A Week of Sitecore in the Big Easy

  • Dan Solovay
  • October 6, 2016

This year, the Sitecore MVP Summit and Sitecore Symposium were held in the magical city of New Orleans.  The MVP Summit is a special event where leading Sitecore professionals from around the world gather to learn what’s new and upcoming with the platform. It is an opportunity for close, collaborative discussions with the Sitecore product and technical teams about our day-to-day experiences working with, and building on, the platform.  By contrast, the Symposium is a powerful statement to the world about what the Sitecore platform provides for companies and customers; it’s the event where Sitecore creates an experience around the Experience Platform. There’s a lot to take in at both events, so I caught up with my colleagues at Velir to get a take on their thoughts, impressions and takeaways.

The Velir team takes on New Orleans

Shot of Awe: Mark Servais, Daniel Delay, and Sunil Nagpal take in the magic of New Orleans.

Chris Sulham, Senior Solutions Architect, Sitecore MVP

What is one thing you learned at Symposium?

I learned that Sitecore is fully embracing the future of the .NET world. This means .NET Core and cloud based services, and also impacts the way they’re interacting with the development community. Moving their modules to NuGet, introducing Dependency Injection within the platform – all of these changes show that Sitecore understands the way developers work and is vested in keeping us engaged and happy with the platform.

What talk inspired you, and why?

I attended a series of talks about Sitecore on Azure and found them really insightful. It was great to see actual functional demos and examples rather than theoretical projections. I’m look forward to diving deeper into this area over the next year.

What would you like to see more of next year?

I’d like to see more case studies. We heard about Danone at SUGCON 2015, and while it was a great example, it would be great to see a full portfolio of case studies to really drive home what the platform is capable of.

Corey Caplette, Chief Technology Officer, Sitecore MVP

What is one thing you learned at the Symposium?

There were a lot of great topics covered but the most meaningful take away for me was the obvious investment Sitecore is making in their cloud strategy.  A lot of great work is rolling out soon that will make it much easier to setup and deploy Sitecore on Azure.  Besides ease of deployment, one immediate advantage will be the deeper integration with Azure Insights.  We work closely with our clients to manage their production Sitecore infrastructure, and the ability to instrument and monitor your solution in real time at a very granular level is a great operational benefit. 

Also, anyone following Microsoft Azure can see that their teams have been extremely active rolling out new platforms and services.  Sitecore solutions deployed on the Azure cloud will be able to leverage value added services like Dynamics CRM online, Azure Business Intelligence, Azure Cognitive Services, or Azure Search.  Many possibilities are opening up as a result of the deepening partnership between Sitecore and Microsoft.

What were your key takeaways from the event?

I saw many themes across their product line that indicate they are trying to hide the complexity of the product and make it easier for marketers and technologists to implement quickly and consistently:

  • Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) is aimed at shortening the time to create and deploy marketing and brochure sites.
  • The push around implementation best practices and guidelines through Helix principles and the Habitat demo are intended to improve the consistency and quality of implementations.  This is a longer play but will improve quality of implementations and lower maintenance costs for clients over time as these practices take root.
  • The improvements around Azure will make it easier to deploy and maintain Sitecore solutions, while also offering clients an improved ability to quickly stand up an environment in the cloud.

What was your favorite moment?

I looked forward to breakfast and lunch every day! Not because of the food (which was great) but because they offered an opportunity to network with an interesting community.  Be it a partner, content manager, developer, or marketer, there are so many smart people who are using the product in interesting ways.  I really enjoyed learning about their business, digital eco-system, and how they are using Sitecore to meet their customers’ needs.

What talk inspired you, and why?

I found the technical key note to be the most relevant, personally.  The product management team provided a look behind the curtain and walked us through the methodologies they use to manage a huge pipeline of customer requests and translate these into a roadmap that ultimately results in the delivery of new features.  I can appreciate the scale of the problems they are trying to solve. The Scaled Agile Framework they employ allows them to define a predictable roadmap and remain nimble to new customer demands.  The transparency displayed by Lars Fløe Nielsen and team in and of itself is a great sign that Sitecore as a company is interested in a dialog with their customers and partners.

