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Everything You Need to Know Before Upgrading to Sitecore 9.X

If you’re spearheading your company’s digital transformation initiatives, content management technology is surely at the heart of your projects. Gartner found that content management is critical to successful digitalization , and this doesn’t come as a surprise.

  • The digital world is constantly expanding; without a powerful CMS, reaching all of these platforms with a unified voice is extremely difficult.
  • With companies facing fierce competition from both incumbent leaders and market disruptors, content provides a clear line of differentiation, apart from your products.
  • Consumers are now eager to engage with their favorite brands via near-ubiquitous channels like IoT and social media; this implies a massive opportunity waiting to be leveraged.

That’s why the Content Management System (CMS) segment has literally exploded in the last few years. In 2018, CMS software generated over USD 35K million in value, and by 2026, this will rise to USD 123,500 million.

This steady growth is fueled by CMS pioneers such as Sitecore. Sitecore has been repeatedly recognized by Gartner for its remarkable innovation in content management. And indeed, it has always leveraged the newest tech advancements since the original Sitecore 6.0 in 2008. Sitecore 6 focused on mobile, the then-emerging trend for customer engagement and experience enhancement.

The next iteration highlighted the rising importance of 360-degree digital experiences with Sitecore Experience Platform (Sitecore XP) in v7.5 and the introduction of Sitecore Experience Database (xDB) and the Sitecore Experience Profile (xProfile™). This, in many ways, laid the foundation of the Sitecore platform, as we know it today.

Fast forward to a few more releases, and across 7.x and 8.x, Sitecore witnessed a massive UI redesign and harmonization, a transition to the Cloud, and a keen millennial focus. By then, xDB was able to predict—and not just measure—customer engagement activity. Experience profiles also became more dynamic based on micro-segment data to drive real-time personalization.

Now, Sitecore is ready to usher in a new age of customer interactions based on machine learning and “no compromise headless” interactions.

Say Hello to Sitecore 9.0

Sitecore XP 9.0 was a major move in terms of innovation on the Cloud.

Built on 8.x’s brand new Commerce Server integration and Microsoft Azure support, Sitecore introduced a spate of new features and capabilities in the first run of the 9.x series.

  • Sitecore xConnect, lets you collect and enable the interchange of customer data across multiple channels
  • A dramatic dip in work required by front-end developers—teams without Sitecore or .NET experience could now deliver superior experiences
  • Federated Authentication, to address rising security concerns among customers
  • A new version of Forms, so that the best and the richest of customer datasets were available to marketing teams

As content becomes pivotal to digitalization in any sector, Sitecore is actively trying to make CMS technology more accessible and user-friendly, without compromising on performance. The need for data-driven customer experiences is another key principle shaping Sitecore’s evolution.

Instead of marketers deciding upon the messaging and reach, and then directing the tech-team to execute initiatives, the entire model is turned on its head. Features such as Forms, xDB, and xProfile allow you to gain an accurate picture of customer needs, drilling down to the smallest micro-level details. The next step in this journey of change and transformation is the use of Machine Learning (ML) technology.

6 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade to Sitecore 9.1

1. Predict Outcomes, Powered by Machine Learning

Sitecore Cortex was launched as part of Sitecore 9.0, bringing the power of machine learning (ML) to the entire Experience Cloud. V9.1 takes this a step further with a host of new integrations and updates:

  • Automated asset tagging
  • Integration with other ML engines like Einstein (Salesforce) or Watson (IBM)
  • Data processing across xDB as well as your CRM and ERP

Cortex is a revolutionary idea in the CMS space. Given the voluminous streams of customer data that are flowing in from multiple disparate channels, it would take human data scientists days or even months to turn these into meaningful insights—not to mention efforts spent on standardization and cleansing of the data.

Cortex can auto-monitor patterns to detect new market segments, delivering a personalized experience to each customer in real time. You can also tag digital assets automatically, optimizing SEO initiatives without requiring additional effort.

2. Reach Your Customers on Literally Any Device

The digital era has pushed the concept of “headless CMS” into prominence. It implies that your back-end is no longer coupled with a presentation overlay, freeing your content for delivery on any device or ecosystem. Traditionally, headless CMS has seen limited adoption owing to greater technical dependency in-house and lesser channel support from vendors.

