SUGCON 2023 – A composable future for Sitecore


If there was one word to take away from the conference, then it would be the word COMPOSABLE. This sums up the direction that Sitecore as a company are heading (in fact have already went). Sitecore DXP (the ‘all in one’ product that we have been familiar with for many years i.e. XM, XP & XC) is being replaced by a suite of smaller SAAS Products, which can be grouped together (or composed) to form that which we only need.

During the opening Keynote speech Dave O’Flannigan (CPO) was excited to promote the move to a composable product offering, a strategy that has seen the company out perform all its competitors on growth and has allowed Sitecore to become the second largest tech provider of its kind behind Adobe.

Dave emphasised on a number of occasions that the old Sitecore DXP would continue to be enhanced and supported (with Sitecore 10.3 having been released in December 2022). However, given that not one of the nearly fifty presentations related to the older offerings, you cant help but feel that the future is going to be a composable one.

New Sitecore Products

So what are these different products? Rather than get it wrong I have taken a quote about each direct from Sitecore. The products are broken down into three main clouds, which are:

Engagement Cloud:

Sitecore Connect is an integration workbench that lets you connect your Sitecore products with other applications in your ecosystem to provide your users with end-to-end connected experiences.

Sitecore Send is a cloud-based email marketing software product. You can use Send to create, automate, and manage your email campaigns.

The Sitecore CDP is designed to drive exceptional experiences on all digital channels. It takes the core data management capabilities of a CDP and layers on decisioning, predictive analytics, experimentation, and orchestration.

Sitecore Personalize activates your data across all customer touchpoints to create seamless and consistent customer experiences. You can use Sitecore Personalize to ower web, interactive, and triggered experiments that provide real-time decisioning, experimentation, and performance analytics.

Content Cloud:

Predict search intent and display individualized results with a next-gen content discovery solution. Surface hyper-relevant content through AI-powered search.

XM Cloud
Sitecore Experience Manager Cloud (XM Cloud) is a fully managed self-service deployment platform for developers and marketers to efficiently launch engaging omnichannel experiences in the Cloud using Sitecore’s headless CMS

Content Hub One
Content Hub ONE is a headless and agile “Software as a Service” content management system with a simple management interface and APIs to consume and manage the content.

Content Hub DAM
Sitecore Content Hub DAM is your intuitive and organized solution for storing, managing and accessing assets.

 Content Hub Operations
Sitecore Content Hub Operations allows marketers to collaborate on content strategy, creation, and analytics to ensure content is always ready when and where it is needed

Commerce Cloud:

Sitecore Discover enables your commerce business by adding individualized search and merchandizing capabilities. Deliver a 1:1 shopping experience with tailored search results and recommendations driven by AI in real time.

Built as a cloud-based, API-first, headless ecommerce platform, Sitecore® OrderCloud® offers nearly limitless customizations and endless freedom for growth.

A lot of the products that you see above are the result of company acquisitions by Sitecore. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel in many cases, it has taken the decision to purchase companies that are market leaders in their respective fields and bring them under the Sitecore Umbrella. In doing so it brings with it ready to use products and services and the wealth of knowledge that exists in those companies.

So what is XM Cloud and is it for us?

The main flagship product Sitecore are offering is XM Cloud, a fully managed headless CMS. So what are the main benefits of switching to this product.

  • No upgrades – these are handled frequently and applied automatically
  • Easy CI/CD Setup and CLI Support
  • Environment creation
  • Pages – Visual GUI to compose pages (like exp editor)
  • Components – Low / No code required to create and integrate external endpoints
  • Integrated Personalization
  • Integrated Analytics
  • Very fast and with Maximum scalability when used with Vercel

OK, so where does that leave us? As a customer who is fully invested in Sitecore XP, using a high volume of .Net MVC components and pipelines.  If we decided to jump on board and embrace the XM Cloud and the composable way, is it possible today? What would our road map look like?

I took this question to the Sitecore Product team who were there in force at the conference. The answer I received was that it simply wasn’t possible right now. XM Cloud is a headless system, so in order to migrate to it, we would first need to move away from MVC. Instead we would need to select a headless approach and use a JavaScript application (i.e. React / Vue / Angular / NextJs) that then consumed data from Sitecore endpoints. By far the most popular approach being discussed at the conference was to use a NextJs application hosted with Vercel, who offer advanced features such as serverless and edge functions, built in CDN and with it lightning fast speed.

Apparently the product team have been discussing how they might support MVC, but no decisions or announcements are coming anytime soon. A couple of options were mentioned, like hosting the CD servers in the cloud or having a point in time publish. I cant claim to fully understand the challenges involved, but I gather there is no easy solution. I was however reassured by one of senior product owners, that XP was not going anywhere and that they have a commitment to look after their existing customers. With Sitecore 10.3 having only just been released, they will need to support it for at least 8 years.

