Sitecore – where are you going?

We have the pleasure of living in an era of digital transformation, where pioneering/innovative solutions are not only our bread and butter but a requirement for a product to be the best in the market.

Are Sitecore solutions the best? Being a back-end developer for over a decade for customers using Sitecore XP and having contributed to some Sitecore solutions I will leave this as a rhetorical question.

In this article, I’ll try to outline how technological advances and the digital maturity of society are impacting Sitecore’s offerings. We’ll start with a description of few historical changes in versions 6-8, then we’ll touch on current solutions 9-10 and take a peek into the future to try to predict where we’ll be in the near future.

The past (Sitecore 6-8)

Many customers starting with Sitecore 6 were using web forms technology, which was the standard at the time. It was a safe choice when on the job market we had desktop developers entering the world of web development. All we needed was an experienced back-end developer and we already had a person suitable for managing the solution architecture. The frequent result was limited ability to use the latest front-end solutions and inefficient work on the view layer, where the front-end specialist did not know components, and the back-end specialist was annoyed that he was wasting time rewriting code from front-end development. Of course, such problems did not exist for full-stack developers, but there were far too few of them. The market’s answer to these challenges was the MVC architecture giving more control over the resulting HTML code. Sitecore, moving with the times, added MVC support to the platform very early on. Websites became lighter and therefore more efficient. More control over the resulting code helped to involve web-developers in the teams who did not have to deal with Microsoft’s native solutions. The platform still supports web forms today, but it is backward compatibility, not an invitation to develop in that architecture.

While the competition provided CMS solutions with lots and sometimes too many off-the-shelf components, Sitecore focused on complete flexibility, providing a solution where developers and the customer decided on the additional modules required. This business model resulted in the involvement of many partners who not only provided solutions for their customers, but also created their own modules that were their products giving other companies the opportunity to better start their own implementation. Several accelerators and hundreds of additional modules appeared on the market. Customers could choose solutions specialized to their needs.

In the era of open source, it is worth mentioning the Sitecore Marketplace – a place created by Sitecore for everyone to showcase and share their module.

Healthy competition among partners led to many interesting solutions, but in the long run, too many modules providing different implementations of similar functionality could overwhelm developers wanting to choose the best solution for a given customer. Fortunately, one partner pioneered anaccelerator so complete and versatile that Sitecore acquired it, along with part of its team, and began developing it as its own product under the name Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA).

Being a content management system in a market that already offered many similar solutions was nothing special, so developing the marketing part and promoting it was a natural direction for the platform. Sitecore Experience Platform (previously Sitecore DMS) – A/B testing, personalization, user profiling, marketing campaigns, analytics… in a word, everything that was previously done by external providers and provided marketing value became part of the platform. As native solutions, developers gained more control and influence over the operation of this part of the business. Customers no longer had to look for external solutions and specialists.

To support the scalability of analytics data, Sitecore Experience Database (xDB) was introduced. Raw data was collected in a high-performance, non-relational MongoDB database and aggregated/processed into SWL (reporting) databases.

Providing the ability to efficiently develop applications in production has always been an important part of the platform. However, even the most flexible and extensible environment, if it required deployment, the response time was dependent on the length of the process. Many teams tried to strive for the idea of frequent (e.g., daily) deployments, yet for a large number of teams this was out of reach, resulting in a 2-3 week period from task submission to deployment to production. For maintenance tasks, there was a fair amount that was easy to implement, often one-off, and the only limit was the time to deploy. The Sitecore Powershell module revolutionized the platform’s capabilities by providing a tool to use scripts without the need for expensive deployments. The flexibility and level of support from the module developers has made it the preferred tool for developing other platform tools.

Cloud solutions have been with us for some time now. Many customers have already been putting their solutions in the cloud, but the architecture was still based on virtual servers, not much different than using physical servers. Significant changes came from version 8.2 when Sitecore XP gained full support for Azure Web Apps. The move from IaaS (infrastructure as a service) to PaaS (platform as a service) meant that important functionality such as auto scaling, blue/green deployments, monitoring, Azure DevOps integration became available out of the box and supported virtually effortlessly.

To sum up the past in one sentence: The content management system has evolved into a marketing platform providing the functionality required by the market.

Present (Sitecore 9-10)

The general trend toward microservices has led to significant changes in the Sitecore XP architecture. The separation of xConnect allowed parts of the platform to be used directly by other applications. The REST API allowed internal as well as external systems to access and manipulate customer data without going through a web application.