What would you like to see more of next year?

I would just like to see more overall! I’d welcome making it a three-day conference rather than a two-day event.

Ed Schwehm, Development Manager

This was your first Symposium.  What did you learn?

Sitecore is serious about best practices. Habitat, Helix, using industry standards for Azure, all these things demonstrate that they want to aid Sitecore developers in creating the best sites possible.

Did any moment stick out for you?

I enjoyed MC, Jake Johannsen’s pithy quips throughout: "30 equals a billion…. And we're done", and Sitecore CEO, Michael Seifert, bringing home the message with a New Orleans jazz band and the line, "You've just had an experience."  But my favorite moment was during Ciaran McAuliffe’s talk (Sitecore, Better Together: Sitecore on Azure), when he showed how you can automatically configure and deploy Sitecore Azure instances via a chat bot to actually execute deployments. Assuming what this functionality is included in the final product, I see it revolutionizing the speed, simplicity, and accuracy of deployments.

I also really enjoyed Joe Bissol’s talk on lean and fast deployments. Our deployments often take over 10 minutes (some can take much longer). This necessitates that we be even more deliberate with our deployments. Joe explained a philosophy that fundamentally enabled rapid and lean deployments. The most inspirational part of his talk was his first tenet: “Think Backwards”, stressing that a solid rollback plan is a requirement for any lean deployment process

Sunil Nagpal, Senior Solutions Analyst

What stood out to you at the Symposium?

I'd have to say it was the closeness of the Sitecore community that really stood out to me. I had previously dipped my feet into it by attending meetups and absorbing a lot of the content that’s out there but the Symposium really motivated me to become an active voice in the community. I’ve since been writing blog posts, started my Twitter handle @sitecoresunil, and am getting ready to roll out sitecoresunil.com.

Were you inspired by any of the talks, and why?

Yes, there were a few that got me really excited. Todd Mitchell’s talk about xConnect showed that Sitecore is really stepping up the game when it comes to personalization. Being able to capture user events and interactions that occur in online/offline channels that aren't connected to Sitecore, but can still be used to inform xDB capabilities, is enormously valuable for enabling personalization.  The new Data Exchange Framework is exciting too. The diversity of data types that Sitecore and xDB can support is continuously growing but the ability to more easily port this data to/from CRMs and other external systems can play a big part in taking you from basic personalization to highly effective personalization.

Anything different that you'd like to see done next year?

It was great to hear about all of the latest, cool stuff that Sitecore is working on but I also enjoyed hearing about how people are using Sitecore today, so I'd love to see more case studies presented. Hearing how the platform is being used in the real world to solve business challenges is helpful and inspiring to other implementers of the platform. 

Mark Servais, Principal Developer, Sitecore MVP

What were your takeaways?

The topics of Commerce and Azure were the focus of the sessions I attended and discussions I had with folks. All indications point to solid improvements being made in both areas by Sitecore. Ultimately my technical barometer got reset based on this information and I now have concentrated area of focus to dive into for the foreseeable future.

Did any talk particularly inspire you?

I really liked Stephen Pope’s talk on the rewrite of Sitecore Publishing capabilities utilizing .NET Core. While what they did (the performance improvements, the approach, and the utilization of tech) was great – I really walked away with a sense that there were no longer going to be as many obstacles with regards to what we are going to be able to do here.

What would you like to see more of next year?

I truly appreciate the ability to have in-depth discussions with Sitecore folks. This kind of access at the Symposium really makes a difference for the community. I think the sessions were diverse and in fact, had to choose some over others to attend.

Also, while I know they had workshops on the day prior to the welcome, it would be great to have some dedicated time during the conference for attendees to gather about specific topics that they might be interested in - a roundtable forum for sharing of experience and knowledge with one another.