Without some kind of migration pathway, there is not much chance of us switching to XM Cloud. To do so would mean a total rewrite and switch of technology. For a relatively small team of developers looking after a large and established site, the effort to make the switch seems disproportionate to the perceived benefits. It seems the best approach for us will be to continue our journey with XP and continue to evaluate our options as new products and offerings are announced.

I could easily envisage starting a fresh project and going headless from the start or perhaps building a second site in parallel and slowly migrating over to headless piece by piece, however our current institutional Sitecore license does not allow JSS or SXA. Getting approval for the additional license costs to run parallel instances with headless might be a tough ask, given the status quo will be supported for nearly a decade at the very least.

Sitecore Search

Another product that stood out at the user group conference for me was “Sitecore Search”, which is a new offering off the back of the companies acquisition of Reflextion. This product can integrate and run with any web platform. It offers a personalised search service, so individual website visitors searching for the same keywords will receive different search results, depending on their previous events and engagements in the site.

What jumped out about this product, is that it could easily be added to our current XP offering and bring immediate positive results. Once configured, the system will periodically crawl your site based on the set parameters. It then provides fast predictive search, which suggests relevant content as they type. The systems works in such a way that it builds up a profile of the visitor in session, storing information on search clicks, content, goals and other scoring mechanisms. That data is sent together with search keywords to an AI process that selects the best match from the indexed data. In addition it offers guided navigation (i.e. OTB search components with facets etc that can be styled), Content Promotion and also comprehensive analytics showing search trends across the site.

I asked the product team, if integrated with XP – would that bring with it a deeper more personalized experience, given the possibility of a huge data set of event data. The response was that you can configure how many previous events you want to send (i.e. last 10 events). So rather than personalising on all that we know, they would opt to personalise on a shorter defined snapshot. Apparently research shows, small percentages of people repeat visit, so you may only get one chance deliver a result. By personalising based on a small snapshot – you are taking a ‘best guess’ while still being fast and reactive.

For me, the product definitely seems appealing and something I would consider trialling out on our site. Ultimately though, it would be a question of cost vs benefit – I will definitely be mentioning it to our marketing team, to see if its something they might want to trial out.

Some other highlights

Over the course of the two days, I attended a wide range of talks (a lot of them focusing on XM Cloud and headless architecture). The highlights for me were:

  • A session called Hacking Sitecore by Thomas Stern. Who demonstrated how easy it was to exploit vulnerabilities in Sitecore. He showed how – if someone was able to gain access to the backend, they could open a reverse shell to the VMs operating system, elevate the user and then dump all the credentials. Highlighting the importance of good password practice and regularly upgrading to the latest version.
  • Mike Edwards presentation Rendering your data in headless – 101 different ways. Which looked at shift away from .Net MVC to Headless and with it JS applications. He covered options available, issues being faced and how different technologies are adapting to deal with them. Factors include Hydration, Island Architecture, progressive Enhancement, Stream SSR and Resumability… to throw a few buzz words in there! Really good talk, giving a background on stuff I knew very little about.
  • Ishraq Al Fataftah gave a great talk that looked at the move from the monolithic to composable architecture, looking at how the Sitecore offering has evolved and the slow shift towards Headless. How it might not be appropriate to jump to the latest and greatest, but to take a more considered approach depending on situation. A brief conversation after cleared up a number of questions I had about headless, including how the new XM Cloud compared with Content Hub One (with them both being headless CMSs).
  • However, by far and away the best talk was delivered by Scott Hanselman from Microsoft. He delivered a motivational speech, that focused on a range of stories about his life, each seemed to go off on a tangent, but swung back round to intertwine with the main theme. It focused heavily on his life and experience in the tech world, sponsorship, mentorship the need to share, give back to the community and help those starting out. So that they would still be around in the future to help others. Something he kept coming back to was that Luck = Opportunity + Being Prepared, which made total sense. Some really funny moments and a great way to finish off the conference.

This year I was honoured be recognised as a Sitecore MVP. With that in mind, I came to the Sitecore user group conference thinking that I had a fairly good understanding of the Sitecore product and what it had to offer. However, after listening to two full days’ of presentations about topics such as composability, headless architecture and a switch to client side applications, which I have very little knowledge or experience. I realise that there is so much more to learn.

I am enthused to try out a lot of these new technologies. Luckily one of the benefits of becoming an MVP allows access to a range of Sitecore products, so I will definitely be having a play around with headless Sitecore, creating a NextJs application and combining it with Vercel hosting. Hopefully it might give some insight into how we could look to adapt these new technologies within our institution.

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