Sitecore Symposium 2016 Takeaways

November 1, 2016 | Dave Evans & Ryan Zimmerman

Welcomed to New Orleans by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Sitecore Symposium 2016’s opening night set the tone for four days of fast-paced fun, inspiration, innovation, and a sneak peek into where the product and technology is headed. Jason Silva, futurist; filmmaker; and host of "Brain Games" on the National Geographic channel, and known as "A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age, set an energetic tone with his Symposium keynote, and we were off to the races on a wild ride of expert sessions. Check out the areas of Sitecore that we’re most excited about and the potential effects on your business.


xConnect will serve as the main hub to interact with and exchange data with Sitecore's Experience Database (xDB). xConnect is a two-way bridge to transfer and modify data about xDB contacts and interactions. With xConnect, Sitecore has created an API that will allow contact and interaction information to be captured, created, and modified.

An exciting aspect about xConnect is that it allows for interactions with contact information in both online and offline capabilities. In other words, contact information can be accessed, or modified, from outside of a Sitecore implementation from other authorized applications. This allows for personalization data to be utilized within, and, outside of a Sitecore application. In practical terms, imagine being able to capture data from an IOT device and then utilize that information for personalization on your Sitecore implementation—very cool stuff!

Sitecore expects to deliver xConnect in 2017 with Sitecore version 8.3.

Business Impact:

  • A potential for custom faceting with personalization data.
  • Deeper dives into offline personalization data capture.

Sitecore Habitat / Sitecore Helix / Sitecore Pathfinder

Helix is a set of Sitecore design principles and conventions. Habitat is a GitHub-hosted, Open Source, example site which makes use of the Helix principles. An understanding of the Helix principles and conventions and a willingness to use them during site implementations was a topic of discussion at Symposium. To paraphrase what Sitecore says here, “the Helix conventions and principles will become a Sitecore standard. People who are familiar with Helix will be able to work more easily on other convention-based projects. It will be easier for Sitecore Product Support to understand projects built using the conventions, enabling them to resolve issues more quickly.”  

Sitecore Pathfinder can serve as a best practices tool and editor. Using Pathfinder, developers have the ability to check the quality of a Sitecore Solution with over 120 tools to check and QA.

Business Impact:

  • Quality checks to ensure best practices for Sitecore Implementations.

Sitecore Publishing Core

Introduced into Sitecore 8.2, a new publishing service currently stands alone as a separate module. The focus on publishing will move away from single items to bulk publishing. This is a feature that could benefit large enterprise implementations. The service is built using .NET Core, and publishing can be achieved up to 10X faster than the current publishing rate. Check out this Sitecore article for more information.

Business Impact:

  • Better publishing performance for large, enterprise Sitecore implementations.

Nuget / MyGet

Sitecore assemblies are now available via public Nuget Repositories on Sitecore versions 7.2 and above. Along with Sitecore CMS Libraries, certain Sitecore modules are also available, including Data Exchange Framework, Web Form for Marketers, Email Experience Manager, and more. Check out the following documentation for more information.

Business Impact:

  • Increased capabilities for collaboration between development teams.
  • Potential for quicker turn around on Development Installations.

Data Exchange Framework

The Data Exchange Framework is a new methodology which intends to provide a standardized way to transfer data between a Sitecore implementation and external systems. The goal is to implement a framework which allows for importing and exporting of xDB contacts with systems, such as a CRM. For more information, refer to this documentation.

Business Impact:

  • Simplification of integrations with third party systems such as CRMs.

SXA (Sitecore Experience Accelerator)

SXA is a new product from Sitecore that allows for delivery of “sites using standard functionality with minimum-to-no CMS development.”  The product adds functionality to the Experience Editor and provides a toolbox with roughly 100 pre-built components that can be added to placeholders. You can see a list of them here; many standard components are included, such as Link Lists, Breadcrumbs, Videos, Images, Accordions, Tabs, etc.  

SXA includes a theme system that allows front-end design resources to change the look-and-feel of the site via the installation of pluggable themes. Themes consist of CSS, scripts and images. A component called “Creative Exchange” allows for the export and import of themes. The base theme called “Wireframe” can be exported, modified and the new modified version imported as a new theme. This export/import process allows for the front-end and back-end development to occur simultaneously, reducing time to launch.

A multisite configuration system is built in and allows for both Tenants and Sites. Tenants are an organization system that seem to allow for a company that has multiple brands or product lines, and site items are beneath the tenants.

It is yet to be seen if SXA can deliver sites with the level of Design and Information Architecture/UX complexity that upper tier clients expect, but customers may be willing to trade that complexity for significantly lower cost. If the ability to create new components and add them to the toolbox is implemented well, the trade-off may become irrelevant. We’re excited to see SXA in action and how this plays out.

Azure ARM Templates

Sitecore Symposium had a couple of sessions that centered on Azure ARM Templates, and the Developer keynote speech also brought them up quite a bit. ARM (Azure Resource Manager) templates allow for the scripting of the creation of Azure resources via PowerShell. The Developer keynote speech announced that Sitecore would soon be releasing a set of ARM templates that define a Sitecore recommended Azure environment. This environment will contain all of the required resources such as the CD, CMS, and Db servers.  

One session we attended demonstrated a similar ARM template collection and some extensions that spun up an entire Sitecore environment by putting some variable values in a config file and running the script. The speaker called it “Infrastructure as Code.” The source is available here, where you’ll find some ARM templates as well as some extension scripts using the DSC format.

This technology is still in its infancy, but it seems clear that it will be the standard way in which Sitecore environments are managed in the future. It is easy to imagine storing your entire infrastructure configuration in source control, checking it out and running the scripts to spin up a new client environment with little human intervention.

Sitecore Symposium never disappoints in either the experience or the information; Symposium 2016 held its own with the unveiling of exciting new features and technology. We’re looking forward to the upcoming releases and seeing how the new feature set and tools unfold within the Sitecore universe, and to gaining a further understanding of the direct implications and impacts they will have for our clients, as well as hands on experience implementing the new features. New Orleans was a blast; we can only imagine what we have to look forward to in Vegas: see you at Symposium 2017!

About the Authors

Dave Evans

I'm a Senior Developer at TBG. I spend a lot of time in my garden too.

Ryan Zimmerman

I'm a Senior Developer at TBG. When I'm not writing code for TBG, you may find me writing music or chopping up fresh ingredients in the kitchen lab.

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