Friday, November 6, 2015

Experience driven content approaches

There is a large gap between understanding customer needs and satisfying these needs. In the context of software development, the same can be said of maintaining healthy and bidirectional relationships with partners. Of course the purposes of an agencies and software vendors are the same: the overall satisfaction of the customer.
A certain synergy needs to exist between the two in order to be able satisfy the customer. Customers expect maturity, confidence and a healthy dose of logic combined with creativity from their implementation partner/agency. And with regards to the software vendor they tend to look for the same maturity combined with stability and consistency fused with a good amount of innovation. Innovation that creates that competitive edge every business is looking for.

It is however the implementation partner that is closest to the customer. Normally, agencies understand the business of their customers. They know of the intricacies, challenges, internal structure and market competitors our customers are facing. But they are also tasked with constantly closing the gap between what the customer needs and what the software vendor’s product offers. It is up to that partner to look into the numerous features that the product has to offer and be able to liaise with business, technical and other solution architects. 


Lately, there has been a significant increase in the number of companies looking to provide a distinctive web experience to their visitors. Brands no longer want to be perceived solely as corporations that sell or advertise specific products. They want to take on a role of solution provider. Through means of interaction, both via online and offline channels, companies want to offer products and services that match their specific customer needs. They seek to become a source of inspiration and knowledge instead of a closed-off institution where all information is kept inside.

The fact that a company is willing to share knowledge, product information combined with future vision and all other aspects of the innovation that is driving them, comes across as exactly that mature attitude they were looking for. Applying a thorough and well thought out customer engagement plan allows for plain web content to be perceived as tailored information. Information that matches a visitor’s corporate identity or personal profile (depending on B2B or B2C).

The underlying idea is to engage your visitors on every aspect of their interaction with your brand. But before you can begin to understand what your visitors are all about you need to be well versed in your own business or more specifically on the digital content that describes your business.

Just a quick listing of possible questions:
  •     What types of content do you have?
  •     What types of visitors are relevant for your business?
  •     How can you increase on the value of a website visit?
  •     What goals should be set throughout your website?
  •     Is there external data that can be used?
  •     Can you combine the online with the offline?
  •     What should be tested and measured?
  •     Are all aspects of your business represented on your website?


The above list can become quite extensive. This can be seen as an indication on how intricate the concept of personalisation and engagement actually is. Because deciding on the what and how of personalisation is one thing. Maintaining it, and interpreting the initial results is quite a different thing altogether.


Sitecore as a platform stems from a pure CMS solution and has re-positioned itself through the implementation of quite an extensive list of engagement tools. They have actively converted their CMS into a full-fledged experience platform throughout their latest releases. This Experience Platform provides a vast toolset for content managers to tag content to specific profile patterns, identify visitors across sessions, prefill content and use a rules editor to personalize sections of your website as well as its overall look and feel.


This experience platform comes with a large set of reporting dashboards, insights, engagement plans, user profile overviews and so on. The sheer volume of features and tools can make Sitecore come across as very bulky and heavy. Since a new Sitecore customer will most likely not be using the entire set of available tools in Sitecore from day 1, it is hard to comprehend and master all the tools contained within. Sitecore should be perceived as an enablement tool towards engagement, it is therefore best to approach personalization on a step by step basis.

The best advice is to start off small and with minor iterations. In doing so you, as a web manager, will be able to get acquainted with the use of personalization and the fine-tuning this process often requires. It will also allow you to keep a good overview of where and what personalization was used throughout your content.

By creating a low entry version of their platform, Sitecore has catered to the customer need of being able to start small and not be overwhelmed by the many possibilities. This low-entry version mainly functions as a CMS only version, but it still allows for some forms of personalization and has the same look and feel as the full Sitecore platform. No profile or historical information is stored however, as the required experience database (based on MongoDB technology) is not attached.


This CMS only version, named Experience Management, comes at a specific pricing that allows for smooth migration into the full-fledged Experience Platform. The full version of Sitecore gives access to personalization based on historical data, the experience optimization tool, Path Analyser, Federated Experience Manager as well as the Email Experience Manager.


