Having been in Chicago for the last week to attend Symposium and the MVP summit, I now have a notebook full of interesting observations. While some of that is under NDA and hence all Secret Squirrel, there were a collection of important public announcements which I can report. The key product and technical take-aways from the conferece are pretty important for customers and partners. So here's my summary:
Aside from the technical points I'll list out below, it's noticeable that Sitecore have changed the way they're referring to their product suite in the Headless/Composable space. They've started categorising the products into "clouds", and their breakdown is shown by this slide:
The darker blue hexagons represent the "Content Cloud" - the tools focused on producing content, both textual and image based. The lighter blue (teal?) ones are the "Commerce Cloud" - which address display and sales of products. And the red ones are the "Engagement Cloud" - which help personalise and interact with users.
There's some debate about whether the "Connect" hex here should be in the Engagement Cloud or out on its own. (See below for an explanation of what this product is) But for the moment it's coloured red, even if that doesn't entirely make sense.
The key messages from the conference are:
While this product was announced a while back, it's been pretty difficult to get your hands on it up until now. There was a deliberate policy of slowly ramping up the number of customers and partners using it. But Steve Tzikakis announced that it is now generally available, so if you can stump up the money to run it, you should be able to get your hands on an instance now. Talk to your partner / or Sitecore account manager.
The new editing UI
For a while now, Sitecore have been talking about the distinction between their "full-featured CMS" (in XM/XP/XM Cloud) and the more simple pureplay-headless CMS products in the marketplace. Their play in this space is a cut-down version of Content Hub, where you get the tools for modelling and entering content, plus the APIs for exporting (publishing) that content. Whether you export the content to another system, or you use it to drive a JAMStack-style publishing system doesn't really matter. The idea here is to target the "we need to get some brand microsites up fast!" and the "we need to create omnichannel content, where another system worries about presentation" markets.
As the name implies, the tool is based on Content Hub, but it offers only the content modelling and editing parts. The DAM and Content Operations pieces are not included in this product - but it's a button-click upgrade if you decide you need those extra features later. (Note the slightly revised naming here - they seem to be trying to steer away from the CMP / MRM naming they'd used before for the parts of Content Hub - which is sensible as that wasn't really very obvious)
Since XM Cloud has no CD servers, there's nowhere to run the sort of search code we'd used in the past. XM Cloud sites need something else to replace this. Sitecore Search is their offering in this space, and provides a bundled alternative to something like SearchStax Studio or Coveo. It's built on the technology stack acquired when Sitecore bought Reflektion, and shares infrastructure with the Discover product.
It adds a layer of personalised search. Your front-end code can make calls to tell the search engine about what the user has been browsing, and the search results can be automatically modified based on this data, to return results which are tailored to the user's behaviour. It also includes some machine-learning behaviour which can recognise questions in the user's query, and provide direct answers to them.
The main search page on sitecore.com is using this tech right now, so you can see some examples of how it works there.
I've been talking with customers for some time about their options for low/no code connectivity to put their integration logic in between their composable tools. Until now these conversations have revolved around things like Azure Logic Apps, other iPaaS tools, or "functions as a service" offerings. But Sitecore have now decided to get into this space, and are offering "Sitecore Connect" to fill this space. (Note it seems to have been described as "Sitecore Automate" internally at some point, and some of that old branding is leaking out in a few places. If you see mention of Automate, they mean Connect)
This is a rebadging of the Workato iPaaS solution which Sitecore are offering as an optional part of their composable stack. You get all of the features of the base product (which includes connectors to a vast array of common software platforms) plus connectivity to Sitecore's products. They are also providing some "recipies" - pre-built integrations which you can copy and use as a basis for your own work.
Broadly what you get here is a graphical tool to build pipelines which connect input systems to output systems. You pick the right input plugin for your data source, add any relevant steps to transform the data or make decisions, and then wire that up to an output plugin. And the system runs your pipeline each time some data becomes available from the input system.
Note that you don't need to use this - all the other products and options available are still valid. But the OTB connectors here may be an advantage to some.
Sitecore repeated their commitment to having three ways to run their software - SaaS, Managed Cloud and PaaS/IaaS. So while they've been working on XM Cloud they've also been cherry-picking improvements from that system's codebase into the main DXP, as well as fixing some bugs.
It's worth noting that you don't get access to the new Pages/Sites editing UI for these non-XM Cloud deployments. You have to stick to Experience Editor and Page Editor when working with these.
We should see this released "in a couple of weeks" according to the conference presentations.
No details at this point, but there was a commitment to at least a 10.4 release around this time next year. Which suggests you've got a minimum of six years of support for your work if you start a new non-cloud project now - which may be an important bit of information for some people trying to decide what technical route to take.
Alongside these headline points, work continues in the background on other quality-of-life improvements. Further work on improving and updating documentation. More training and certification courses coming on line. (They've certified a record number of people in the last year) Further composable products will get added to the Portal UI for centralised management. Work towards Unified Tracking, so that all the bits of the SaaS platform which use analytics will store their data in the same place. Plus new features and bug fixes for all the products not mentioned above.
There was also an "and finally" from Dave O'Flanagan about some work to integrate Discover and OrderCloud more directly, which they're referring to as Project Affinity. The idea here is that the clever automated UI of Discover can help provide features to OrderCloud that it doesn't have right now.