content management, according to O’Flanagan. This is demonstrated, he said, by Sitecore Experience Manager and Sitecore Content Hub. “That said,” O’Flanagan added, “we are investing heavily in data and analytics as we believe unified data and intelligence should be core to each product in our composable DXP.”

Who Will the SaaS Platform Suit?

Moving to a SaaS-based Sitecore platform that is extensible will certainly allow users to add what they need and avoid what they don’t, according to Kelly Rusk, Sitecore architect for Rackspace and Sitecore MVP. He cited the example of the amount of users actually taking advantage of xConnect in their XP deployment, as it’s fairly low. Moving to the composable model potentially creates better ROI for enterprises.

“The counter concern,” Rusk added, “is the amount of integration required, and with a SaaS model, how much is open for developers to modify. The community needs to understand how the SaaS base platform performs, if solutions are sandboxed, and if there will be noisy neighbors. Overall, it begs the question of who the SaaS platform is intended for. Is this for smaller organizations since larger enterprises tend to focus on scale and control? Or does this provide the right balance of power and extensibility?”

There are two primary types of Sitecore environments deployed today: XM or XP, according to Rusk. XM is the base content management/feature set while XP contains xConnect and deeper analytics/personalization elements.

“For clients not on SaaS today, the guidance is the same as any upgrade/new technology valuation: to make a matrix of required and desired features to determine if SaaS aligns to the criteria,” Rusk said. “This should [be] fully vetted as a POC where business requirements drive the platform and integrations vs. having the tools drive requirements.” 

For example, if you have Sitecore XP and XC, you can start to add Content Hub to help with asset management. If you want to bring in OrderCloud to replace XC because you need more functionality for B2B then you can replace that piece.

“The whole point of composable DXP is you don't need to take the whole thing as one product or suite. You can swap them out even with other vendors,” Williams said. “For example Salesforce does personalization so you could go with XM and then Salesforce instead. You get to use the stuff that works best for you. Like Lego, you can fit all the pieces together to build the best solution for you.”

Related Article: Sitecore 10's Key Takeaways for Developers and Marketers

Is There a Centerpiece in the DX Stack?

Where before you had XM and XP, you now have a variety of different products that you can mix and match to come to a highly composable stack of DXP, according to Robbert Hock, 12-time Sitecore MVP and owner of Kayee, a Sitecore implementation provider. “So there's no centerpiece,” he added.

Sitecore will continue maintaining and developing the XP product. At the same time it's moving into a composable stack of products. For example, customers can migrate from Sitecore Experience Database (xDB) to Sitecore CDP. And customers will more easily make the transition from a more traditional Sitecore DXP to a composable DXP in the future.

Williams said Content Hub, a so-called marketing hub Sitecore created through the acquisition of Stylelabs, is the company’s centerpiece because it “handles all the content for all your channels,” Williams added. “Sitecore XM/XP is just one channel. Having the single point of truth is important.”