But perhaps the most anticipated feature is the platform’s native support for headless architecture. Of course, it was already possible to create this type of solution before, but it required a lot of work. With Sitecore JSS (currently Sitecore Headless Services), we obtain tools that allow us to fully use the benefits of XP. Full support and sample projects for the most popular schemas have significantly increased the possibility of acquiring talent responsible for the various layers of the application. Applications can be created in connectionless mode and then imported into Sitecore. Additional support through SXA allows you to create and manage headless applications without additional deployments. This significantly speeds up project startup. For teams heavily tied to .Net, version 10 featured the Sitecore ASP.NET Rendering SDK, which allows you to use the headless architecture while retaining the .Net-based technology stack for HTML rendering.

Another important feature is support for containers. The rapid development of this technology in recent years has caused the market to start appreciating the advantages of containerization. Therefore, it is not surprising that also Sitecore, moving to microservices architecture, fit perfectly into the possibilities of this architecture. Extensive documentation and examples allow developers unfamiliar with this approach to take their first steps in the world of containers.

With the extended architecture to support configuration options, we got Sitecore Installation Framework, where we can use PowerShell to influence the installation scripts. Adding Sitecore CLI – a command line interface for interacting with the platform, including, among others, modules for serialization and publishing we get an indispensable set of tools for building and maintaining environments.

A small step to simplify and basically fit into the skillset of most Microsoft stack developers is to replace MongoDB with a SQL database. This was an option for 9 and has been standard since 10.

Microservices, containerization, headless, DevOps facilitation, these are super advantages from a developers point of view. Of course, with each new version of the platform there are also changes for editors and marketing professionals.

Sitecore Forms fully integrated into the platform is a much friendlier solution than previous modules like WFFM, which were often replaced by other solutions.

Marketing Automation with its drag-and-drop interface is an incredible leap in making it easier to create and manage marketing processes.

An optional additional interface for content editing, Sitecore Horizon, which is a kind of combination of some of the functionality of the current editing tools (Experience Editor, Content Editor) enriched with a device simulator and analytical data graph is a nod towards people focused on content editing, where the speed of operation and availability of the most useful functions is more important than the multitude of options that are not used for most pages or usually require higher privileges or knowledge.

To summarize the recent changes to the Sitecore solution: Streamlining the interface for editors and marketing professionals. Adoption of modern microservices architecture and containerization to improve scalability and use of parts of the application by non-native data sources. Headless support to fully leverage modern solutions and the talents of front-end professionals.

Present (Sitecore CDP, Content Hub)

Nowadays, cloud solutions in the SaaS (software as a service) model enjoy a growing interest. The customer receives a ready-made product, does not have to worry about the infrastructure and bears only the cost of use without having to pay a development team. For the majority, solutions “straight from the box” are completely sufficient. Therefore, it is not surprising that Sitecore invests in this type of services and acquires two products with which it enriches its offer.

Sitecore Content Hub – a product focused on central management of a client’s digital assets, of course enhanced with marketing features. Sitecore XP could also fulfill this role but having a dedicated product that focuses on these areas and is available off-the-shelf gives more possibilities, especially integration with the client’s existing systems. Of course, Sitecore XP has modules that allow you to work with this solution perfectly combining the two products.

Sitecore Customer Data Platform – a kind of combination of analytics with an extended decision-making part to influence content through personalization and experiments in order to achieve marketing goals.

The Future

Sitecore, like any company, tries to respond to market needs, sometimes anticipating them and offering innovative solutions, and sometimes simply implementing popular trends. Technological breakthroughs cannot be predicted, so let’s focus on the needs of potential customers. Of course, each of them wants to achieve their marketing goals as effectively as possible, which is not always the same as choosing the best provider of services or software, especially when the migration of currently used solutions is expensive. Of course, a lot of customers will invest and choose a comprehensive solution offered by Sitecore, however, most would only need some functionality (at least in the initial period). Which brings us closer to the relatively recently introduced term “Composable DXP”, i.e. the ability to assemble a system from the best blocks on the market that are part of a marketing platform.

The new products (Content Hub, CDP) fit this model perfectly and we will probably see more of them. Whether these will be completely new, separate parts, or maybe elements of Sitecore XP moved to the cloud to SaaS model – we’ll see.

Does this mean the decline of the Sitecore XP product? Of course not. There are still some customers who prefer on-premise solutions, where they can be responsible for security and platform management issues themselves. Some will only be interested in Sitecore XM and will naturally move to the XP solution. Additionally, the platform integrates and/or will integrate with other Sitecore products making it still the most flexible solution.