Feel free to post any questions or remarks with regards to starting and adapting an experience driven web approach. I will gladly help you walk through the different steps of aligning your business needs with the toolset offered by an Enterprise scale CMS solution such as Sitecore.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sitecore EXM - issue on 3.1


 ECM 2 Brochure

 I am using EXM 3.1 for a customer and a POC...

However, I do come across quite the number of issues with the EXM module. We all know this module is still subject to some growing pains but as I am curing these, I will list some of the fixes and encountered issues on the blog just to help my colleagues along before another fix on Sitecore is released...

When using the EXM 3.1 I came across the following issue
When creating a new email message I seemed unable to save the item entirely.

I noticed saving was not performed correctly as the title and body fields were not sent out as I tested the email message.

However, when I went into the content editor and navigated to my email in the messages bucket under 'content', I changed the fields manually and tried to save it.
However, on doing so, Sitecore notified me that there were broken links in the value of that (freshly created) mail message.

The problem is on the MessageType field, my message holds the value "Triggered", while in previous versions that was "Trickle" (v3.0) as I saw in a different demo environment we have running.
I then changed my value to "Trickle" and was now able to save without errors from the Content Editor.

When I then went into the EXM interface and opened up my draft message, I got a big server side exception in code on the screen instead of the editing detail sceen.
Only when I changed the value of the MessageType field back to the wrong value did everything revert to normal again, but obviously I was then faced again with the problem of being unable to save...

Sigh :) So onwards to support of Sitecore -> They recognized the bug and the fix is quite simple:

Just rename the following items as mentioned:

Item /sitecore/system/Modules/E-mail Campaign Manager/System/Message Types/Ad-hoc rename to OneTime.
Item /sitecore/system/Modules/E-mail Campaign Manager/System/Message Types/Periodical rename to Subscription.
Item /sitecore/system/Modules/E-mail Campaign Manager/System/Message Types/Trickle rename to Triggered.

No more issues on save from the Content Editor... But some issues exists with updating lists from the ListManager as well as using the EXM interface to save some mail messages. To be continued as Support carries on.

Sitecore MVP Summit, looking back

I was introduced to Sitecore in 2010. At first, I approached the product as a developer, but as the product and our digital agency The Reference have since evolved, and so has my understanding of and collaboration with Sitecore and its platform.
automaton
I now no longer perceive Sitecore simply as a means to implement our customers’ needs but rather as a system that helps shape business requirements and define desired future business outcomes, based on out of the box possibilities and custom work.
My role has therefore broadened a lot: I often act as a trainer, technical consultant and presales consultant. This implies that figuring out the limitations of system capabilities, studying the product roadmap as well as all third party integration systems are part of my set of responsibilities.
To keep that knowledge up to par, the technical team of Sitecore developers (20 and growing) at The Reference has gone through every Sitecore training imaginable and we are constantly on the lookout for new insights, best approaches and knowledge intakes. Luckily, our varied pool of customers have kept us on our toes by challenging us repeatedly through a wide range of requirements. These challenges resulted in extreme Sitecore security hardenings, global translation handling as well as touching at every aspect of the Sitecore system.

HOW SITECORE WORKS WITH ITS PARTNERS

Sitecore has created numerous channels to inform its valuable partners such as The Reference: countless webinars, partner summits, the various online community platforms and the Sitecore marketplace.
That being said, these channels are relatively one-way as they do not allow the Sitecore community to give back and share insights, questions and answers, experiences, best practices and even frustrations. As a very active Sitecore partner, we will always need things to be solved and we want to share our experiences and knowledge. But perhaps more importantly, there are considerable cost-savings in collaboration with peers, savings that will benefit the customer.

