Sitecore CMS
Sitecore announced version 9 of its CMS, which includes new machine learning capabilities, during the kick off of its annual conference PHOTO: Shutterstock

Sitecore kicked off its four-day Symposium in Las Vegas on Monday, with an extensive keynote outlining the company’s roadmap and its newest creations — namely Sitecore Experience Cloud and an updated version of Sitecore Experience Platform and Sitecore Experience Management, its web content management system. Speakers emphasized the areas where Sitecore had been investing and will continue to invest, heavily. These include data integration, commerce, the cloud and perhaps most of all machine learning, which is now a robust component of their offering.

“We are going to harness our culture of innovation and leapfrog the entire market in the area of machine learning,” Sitecore’s recently-named CEO Mark Frost told the audience. “We’re heavily invested in machine learning across our entire product portfolio, including content management and commerce, to automate and improve results,” he said.

Introducing xConnect and Cortex

Indeed, machine learning is the underpinning of two of the main features of Sitecore’s updated products. One is xConnect, an underlying data platform that pulls data from a wide array of sources — a retailer’s beacon, a CRM app or even exercise fitness bands — into XTB, the Experience Database. Sitecore has developed connectors for Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics 365 based on the Sitecore xConnect framework.

Another noteworthy offering is Sitecore Cortex, machine learning and cognitive computing technology that is being weaved throughout the entire Sitecore Experience Cloud. Part of Sitecore 9, Cortex is coming to market with a number of capabilities like a a tool called Path Analysis, which analyzes and predicts a customer’s journey. It also scores content by running multi-variant testing on each message to create buyer categories which can be targeted through automated personalization.

"Think of Sitecore Cortex as your own personal data scientist, but it’s available to you 24/7, 365 days a year, there to help you identify opportunities, and to avoid cautions and hazard areas, making recommendations to help you to improve the performance of your programs and your campaigns, and to deliver better experiences for your customers,” Chief Marketing Officer Scott Anderson said in his presentation.

A Stronger Push Into Commerce

Sitecore expects to leverage these two features, xConnect and Cortex, as it makes a deeper push into the commerce area; the duo can give brands startlingly sharp and detailed insights into the customer journey from an omni channel perspective. “We’re taking commerce to a new level with a modern architecture to optimize shopping experiences,” Frost told the audience. Sitecore Cortex can, for example, identify new audience ideas by discovering patterns in the data that a human wouldn’t have been able to see without the power of machine learning, Anderson said.

Moving to the Cloud

Another area of focus for Sitecore is the cloud — with these releases Sitecore is delivering its platform as a fully managed cloud service for the first time. Sitecore also announced that, under its strategic alliance with Microsoft, it has optimized Sitecore for Microsoft Azure PAAS, providing another deployment option. Users can choose the deployment option best suited for them — a list that includes on premise, the cloud, hybrid cloud or managed cloud hosting.

The Leap from Version 8 to Version 9

Of course, save for a few early adopters , version 9 is new ground for Sitecore’s user base, most of which heard about the new products in detail for the first time at Symposium. Many, such as Bryan Hardman, Director of Interactive Marketing for Herschend Family — the developer of Dollyworld, are contemplating more practical upgrades such as moving to version 8 to take advantage of the analytics improvements made in that release.

Hardman told CMSWire that the company will likely wait for 9.1 to come out but the company does plan to update to version 9 in large part because of xConnect and Cortex. Our IT team is working to better centralize our data and not have it in silos,” he said.

Right now there's a heavy emphasis on customer data in transactional data which is very important. But there's all this data elsewhere such as our marketing automation platform and I still don't think we have a cohesive strategy to bring it all together.” xConnect, he said, sounds like it could be a solution.