Sitecore 9.1 rolls out late this month. This new release unpacks plenty to be excited about!

Head-on Headless
Headless continues to race forward. JSS ushered in an era where agencies, front-end developers and JavaScript pros can develop experiences across platforms without extensive Sitecore or back-end knowledge. Solutions can be deployed to platforms that run server-side JavaScript (think Node.js), allowing self-contained deployment of “packaged” solutions.

  • Now matured and rebranded as “Sitecore Omni,” Sitecore’s headless development approach expands on JSS (JavaScript Services) with Sitecore GraphQL for data exchange with front-end applications, along with JSS REST and OData services. Client-side data exchange is further advanced with the introduction of the Universal Tracker.
  • Sitecore XConnect (introduced in 9.0) transformed xDB into an open API. However, XConnect is a strongly secured data connection endpoint, not suitable for ad-hoc connections from a large set of distributed endpoints (like phones and POS). Enter the universal tracker, with caching and session state management, bringing analytics and data collection to channels beyond conventional websites, like IoT, Augmented Reality, email and mobile apps.
  • JavaScript-based tooling for server-side applications. Arke’s own Anastasiya Flynn presented an amazing demo at Symposium showing how to use JavaScript-based tooling to structure, manage and deploy complex server-side applications. Download her presentation here.

Cortex: Machine Learning Gets Real
The announcement of Sitecore Cortex at Symposium 2017 got us all dreaming about the possibilities for machine learning in Sitecore. This year’s release of Sitecore 9.1 will make those dreams a reality.

Efforts to embrace automated engagement and personalization often falter under the weight of content tagging. Content must be well characterized and tagged to be well targeted to visitors and optimized for SEO. This can be a daunting task for organizations with tons of existing content. Cortex lightens this load with ML-based tagging of key aspects of content based on NLP (Natural Language Processing).

Sitecore is also previewing training and scoring capabilities to support predicative outcomes. As these capabilities advance, marketers will have much more insight and assistance as they work to optimize outcomes.

Machine learning is a complicated subject. The key is statistical analysis and training. Sitecore’s Cortex constantly feeds analytics data to a scalable instance of Microsoft’s Machine Learning Server. Sitecore’s strategy for ML also opens up integration with other ML engines, like Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

SXA Gets Accelerated
SXA (Sitecore eXperience Accelerator) is making Sitecore more approachable to customers that prefer a less developer-dependent, more out-of-the-box experience. Building on top of an already-solid innovation, the new version 1.8 adds enhancements to SXA’s wireframing and design capabilities.

The wireframe “style” has been updated to look more professional, abandoning the jagged-line, “comic sans” style. Users can jump between the site’s custom theme, the wireframe theme, and a new grayscale mode.

Other SXA enhancements include cross-site linking, more intricate component embedding, and automated “best practice” recommendations. Plus, there’s a host of editor UX improvements to help authors better visualize how their pages are built up from components and partial designs, and better interaction with the toolbox.

SXA 1.8 also implements the first set of changes to make it fully WCAG 2.0 compatible, helping organizations achieve ADA compliance.

A (Sales) Force to be Reckoned With
Sitecore’s strategic partnership with Salesforce is bearing fruit with an upcoming release of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud connector. This will enable bi-directional exchange of experience between the platforms. Sitecore xDB-based data such as web clicks and visitor personas can be used to inform SFMC email campaigns. SDMC-based data can in turn be used to influence and personalize web experiences in Sitecore.

WFFM is Dead. Long Live Sitecore Forms!
Additional enhancements to Sitecore’s new Forms offering put the final nail in the coffin of the legacy Web Forms for Marketers, and good riddance! The new Forms are much easier to create and deploy.

9.1 adds capabilities like the ability to show/hide form elements using rules created directly in the form creation interface. If you stayed away from forms, out of fatigue from WFFM, or just because it seems too complex, give the new forms a look.

Automated Deployment
SIF (Sitecore Installation Framework) jumps a version. Notable in this version is the ability to manage installation the typical prerequisites, this eliminating many of the common failure points in typical installation scripts.

SIF is an important arrow in the deployment quiver, both to help developers create dev and test instances quickly, and to help automate deployment. Automated, even “blue/green” deployments are a hot button issue right now. As it becomes increasingly critical for a site’s functionality to change as rapidly as its content, deployments must be more reliable and frequent.

Arke’s Patrick Perrone and Bill Cacy presented on the subject of Zero Downtime Deployment, which can make code deployment nearly as painless as content publishing. Click here to view the presentation.

Show Your Identity, Please.
Technology surrounding Authentication and Authorization (logging in and controlling access) has advanced dramatically in the last few years. Now we’re logging everywhere in with Google and Facebook, in addition to our enterprise and individual site logins.

Sitecore 9.1 abstracts the authentication into a separate .net application. This allows organizations to mix-and-match authentication services using a variety of technologies, both for back-end users and visitors. This simplifies Federated Authentication and SSO (Single Sign On) scenarios, and opens up the use of more modern authentication technologies like OAuth and OpenID Connect. Worry not, good old ASP.NET membership is still there too!

Need to upgrade your Sitecore 8.2 to Sitecore 9? Arke MVP Neil Killen spells out the necessary steps to a successful Sitecore Upgrade. / Go to the article.