SITECORE SYMPOSIUM

Enter the Sitecore Symposium, held in Barcelona last year. This three day event was the first that I came back from feeling entirely pumped to use Sitecore to its full potential. The symposium was packed with retrospectives on the product, roadmaps, technical sessions and their overlapping business cases. An ideal environment to find out what the ecosystem behind Sitecore was actually comprised of. It indicated to us that Sitecore was a strong and able “Experience” vendor. Sitecore had shifted its focus from a CMS vendor to helping customers achieve their business goals; thereby exceeding their expectations and executive capabilities.
This symposium worked as a jumping board for myself and the entire organization, as we became fully versed in applying the Sitecore toolset to fully align with our core focus: improving our clients’ businesses through digital. New partnerships were created and many R&D projects were done internally to assert the new solutions and integration partners that we had come across. We participated in the Sitecore Hackaton organized by the community and kept on investing time and effort into the newly created Sitecore user group (SUGBELUX).
All these efforts helped spread best practices, knowledge and insights of the Sitecore platform. We took the time to start blogging, so that we could share our knowledge and experiences and find more likeminded people to share with and learn from.
 sitecore-mvp-logo

SITECORE MVP SYMPOSIUM

Early this year, Sitecore announced the list of MVP’s for 2015. This year the honour of becoming MVP was bestowed on myself and my colleague Henri De Roeck. Where MVP stands for Most Valuable Professional, in Sitecore’s context it means more. It is that segment of their user and developer base that not only recognize the value of the product but also help to improve it through active commentary, discussions and feedback.
Sitecore rewards their MVP’s through numerous channels, early releases and information, a personal license, private discussion boards, and a yearly MVP Summit. Since the Sitecore MVP’s make up for 0.53% (168 MVP’s in total) of the total Sitecore community members, Sitecore is very aware of the value and visibility this very select group of people creates. Since this group provides 50% of the contributions to the platform: resolving or detecting bugs, releasing code on the marketplace and other improvements to the Sitecore platform.
The 2015 summit took place in the warm and damp confines of New Orleans. Two days packed of insights on what Sitecore is implementing technically, how the company is approaching technical challenges and an overall insight on the product roadmap.
But that is not where the summit ended. This MVP Summit focused exactly on what had been missing thus far with regards to creating an open communication and feedback loop. It went above and beyond by providing a number of open discussions and round-table meetings that allowed us to provide feedback to Sitecore on their current product. The round-table sessions allowed us to pick out a specific segment of the product and have an open, peer-to-peer (Sitecore employees included) conversation on issues, requests and so much more.

BIG CHANGES AHEAD (THAT WE CANNOT MENTION YET)

The actual subjects discussed on the summit cannot be disclosed but I can safely say that big changes are awaiting us.
Sitecore is proving to be very productive and are audacious enough to challenge themselves while working on an ever improving (both through new and existing functionalities) product. Everything that was presented showed proof of great ambition and the will to move into the future with both customers and partners. Sitecore is setting very high standards for itself; and we as partners to Sitecore and customers, should do no different.
To sum up the above, The Reference has covered and trodden down most of the ground that Sitecore was built on. And we are convinced of what Sitecore has to offer in the long run, since they are not taking their current product and position for granted. They see the need for continuing improvement and innovation and are determined to do so. As it turns out, they are that living product that can look out of the box, while handling any type of feedback and using it to their own advantage.
Combine this strength and drive of Sitecore as well as my fellow 167 MVP’s and you get a very strong community that is fully devoted to providing the best Experience as possible. I am proud to be a Sitecore MVP and hope to be part of it for many years to come!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sitecore User Group (SUG) BELUX #5 - Hedgehog toolset and a responsive WFFM


Announcing the final agenda of the next user group session!



The next Sitecore Belux user group is taking place on the 29th of October.
The main focus of this session is on the Hedgehog Tool Suite, mainly TDS and RAZL.
This session is taking place at the Boondoggle offices in Leuven and starts at 18 o’clock with an introductionary session by Boondoggle on the role and practical implementation of Responsive styling with WFFM module.

If you want to become informed on how th Hedgehog toolset tool could improve your project execution / development and deployments and you wish to find out more on WFFM and its various implementations, this session is just what you need.
 
