Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sitecore Symposium Partner Pavilion

The Sitecore Symposium at Barcelona featured an impressive 12+ partner booths that were each and every one worth a visit. As a perfect Sitecorian (or what was the name again) I went over to each booth and visited them all.

Which was hard and took up all my spare time between sessions and even kept me out of some of the first minutes of some sessions.

But I think it was worth it. Because you do not build a Sitecore solution alone. Sitecore is a platform that lends itself to co-operation and integration.

In the comming blog posts I'll try to make an post for nearly each of the Partners there.

And as proof that i visited every one of them, here is my Passport with every partner stamp on it:

First one to do: ADAM, full-fledged data asset management tool that now integrates perfectly with Sitecore. ADAM was Signature sponsor of the Symposium and the Sitecore Symposium Party.

Sitecore Symposium 2014 - Recap of Day 1

Now that the Sitecore Symposium in Barcelona is behind us, I finally find the time to reflect on everything that was transferred and imprinted into our mind there. 
The two main days of the Symposium were on Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days were a good mix between Business, Product and Developer tracks were given. All of these fueled by inspiring keynotes from Michael Seifert, Dietmar Dahmen and XX

This first post is mainly meant to give an insight on what tracks I followed the first day and to provide a short summary of the other important sessions that came along. Followup posts will elaborate in more detail on specific topics that were presented on the Symposium.

Putting day 1 and day 2 into one blog post would not do the Symposium honor. Each of the presentations given there were lengthy, relevant and important. Enjoy the first day below as I experienced it.

Let's kick it off with the first day:

Opening keynote from Michael Seifert (Sitecore CEO)

The keynote gave a good opening statement on Sitecore's vision with regards to performing its role as a full cycle platofrm in the digital landscape of today and where the platform is evolving into.
As was to be expected, capturing and delivering the right user experience will be key in doing so. Through capturing and captivating you customer/visitor it is possible to shade the delivered content with marketing purposes in mind, however diverse.

The keynotes gave a good alround understanding of how experiences tailored for each customer can driver your brand grotwth. Through optimization, nurturing and correct measuring of both online and offline efforts, the Sitecore platform can help you create customers for life.

Michael Seifert - keynote Sitecore Experience Symposium

During the presentations and first insight we were also show some of the new layout that has been given to Sitecore 8, you can find more in this post but the one that I simply can not hold back any longer is the revamp of the login screen (notice the lack of the login options) :

Finishing the keynote were 4 Las Vegas originals that energized the audience to help make this promising symposium a winner!
On to the sessions... since I am a Technical Consultant, the main tracks for me were the Product track as well as the Developer track. Not always an easy choice, but we made sure (my colleagues from The Reference) to cover every inch of the Symposium by spreading out across the sessions in each tracks as well as the Partner booths.

Product track keynote - Building the Sitecore Experience Platform

... or, how to establish an ecosystem...
Steffen Anderson took us through a presentation that gave us the insight of where Sitecore comes from as a product. Whereas once, the focus was solely on becomming a strong and respected CMS, nowadays this focus has shifted (after the previous was achieved) towards becomming a fully integrated marketing tool. Since there are now numerous ways of disclosing content to your target audience, dispersed amongst multiple channels, devices and influences, they key is to centralize. Managing a number of disparate systems creates a high level of overhead with regards to training, management, platforms which in turn results in a very costly approach. 
Sitecore offers the perfect solution to this as an single platform/framework where your content is contained and distributed from.

Same of the examples are: Mobile, Social, Ecommerce, Follow-up, Mass emailing...

Product track - What's next in the march toward customers for life

In this track, Mark Floisand gave us more insight on the Sitecore Eco-System with regards to interactions and connections to other systems as well as other sites.
Sitecore has incorporated the use of what they call "connectors". These connectors open up the platform and provide the possibility for partners and implementers alike to connect into the underlying framework and expand on it using the SPEAK api.

A few examples with regards to this connector approach was given through the new Commerce connector which allows for easy integration with any ecommerce solution and the social connector that allows for easier connection with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and so on. Komfo, their social agency, is what is used to power this approach.

All of these functionalities were displayed on the Sitecore 8 version which is due to be released around christmass of 2014. Sandbox versions will be made available earlier to Symposium attendees.

The visual overhaul is extensive and invasive (in a good way) and I'm personally looking forward to exploring it. It looks much more modern, SPEAK powered and allows for the creation of new "apps" that can be added on a launch pad. This launch pad will replace the existing desktop look and feel, thus facilitating their Sitecore tasks individually.

A large part of this session was devoted to showing us the importance of testing within Sitecore 8 and how testing has become an integral part of the platform as well as the process of content editing. More information on this will be given in the project Skynet session later on in the day.

This session also gave us a glimpse into the Federated Experience Manager that allows for a Sitecore editing and A/B testing experience outside of Sitecore. Confused ? I'll touch on the FXM further along since this was covered in a number of sessions later in the day.

Product track: The power of a single customer view: Sitecore Experience Database

This is where Sitecore and Experience are brought together. The presentation given by Mark Stone gave us a better insight and understanding into what the new xDB looks like and how it functions with regards to merging offline and online data, data fed into de database from your crm system or any other system while providing a visual insight with the Experience profiler.

