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Akhil Mittal Author's Perspective
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6 Minute read

The 7 Best Sitecore Version 9 Features and Their Capabilities

The 7 Best Sitecore 9

Sitecore 9 has taken the center-stage of discussions since its launch at the Symposium 2017 event. And, why not? Loaded with more powerful, integrated, and smarter features than its predecessors, Sitecore 9 has also introduced several upgrades for the Experience Platform (XP) 9, such as xConnect, Forms, Redesigned Marketing Automation, Sitecore JavaScript Services, and Federated Authentication.

However, to enjoy Sitecore 9 and its features to their full potential, you need to be aware of their capabilities. Also, you need to identify the areas in your business where you could expect it's capabilities to make the maximum impact.

Here’s a brief outline of each to get you started.

Top features of Sitecore 9

xConnect

The new xConnect feature opens up Sitecore’s xDB analytics database, making it the perfect core system for any enterprise marketing technology stack. The xConnect feature improves xDB by allowing the collection and interchange of customer data across channels and with external applications at scale.

xConnect is the service layer that sits between the xDB and any trusted client, device, or interface that wants to read, write, or search for xDB data. The service layer makes it easy to retrieve and consume analytics data in a flexible way via the user-friendly APIs. Currently, xConnect comprises two services – Collection and Search.

Below is a screen-grab highlighting this:

xConnect architecture

Since xConnect exists independently, there is no direct connection between the underlying xDB databases or search indexes and any client, including other internal systems, such as processing servers. The client application is only aware of the xConnect endpoint.

Since xConnect is not dependent on Sitecore, it can be hosted separately on a dedicated server and can be scaled as per the requirement. Communication to xConnect must happen over HTTPS and clients must have the appropriate certificate thumbprint.

It implements the oData protocol, which in turn defines a set of standards for building and consuming RESTful APIs. xConnect is a provider base, which is built using the modular architecture approach that makes it easy for developers to swap search providers. For example, xConnect search supports Azure search or SOLR.

Forms

Forms addresses a few pain points that marketers faced with Web Forms for Marketers. The new feature of the Forms functionality include:

1. A completely redesigned UI to make it easier for marketers.

2. The Form Builder is now set with drag and drop functionality to facilitate easy form creation.

3. Multi-page forms offer freedom from hacks and workaround implementations.

4. This feature enables the creation of form templates for creating reusable forms.

5. It also allows stylizing the forms, which helps prompt customers to share inputs and brands to collect valuable data to drive conversion.

6. The performance reporting feature allows marketers to review a form and make quick changes.

Form elements

Marketing Automation

Sitecore 9 has introduces a completely re-designed marketing automation tool. This tool has an easy-to-use interface that helps to create automated marketing campaigns and engagement plans. The tool is a major improvement from the Engagement Plan toolset available in Sitecore 8.x and prior. It enables marketers to quickly deal with common marketing scenarios and nurture contacts by adapting communication relevant for each interaction.

Marketing Automation enables marketers to set up complex campaigns. Using this tool, marketers can set simple triggers to enter new contacts into the plan and effectively track them throughout the journey.

The drag and drop functionality makes it simple to set up conditions and rules, which facilitate marketers to base campaign decisions on a vast number of data points, such as demographics, contact attributes, such as device detection or list membership, personas, campaign or goal triggers. This further allows them to deliver a more personalized online experience and communicate with clients more effectively.

Campaign Architecture

Sitecore Headless and JavaScript Services (JSS)

Headless within Sitecore isn’t new; it was always possible to go headless within the CMS platform. You may check out this blog post by Lars Nielsen, one of the founders of Sitecore, wherein he shares why Sitecore has always supported headless to some degree. Until now, the easiest way to implement headless was to use ItemService and RESTful API for the ItemService, or create an API using WebAPI.

Sitecore JavaScript Services (JSS) was introduced in the Tech Preview mode with Sitecore 9. JSS is a complete SDK for JavaScript developers facilitating the build-up of full-fledged solutions using Sitecore and modern JavaScript UI libraries and frameworks (React.js and Angular). Development can be done by being completely disconnected from Sitecore; even without having Sitecore installed on your system.

You can deploy apps in a physically decoupled "headless" way on any platform, and virtually to any cloud with the full Sitecore Experience Platform capability preserved, including Experience Editor, Personalization, MV testing and Tracking/Analytics. This will allow your frontend developers to actively lead the development of the site, making it less daunting and more familiar to get involved in the full lifecycle. It can also allow your team to use the technology stack to its optimum.

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Upgrade to Sitecore 9.1 Using this Handy Guide

Federated Authentication

Sitecore version 9 offers support for OWIN authentication middleware that allows users to log in via standard Microsoft OWIN authentication providers. This facilitates authentication against a number of different identity providers, such as Google, Facebook, etc.

Before Sitecore version 9, the permissions were essentially synced to the Sitecore membership database and managed locally by Sitecore. This created problems at times when the number of users in the organization was high, as all the users were inside the Sitecore database.

The currently-available OWIN middleware includes:

> OpenId Connect (AzureAD, identity server)

> Microsoft Account

> Google

> Facebook

> Twitter

> OAuth

> SAML

Below is how the login screen will look like once OWIN and external identity providers are implemented on the Sitecore instance:

Sitecore Fed Authentication Praveen

Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)

Sitecore Experience Accelerator was an add-on to the platform for all versions till Sitecore 9 where it's a part of the platform.

SXA is a framework which allows web developers to speed up the development and production of websites and reuse components, layouts and templates across a variety of sites. SXA separates structure from design; front-end designers, creative designers, content authors and developers can work parallelly, deploy and maintain multiple sites quickly and cost-effectively.

Once the primary user experience is implemented, multiple teams can start working on the platform simultaneously. For example, content authors can start working on the content entry, front-end developers can begin work on the styles and theme of the site, and developers can set up the data templates.

Sitecore Website Development

Conclusion

The different features of Sitecore version 9 allow technical teams to speed up their work and come out with impressive results. Be it the re-usable components, the pre-built templates, or the OWIN authentication middleware; each enhancement can contribute significantly to the overall experience of working on this CMS version.

For your marketing team, the marketing automation feature offers a host of benefits including deploying complex campaigns in a jiffy. So, in a nutshell, it’s a win-win situation for all!

Akhil Mittal VP - Digital Solutions


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