This year's Sitecore Symposium in Las Vegas featured a number of exciting announcements, chief among which was the introduction to Sitecore's latest release. We take a look at Sitecore 8 and what we are looking forward to checking out.

Sitecore rolled back the covers to reveal Sitecore 8 at the recent Sitecore Symposium in Las Vegas. It clearly marks Sitecore’s attempt to leap from a tactical solution to an online publisher and finally to a strategic solution to marketing needs in a connected world.

Those two words – connected and strategic – appear to be core to the philosophy of the latest release. Sitecore is no longer solely interested in helping you run your website; they want to power all of the ways in which marketers influence the customer experience, and this requires connecting online and offline data sources in highly scalable ways, and then grouping that together with analytics to make sense of the data.

Sitecore 8 makes progress on each of these fronts.

Connecting data sources

The experience profile, introduced in Sitecore 7.5, becomes fundamental to operating your website in Sitecore 8. It’s a single source of information about any given visitor and can be extended to include information about their activities on your website, on social networks, on third-party websites and through interactions captured in your CRM system.  

Sitecore 8 fully leverages the ability to selectively store client experience data in the cloud, which offers the promise of enormous scalability and a path forward for avoiding the infrastructure problems with which big data is fraught.

Finally- usable analytics

Sitecore users have applauded the ease with which the system allows marketing tactics like personalization and A/B testing to be deployed, but criticized the reporting capabilities of the platform (one of the reasons we felt the need to build a Sitecore to Google Analytics integration pipeline). It's obvious that Sitecore listened to their customers and as such the analytics in Sitecore 8 mark a significant step forward. Highlights of the new release include:

  • Well thought through reporting on A/B and multivariate tests that allow reporting against specific outcomes or against the overall “value” of a site visit as measured by engagement value.
  • Core reports that replicate much of what you can find within Google Analytics, but extend this to allow for the inclusion of custom variables – either extracted from the Sitecore experience database or appended from other systems. Importantly, it also allows you to understand how different types of visitors (personas or audiences) interact with your site.
  • Visual path analysis allow marketers to gain an understanding of how visitors navigate their site and which navigation paths drive profitability; it can be extended to include multichannel data. (Patent data available here)

Taking action

Sitecore has offered marketers some level of ability to personalize content since the days of the online marketing suite (circa 2009). The Digital Marketing System (DMS) of recent years resolved the scalability issues of the OMS and simplified the ability of marketers to undertake A/B testing, personalization and other digital marketing tactics. Sitecore 8 represents a culmination of what Sitecore has learned from these earlier releases:

  • Test everything, everywhere: As I suggested in a previous post, this philosophy faces some real world barriers, but it's clear that Sitecore 8 has been carefully designed to allow even infrequent content authors to easily test and understand the impact of the content they create. Interfaces designed specifically for optimization experts provide power user tools.
  • Extending the reach of personalization: Sitecore introduced the Federated Experience Manager, a solution that extends the reach of Sitecore to systems not managed by the platform. It holds the promise of capturing data about a visitor from their behavior on sites not managed by Sitecore and delivering personalized experiences to the visitor on these sites.
  • The gleaming promise of machine learning: Michael Seifert pointed to future directions during his keynote when he quickly illustrated in-lab integrations of the Sitecore DMS with Microsoft Azure Machine Learning. This offers something approaching the holy grail – automated segmentation of visitors based on cross-channel behavior and an automated presentation of the most promising marketing tactic. It’s an idea that has been around since at least 2000 – the key question is whether Sitecore can make the vision a reality.

Sitecore 8 is due to be released “in time for the holidays,” but we’re predicting availability in mid-Q1 of 2015. It offers marketers a whole new range of capabilities, but the learning curve will be steep, both with the new product and with the concepts in general. We look forward to helping our clients quickly drive business results from the new capabilities and are actively seeking clients to participate in our own beta program. Drop us a line if you're interested.  

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