Where the Sitecore Analytics used to give as a more generalistic level of information, the new approach lets us drill down right to the behavior and analytics of one specific person which allows for very detailed (and personalized) analytics.
Facets and segments allow for grouping and reporting of these analytics in enormous detail and helps drive the marketer in knowing your individual visitor.

List segmentation is one of the features that is an inherent result of the approach described above. Facets can be used to make sure that the correct users are selected for list selection in for example the ECM and any other plaform (commerce?) within Sitecore.

One of the new concepts and keywords in this Session was the idea of an Outcome. In short, this is what you want to be the ultimate result of your strategy. The cullumination of the goals you set on your website. I personally like to think of it as the highest value in your value Pyramid (SBOS-excercise). Goals working together should lead towards the desired outcome.

Product track - Keep the customer at the center of your marketing efforts with Sitecore’s Federated Experience Manager

And here it finally is, one of the most exciting topics of the first day (besides testing, segmentation, new UI, new connector concept ofcourse) : the Federated Experience Manager (FXM), a session by John Field and Brian Payne.

What should you do if you (as a company) want to invest heavily in Sitecore and profile capturing to provide the correct experience but not every site in your ecosystem has been built with Sitecore as the underlying platform (For example; campaignsites, minisites, annual reports, eventsites) ?

Interestingly, the presentation mentioned that before making a decision (to purchase) a customer uses 6 different channels on overage for prospecting purposes. Wouldn't it be interesting if you could capture and manage as many of these channels as possible ?

At that point the Federated Experience Manager make it's appearance. Through the addition of a single line of Javascript right into the the non-sitecore site (either in the HTML or through use of the google tag manager) you can transform this disconnected site into a site that helps track behavior.

Actually, it goes beyond simple tracking. You can gather your visitor's data, use the Sitecore info to match him/her to a specific persona and personalize that visitors user experience by personalizing the secondary site as you would any other Sitecore website. Since you can use the Page editor (now named the Experience Editor - what did you expect) you can add personalization, goals events, A/B testing and so on. This is mainly due to the use of the same rule engine as used in the typical page editing process.

The implementation of the FXM, analyses the DOM of the secondary site and decides on blocks, texts placeholders and so on where content can be changed at the editors whim.

Apparently, the FXM tool has been made available a while ago and can be plugged in on any Sitecore 7.2+ site., get your hands on it and play with it where possible.
The behavior of the FXM is a lot like Visual Web Optimizer (VWO) but has so much more value since whatever you are tracking and testing can immediately serve as enrichment on all the other analytics you were already capturing across the platform.

The session described above ran in parallell with the session by Stephen Pope: "Our princess is in another castle! Tracking activity on non-Sitecore sites" which seems to have been quite an impressive session as well. I'm trying to get a hold of more information and will add it to the blog when available.

Developer track - How Project Skynet will change the way we create content

This session was given by Timothy Ward, who was very enthousiastic throughout the entire session, and with good reason!
As mentioned in the recap of the above sessions, Sitecore 8 is adapting the principle of test first, commit later but now in terms of content. This means that every change that is performed in content will result in a proposed test to be performed. My apologies for the fuzzy picture below, but this gives some first insight on how it will work:

Above you can see the result of a double A/B test setup on a page, which results in 4 possible outcomes for your visitor which are previewed here and where a pane is shown that gives you insight on what the expected effect of your changes will be.

And this is where it gets interesting. For every test that you create, you have to indicate in Sitecore how successfull you think the modification will be in terms of result. In doing so, the machine learning incorporated within Sitecore gets an idea of how good or bad you are at performing tests as well as guessing the outcome of these tests. 
Tim Ward event went a few steps further and showed how the machine was tought to distinct and categorize content through OCR and image analysis. Thus helping to determine the type of content that is shown in a certain context. They used specific models and the integration with goals and patterns in the experience database (xDB) as tools to help sculpt the algorithm. The machine learning that was implemented into Sitecore uses a specific algorithm that is used to determine the outcome of your tests. But this would not be a Sitecore implementation if it was not created as fully configurable through a number of pipelines and providers that provide you with the flexibility to add your own algorithms and implementations tailored to your own business.

The full extent of this development is still not entirely clear to me at this point but once I get my hands on Sitecore 8 we'll be able to dive deeper into this. All I can conclude now is that the information the machine gathers from create A/B tests, their outcomes and expected outcomes is used further on in the process. The algorithm will use this insight to improve A/B testing and engagement by proposing tests by itself and already giving you the possible outcome of new tests before it has even been published to your visitors.

Curious to see where Sitecore will further integrate this technology. It could be used to automate everything with regards to A/B testing and content optimization reports but they could go even further and help propose an engagement path that is relevant for specific persona's / profiles of web site visitors...

Overall recap/conclusion in keywords ?

No use in writing a recap of a recap, but some keywords could sum up the first day quite well in my opinion, here goes;

- Sitecore 8 awaits us
- Experience is key
- Testing best practice
- Federated Experience Manager 
- List Segmentation 
- Machine learning / Skynet
- New user interface
- All round experience Platform 
- Brand growth  
- Lifelong customers

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sitecore symposium, getting ready


this weekend it is finally upon us.
The Sitecore Symposium at Barcelona...

We are going with a strong delegation from The Reference in order to capture and soak up every aspect of the Symposium and the future of Sitecore.

Expect updates on this blog and twitter with regards to the Symposium in the comming days !

Kind regards