Please find all information and registrations here:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sitecore First Aid Kit : Standard fields, listed and explained - 1

Introduction

Sitecore is a powerhouse.
That being said it is also a huge pile of configurable sweetness, and as with each pile of goodies, things tend to become lost or confused.
Sitecore allows for so much modifications, configurations and so on that it can't hurt to keep some overview from time to time.

This post is aimed at looking into the bare bones building blocks of Sitecore: Content and the fields that make up that content.

I will not go into detail on which fields exist within Sitecore that allow you to define specific data templates for your content objects. Enough technical information exists on that already.

My goal is to give you a run-through of the Standar Fields. You can also find a high level description of the fields in the Data Definition Reference on Sitecore SDN for any specific version of Sitecore.

This first post give insight into the first three sections : Advanced, Appearance and Help. The other sections will be handled in subsequent posts.

Let's go


First off, the Standard Fields on an Item are visible by default only to Administrator users within Sitecore. And even then, they need to be activated in the Ribbon > View > View > Standard Fields.

Once you select the Standard Fields checkbox, you can see the specific sections added at the bottom of the Content tab of you Sitecore Items.



So, what are they for, what is their 'Raison d'être' if you will :)
Let's go over them one by one and explain what the fields are used for.

Advanced section

__Source: 
This field is used with regards to cloning. It indicates what it's master item is. This same value is indicated on the Quick Info section under "Created From".
It will hold a value as the following: 
sitecore://master/{856A2E10-EC49-4AA0-A838-B27E32F1D182}?lang=en&ver=1

__Standard values:
This field is used to indicate where the default values need to come from. Know that standard field values are used on item creation (tokens for example) but also to provide base field values or to be used in a fallback module. Normally, this field is only set on the Template of an Item, but it is possible to override this per Sitecore Item, however, we would recommend against this.
It will hold a value as the following: GUID reference to the actual standard fields item.

Tracking:
This fields is used to store the DMS configuration values, It allows for the Campaigns, Goals and Profiles to be defined on a Sitecore Item.
It will hold a value as the following: 
<tracking><event id="{EEAE1AED-2D7D-4631-88EA-A88E9C98C08A}" name="Visited" />
</tracking>
Obviously, these are the raw values, Sitecore will visualize this by type (Profiles, goals, attributes)

Appearance

This is one of the larger blocks available, The screenshot on the left hand side only holds the first fields of this section. Find the full listing and explanation below.

Context Menu:
This field is responsible for defining what should happen is the item (or all items of a specific template) are rightclicked in the content editor. The menu that is shown is defined through this field.
It will hold a value as the following: 
A Guid value that points to the CORE database where the Context Menue is defined. By default this is : Sitecore > Content > Applications > Content Editor > Context Menues > Default.
__Display name:
This is the item name that is shown in the content editor. This allows for the editors to quickly identify items since this field is unshared and can hence be translated across language versions.
Sitecore can be configured to use item display names instead of their actual names when constructing URL's. To do this, set the useDisplayNames attributes of the linkmanager provider in your configuration. 
It will hold a value as the following:
Text value description of the item name, localized if needed.

Editor:
This allows you to define external editors for your item / items of a template.

Editors:
This field defines what editors exist for an item / template. You can create additional editors and define these in this field. They will expand the content editor with new editing capabilities
It will hold a value as the following : 
GUID to the editor in the core: /sitecore/content/Applications/Content Editor/Editors

Hidden:
This boolean field marks an Item as hidden for the content editor. Hidden items can be shown by ticking the Hidden Items checkbox in the ribbon.

Icon:
Let's you specify a specific Icon for an item. Usually used on the template or standard fields item.
It will hold a value as the following: Core2/32x32/colour_h.png

Read Only:
This boolean field marks an Item as read-only. This is reflected on the front-end by a warning that this Item is protected.
This value can be set from the Ribbon > Configure > Attributes - Protect item.

