Sitecore Symposium 2014: 5 Key Takeaways

September 25, 2014 Ethel Crosby

Earlier this month, our COO, Jeff Hirner, and several of our Technology team leaders (Rick Tham, Jeff Small and I) attended the Sitecore Symposium 2014 North America conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Sitecore Symposium is an important industry event that brings thousands of digital marketers and technologists together to learn from the best and share experiences. Vegas was the place to be for networking and meeting new people in the Sitecore community, including the Sitecore team, other Sitecore partners and our clients...we even had the chance to catch the Penn & Teller Magic Show.


The main theme throughout the conference was the importance of customer experience. Sitecore CEO, Michael Seifert, started the conference with a keynote discussing this key element of digital marketing and introducing the new Sitecore 8 release.

Experience makes or breaks a brand.

Michael Seifert, Sitecore CEO

In releases 7.5 and 8, Sitecore proves they are leading the way with new tools to focus on the customer experience. The goal of the new CMS is to provide marketers with the ability to create unique experiences that deliver the right content at the right time. By accomplishing this correctly, marketers can make an even more long-lasting impression on users. To understand the customer experience, Sitecore is moving beyond the metric of click-through rates to a more holistic user experience profile that spans across multiple digital channels.

New Terminology
Sitecore 7.5 and 8 release features are so big that they have warranted new product terminology. Before we dive into the takeaways, take a second to read up on these new or modified terms:

  • xDB or Experience Database: Formerly called DMS (Digital Marketing System)
  • Experience Editor: Formerly called Page Editor
  • Project Skynet: New automated testing and optimization within the new Sitecore 8
  • FXM: Federated Experience Manager
  • SPEAK: The Sitecore Process Enablement and Acceleration Kit is the UI framework that enables Sitecore developers to build custom Sitecore applications as they would when creating Sitecore sites.

Top 5 Takeaways
At the conference, we all learned a lot from the product, business and developer track sessions we attended, as well as through the conversations we had with others in the Sitecore community. Here are our top 5 key takeaways from our time at the symposium:

  1. Sitecore 8 provides customers with the right insight at the right time.
    With the new Sitecore 8 release, Sitecore proves it's more than just a content management system - it has become an experience management platform. 
    • New User Interface: The user interface is redesigned with a clean and intuitive layout using SPEAK. There is only one way to log-in, and the options are tiled front and center on the dashboard of the initial screen instead of tucked away in the Sitecore start menu.
    • Automated Testing and Optimization: You still create content and set up the A/B testing rules as you have in past versions. However, Sitecore 8 automatically writes the rules to optimize the learnings, so you can choose how involved you want to be.
  2. Sitecore can handle big data through MongoDB.
    This functionality is part of Sitecore 7.5 and will be further refined in version 8.
    • New Architecture that is Flexible with Better Performance: The Experience database stores visitor interactions in a NoSQL architecture using MongoDB, which means it is more flexible and provides superior performance than the relational database that was used in previous Sitecore versions. A key thing to note is that xDB is not equal to MongoDB. The MongoDB enables the data collection at scale. However, Sitecore still relies on SQL Server and new processing services that aggregate the MongoDB data into a relational reporting model.
    • New Cloud Subscription Model - Less Risk & Lower Entry Cost: xDB can be hosted on premise or in the cloud. Sitecore will be offering a consumption-based pricing model hosted in Microsoft Azure, which is great news for Sitecore clients because it lowers the risk and entry cost for leveraging xDB.
  3. Use Sitecore analytics and personalization on non-Sitecore sites through FXM.
    Sitecore allows you to leverage xDB on non-Sitecore sites through Federated Experience Manager. The implementation of this feature is similar to Google Analytics; by simply dropping a script tag on a non-Sitecore site page, you can get Sitecore working on any site. FXM creates a Sitecore item that corresponds to the non-Sitecore page, enabling Sitecore tracking capabilities such as profiling, goals, page events and engagement plans. Capturing analytics data on the number of external site page views is pretty straightforward. The cool feature is how to use it to enable personalization with Sitecore content on the external site. This feature utilizes a slimmed down Experience Editor within Sitecore to view the external site through a Sitecore proxy, making it appear as though you were editing a Sitecore site. This enables Sitecore to target the HTML markup to replace the text or to add listeners to capture specific on-click events on any page.
    • Centralized Customer Experience across Channels: If you have additional sites not built on Sitecore, FXM is a great tool to use xDB to see the customer's experience across your online channels. For example, if your main site is built on Sitecore, you should use FXM to track and manage content on your WordPress blog and custom CMS subsidiary site.
    • Resourcing Constraints: If you don't have the resources or budget to complete your new Sitecore site build or upgrade your existing site soon, FXM is a great option to start taking advantage of the xDB features and experience insight sooner rather than later. FXM is currently available for Sitecore version 7.1 and higher.
  4. New Coveo for Sitecore search free edition.
    During the product keynote session, Coveo announced that it is now offering a free edition of its search appliance. This doesn't include all of the advanced features and support included in the paid version; however, it still integrates nicely with Sitecore, and you can configure it within the Sitecore User Interface. If you have basic search functionality on your site, this is a good option to consider.
  5. Upgrades are important.
    In order to take advantage of the latest and greatest from Sitecore, you will need to upgrade.
    • Major Product Releases: FXM is currently available, but you need to be on Sitecore version 7.1 or higher. Sitecore 7.5, which includes xDB, is scheduled to be released in a couple weeks. Sitecore 8 is scheduled to be available toward the end of this year.
    • Security Stability: Staying relatively up-to-date on the latest release is part of the maintenance of your site and helps you keep up with technology. For example, when Google released the auto-update of Chrome version 37, Sitecore 7.1+ users were not impacted. For those folks who hadn't upgraded, the auto-update of Chrome caused several bugs in older versions of Sitecore.

It is an exciting time in our industry, and it is clear Sitecore is moving in the right direction to help marketers deliver the right experience in the right context to the right person at the right time. Thanks, Sitecore, for another great symposium!

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Ethel Crosby Director of Technology Operations & Offerings

As Director of Technology Operations and Offerings at One North, Ethel is responsible for the management and execution of leading digital technology solutions and product management, continuously identifying new strategic technology opportunities for One North and its clients. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Ethel once zip-lined, upside down, in a rain forest in Costa Rica.

  • Favorite movie quote: "With great power comes great responsibility." - Spiderman
  • Favorite vending machine snack: Reese's Pieces

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