Velir Public Interface Sitecore Symposium roundtable

Recording a Velir Public Interface episode on location: (L-R) Mark Stiles, Mark Servais, Chris Sulham, and Dan Solovay

Mark Stiles, Principal Developer, Sitecore MVP

What is one thing you learned at Symposium?

I learned that xDB will be supporting the OData format so that it can be consumed by machine learning (ML) services like Azure ML. As a believer in the power of ML tools, I’m excited to see this come into place.

What were your key takeaways from the event?

That Sitecore is serious about commerce and is making a big push to support this market. The changes to the application structure so that it functions through web APIs should be a boon to those looking to swap out existing commerce products and services with a more native application.

What was your favorite moment?

My favorite moment was day two of the MVP Summit. There was a lot of time to talk to the other MVPs and get a pulse on what challenges they face, what they’re working on, and get a better overall picture of what’s happening in the community.

Girija Ramapriya, Technical Project Manager

This was your first Symposium as well. What stood out?

The Sitecore community is a very strong, very collaborative environment, and this is what ensures the success of the platform.  This is what stood out to me, above all of the different messaging that was promoted through the conference: it's the collaboration that makes the product what it is. 

What inspired you?

There were a number of thought-provoking moments. The degree of personalization that Sitecore can enable, evident through many of the talks, showed me the sheer power of the platform! Given all the sensitivities around the collection of data, this brought home the need for agency partners to provide both strategic and technical guidance to ensure good outcomes.  

I also appreciated the emphasis on the importance of content ("Content is King!"). It's easy to lose sight of this, especially when working on complex implementations that involve a variety of integrations.

Chris Smith, Principal developer

What stood out for you at the conference?

A number of things. First, it was great to get insight into the future of Sitecore.  The developer keynote and sessions gave me a chance to peek behind the curtain, and prepare for the future by starting to think about the next generation – today.

Giving Jane McGonigal the floor for the second-day keynote was inspired.  It felt like we were attending a TED talk, one in which I’m sure everybody in the room could relate to, and where we felt empowered to improve our own lives and that of those around us. 

Finally, the session “Keep hackers out” was exciting.  It’s more important than ever to keep our clients’ reputations and web properties safe, and it’s good to know that Velir and others are following security best-practices.  It also helped to sell the message when the presenter was "hacked back" over Wi-Fi during the presentation!

Chris Brady, Senior Digital Strategist

What stood out for you at the Symposium?

I was glad to see Sitecore working to facilitate easier platform upgrades. It was also great to see the deepening of the integration with Azure as our clients have been looking for more progress on the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) side of Azure.  

Overall, the Sitecore community was very willing to discuss their business challenges and methods for meeting these through the platform. Sitecore has re-doubled their efforts to ensure the platform meets and exceeds expectations and this can be seen in a number of areas, notably the increased attention that has been paid to the Email Experience Manager. The new Experience Accelerator product also shows that Sitecore has heard and acted on community feedback demanding an easier way to "change the look" of Sitecore powered sites.

Dan Solovay, Sitecore Practice Lead, Sitecore MVP

And to round us out, what were my takeaways?

I was glad to see Sitecore continue to expand the platform in developer-friendly ways: releasing DLLs to NuGet, using open standards like OData, providing guidance on system design through the Helix standards, and releasing open source tools like Sitecore Rocks. All these actions demonstrate Sitecore’s commitment to working collaboratively with its development community. 

And I was excited to see the new vision for Sitecore Commerce, which is coming out by the end of the year.  Being built on top of the Linux-compatible .NET Core framework, it is being architected as a series of independent modules, which shows how Sitecore is applying the Helix framework to their own projects.

Finally, I was struck by what an immersive experience (if you will pardon the term) the Summit and Symposium were: music, comedy, TED talks, marketing vision, and technology all combined to leave us thinking about our work in new terms and with new energy. Thanks to the Sitecore team for all their efforts in putting together such a spectacular week. We’re looking forward to coming together again in 2017!