Published: 02 December 2019
Standing back again at the bar of the Swan and Dolphin in Orlando this November, the buzz in the Sitecore world was most definitely around two things, SaaS and the Content Crisis.
The annual Sitecore Symposium, Sitecore’s chance to show off its future vision, road map and impending releases once again took place in Orlando, Florida in early November 2019. Compared to previous Symposiums, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three, I would say this one felt different. It felt different to me as Sitecore seemed to have changed its tone from previous Symposiums, no longer was it about personalisation, automation and some of the more cutting edge features of context marketing.
This time the message was focused on much more real world, “today” issues that many marketers face.
Whilst there is no doubt that all serious marketers are hungry to embrace and implement contextual marketing, personalisation and automation - in order to build long-lasting brand-consumer relationships built on trust, loyalty and value - the point where they often stall is ‘where to begin’ and ‘how the hell do I create enough content to support contextual, personalised experiences’.
The other pain point experienced by lots of Sitecore customers is that of upgrades and feature management. Sitecore releases a new X.Y version twice a year but the time needed, and therefore the cost of keeping up, can detract from a digital teams ability to execute ‘proper’ marketing and experiences. Consequently, brands ‘typically’ (in my opinion) don’t keep up to date with upgrades, opting for a lumpy and bumpy major upgrade every couple of years.
In this symposium, Sitecore seemed to set out a solution to these foundation layer challenges. The first was Saas.
For those that have watched Sitecore’s platform mature over recent years, the announcement that Sitecore has a vision for a Software-as-a-Service offering is not a shock!
Over the past few years, Sitecore has moved from being ‘on-premise’ software, to ‘Platform-as-a-Service’ through deployable Sitecore applications on the Microsoft Azure cloud, to ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’ through Sitecore Hosted Cloud - where Sitecore will host and support your enterprise application. Consequently, the idea that Sitecore will now offer a SaaS option is the next natural step in the platform’s evolution.
What do we know about Sitecore SaaS?
Well, not a huge amount at this stage. We know that Sitecore ‘has a Visions for SaaS’, as Mark Frost, Sitecore’s CEO, set it out both at the start and end of the three-day event.
Other things we know are:
- It will launch in Summer/Autumn(Fall) in 2020 as a SaaS-based CMS (XM) only version of Sitecore. Consequently, we don’t believe it will have the marketing suite included, for which Sitecore is most famous (top right in Gartner and Forrester WCM Magic Quadrants). This will make it good for Proof of Concepts, brochureware, campaign sites etc.
- It has been in development for some time and so is a new product and will continue to evolve to include all current XP features (we think anyway!). Given that this includes many of the best bits of Sitecore we are predicting a late 2020 release of the full XP platform on SaaS - possibly being the headline announcement at Symposium 2020, in Chicago next October.
- It will be a proper SaaS offering that is both configurable and extensible, allowing you to still build custom web and mobile app experiences, integrate these with internal systems etc but on a hosted and supported version of Sitecore, that includes ‘continuous upgrades’! Thus taking care of the upgrade issue once and for all!
- It will be hosted on Azure (almost a given…)
- It will probably evolve to include a version of Sitecore Commerce, although this is me speculating at this stage and is likely to be years away!
- It’s likely to have a day 1 integration option with Sitecore Content Hub - as this is already a SaaS-based solution that can be integrated into Sitecore’s content management system and media library.
The second ‘big theme’ was ‘Sitecore Solving the Content Crisis’.
Sitecore solves the Content Crisis
Anyone who is responsible for creating a website, content strategy, social media campaign or mobile app knows that one of the biggest hurdles to success is having a good supply of kick-ass content!
As someone who runs workshops develops strategies and roadmaps content-led personalisation projects I know that content production is often the single biggest blocker to a proper rollout. It takes time and effort and can be seen as going over and above what must be delivered in the case of personalised versions for people or segments.
Sitecore has the answer though! In 2018 Sitecore announced the acquisition of Stylelabs, a full SaaS-based Content Production and Workflow Management platform. Over the past year, this has been re-branded and launched as Sitecore Content Hub - a one-stop-shop solution for the management, production and distribution of content and product information.
With the integration of Sitecore Content Hub with Sitecore XP, creative and content teams can create and manage all their media assets and content and then push them to distribution channels - including Sitecore XP, as the web and mobile channel.
With content analytics included creative teams can then assess the impact of their content across all online and offline channels - quite a powerful tool for the content focused marketer!
Does it solve the content crisis, well, yes and no. It’s a great platform and the seamless integration with Sitecore’s Media Library and Content Tree does mean that content can be managed centrally, up-stream of your Sitecore website, and then pushed, measured and evaluated globally. However, somewhat obviously, it doesn’t actually create content using AI or ML and so there is still a requirement for organisations to become both thought leader, journalist and publisher.
That said, if you had everyone in your organisation using it then you would cut back on the content silos that exist in every business and therefore reduce potential message conflict and duplication within your organisation.
All in all, it’s definitely an enabler in helping you solve your content crisis!
The End to End Content Marketing Commerce Platform
Rounding out Sitecore’s focus on Content, Commerce and Cloud was the following diagram, produced by Pieter Brinkman, Senior Director Technical Marketing for Sitecore, that shows how all this fits with Sitecore’s vision for the platform and its purpose.
This clearly shows that Sitecore is consolidating its position as an enabler of context marketing for commerce focused websites and apps.
Sitecore is sending a message to the market that it is an end to end solution for the management, distribution and personalisation of content at the point of engagement with the customer. It’s a powerful message in a time where most people want to personalise, some are doing it but most customers are not quite feeling the impact, as yet! (see my blog on personalisation to individualisation at scale for the stats on that one!).
In conclusion then, Sitecore 9.3, whilst perhaps not being the sexiest release from a context marketing perspective, does seem to be tackling some of the key day-to-day issues that all modern marketers face.
It’s a recognition that, in Sitecore XP, there are some great features and it opens up huge possibilities and opportunities, but the day to day demands of content management and creation, along with the IT overhead of upgrades and patches, can get in the way. Sitecore 9.3 and the following SaaS release (estimated in Fall/Autumn 2020) are huge steps forward in making the process of creating ‘human connections in a digital world’ (the tag line for Symposium 2019) far easier.
So is it a new vision for the platform? Not really, but it’s certainly a focus on the day to day issues that prevent some brands from creating remarkable customer experiences and that can only be a good thing!