Now, Sitecore 9.1 utilizes JavaScript technology to overcome this particular pain point. Not only can you leverage Sitecore Headless to shrink time-to-market for web content projects, but you can also use v9.1 for omnichannel engagement. There is also a new headless feature called Universal Tracker that lets you build applications without sacrificing any of your settings around personalization, analytics, and A/B testing. Finally, Sitecore’s APIs continually test and optimize experiences in real-time across different platforms, impacting emerging channels such as IoT, AR, and VR, as well.

3. Reinvent Your Digital Footprint in a Fraction of the Time

Content reimagining activities can be extremely effort, time, and resource-intensive due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders—technical, business, and creative. This puts off leading enterprises from upgrading their digital footprint, despite making strides in business innovation and productivity.

Sitecore 9.1 comes with new wireframing features, bundled into Sitecore Experience Accelerators. Layout design, content authoring, and site buildout can take place in parallel tracks, dramatically cutting down your time-to-market. Data can also be culled from third-party systems through the Sitecore Data Exchange Framework, reducing complexities around custom development.

4. Link Sitecore data to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud

A partnership between the world’s leading CMS and the global leader in CRM makes perfect sense. Sitecore and Salesforce have been working together for a while now, and version 9.1 strengthens the integration between these two environments.

Sitecore 9.1 supports bi-directional exchange of experience data between xDB and Salesforce Marketing Cloud. This means that whenever a customer interacts with your content, the activity can trigger an automated reaction on Salesforce.

5. Get As Close to One-Click Installation As Possible

In any kind of digital transformation, uprooting existing infrastructure and installing entirely new systems is a complex process. There are dependencies to reconcile, data which needs standardization, and more often than not, the new software comes with an entirely new set of prerequisites. Given Sitecore’s expansiveness and feature-rich nature, migrating to Sitecore (or even upgrading your current version) could be a major challenge.

Sitecore 9.1 solves this with a refresh of the Sitecore Installation Framework (SIF). You can now complete the transformation in fewer steps than ever before, with nearly all the prerequisites installed automatically.

6. Gain Greater Control Over Security, Deployment, and Forms Data Assessment

For any software used in mission-critical activities, the “devil” often lies in the “details.” Vulnerabilities in customer data, lack of options for deployment, and the absence of small but important features in forms management could be holding your CMS back.

Sitecore 9.1 comes with a swathe of nifty features that are sure to make life easier for developers. For example, xDB can now be deployed on Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SQL Azure as well as MongoDB. You can create conditional logic based on customer inputs, allowing you to focus only on the fields that matter. Security measures have undergone a major refactoring, bringing SSO support via open ID. If you’re looking for a CMS solution fit for evolving security threats and rising concerns around data privacy, Sitecore 9.1 should be on your checklist.

Preparing for the Shift: Key Considerations for Future-Focused Enterprises

Whether you’re looking at greenfield deployment, upgrading from a historical instance like 6.0, or simply taking the next step from Sitecore 8.x, version 9.1 has a lot to offer. In addition to the truly transformative capabilities listed above, the company has been working behind the scenes to extend its support for deployments in the US government, Germany, France, and Korea. Capabilities like marketing automation also get a leg up, with out-of-the-box templates.

No matter the starting line, the decision to upgrade your CMS will influence how your enterprise approaches website design, customer interactions, and its larger marketing strategy. Sitecore 9.1 equips you to reach customers via next-gen channels such as IoT, AR, and VR, in addition to web, mobile, and apps. Your data repositories will find new impact areas, as the power of ML completely transforms how you gather, learn from, and implement customer insights.

How are you rethinking your technology investments, in this context? Are your data sources comprehensive and reliable enough to support the next wave of digital transformation? Can a seamless intersection of Salesforce and Sitecore change how you do business?

These are some of the questions you should ask yourself as we enter a new era of intelligent content management and streamlined messaging dissemination. That’s not to say, that moving to a new CMS platform—especially with Sitecore introducing so many upgrades this time around -- won’t be a challenge. For the next blog in this series, we detail the obstacles you’re likely to face and how to address them.

Watch this space for the next installment, titled “What are the Challenges in Undertaking the Shift to Sitecore 9.x?”

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