Ribbon:
This field defines extra or specific ribbons to be displayed when an item (of a specific template) is selected.
It will hold a value as the following:
a GUID reference to /Sitecore/Content/Applications/Content Editor/Ribbons/Contextual Ribbons

Skin:
Allows for a specific skin to be defined for the content editor and associates formatting information with the item.

Sortorder:
This field helps define the order of the Sitecore Items in the tree. This field impacts how they are displayed as well as the order in which the API returns items.
It will hold a value as the following: 
Numeric value that defines the actual order of the Sitecore items

Style:
This field allows you to use CSS styles to define how the current item appears in the content tree.
Go to the Ribbon > Configure > Appearance > Tree Node Style
It will hold a value as the following: 
The defined CSS rules

Subitems Sorting:
This field allows you to define how subItems should be presented, in which sorting order they should be shown. You can modify this value by rightclicking the node in the Sitecore Tree > Sorting > Subitems Sorting -> A popup will appear that allows you to sort as you wish.
It will hold a value as the following:
One of the following: Created, Default, DisplayName, Logical, Reverse, Updated.

Thumbnail:
Allows for a thumbnail for the specific item to be set. This can be used by Sitecore in a number of applications such as the page editor. Especially handy for clarification of Components used in the Page editor
It will hold a value as the following: 
A link to the thumbnail image in the media library.

__Orginator:
Used in combination with Branch templates, this field specifies the item in a branch template that was used to create an item.
It will hold a value as the following: 
Guid reference to the branch template that was used.

__Preview:
This field supports item preview, and allows for specific preview to be made available.

Help


Help link:
Allows you to add a link to an external/internal web source.

Long description:
Field that helps the editor by information when hovering over a specific item in the content tree.

Short description:
Short information field that is displayed in the item header of the content editor...

All the above fields are managed through the Ribbon > Configure > Appearance > Help

To be continued...















Friday, February 20, 2015

The quiet before the storm that is 2015 and Sitecore MVP

Turns out life goes exceedingly fast when you are occupied by having both a very busy work-agenda and personal life. That might be a possible explanation as to why my previous blog post dates back to mid december last year ...

A lot has transpired since then :p

First off, Sitecore 8 became released


The new platform made it in time... ! All developers were are aching to get their hands on first developments and going forward with development and new projects on the shining new release.

A number of projects are now in startup phase and we are gently going ahead with looking into the future for our other existing and active customers.
The future seems to hold a large set of opportunities, both with regards to new approaches in Sitecore as well as insights and customer / marketer options!

Shortly after, I got a few mails from Sitecore that contained the following sentence:


"It is my pleasure to inform you that we have reviewed your nomination for Sitecore Technology MVP in 2015 and that we have decided to award you! "  ----->  Mind == Blown !

The Sitecore user group, personal efforts, steering of the teams and pre-sales work has taken a lot of effort and time in 2014 and this was a very welcome reward indeed. Thank you for the kind words Sitecore !



Thanks to everyone, customers, colleague's, bosses and of course Sitecore to make this possible.

Sitecore Hackaton !


Then the Sitecore Hackaton 2015 was upon us ! We made a team, made a list of ideas that seemed good fun to us and went ahead for 24 hours of non-stop development. It was long, it was hard and we struggled to get all our ideas finished in time. It was great fun too see how much can be done with Sitecore and where we can develop new features.
For a list of the submissions and topics go straight to : http://sitecorehackathon.org/sitecore-hackathon-2015/ and maybe you could be one of the competing teams in the 2016 edition ?

Sitecore User Group edition 3

As my last post on my blog indicated, the end of january would be marked by the third Sitecore User Group event. This event was focussed primarily on Sitecore's WFFM module, how it can be used and abused by using customization.
The evening was a big success with interesting speakers and visitors alike.
We are now working on the agenda for the next event that will probably take place around the 25th of June 2015! 

What's next ?

My aim is to have a few more blog posts then I did last year, I've got a few things listed that I want to write down here. One of the topics will be focussed on yet another "Hidden-gem of Sitecore" that helps create a good what is what of Sitecore... To be continued and let's hope I find the time soon enough :p