Sitecore 9.1 is upon us, and there’s plenty of new features to get developers (including those front-end teams!), marketers, and businesses excited about. Like most major dot-releases, Sitecore 9.1 brings additional stability and bug fixes to the platform, while rolling out significant features that will create a lasting impact on the platforms for years to come.
Let’s take a look at some of the big new features and why they matter to both developers and businesses alike.
Why businesses will care: Sitecore development has traditionally been difficult to coordinate between front-end and back-end teams. Back-end would do the bulk of the work, while front-end would bring together designs and client-side functionality. With JSS, front-end devs can begin creating components and real Sitecore experiences, allowing the whole development team to be engaged together from Day One.
Why developers should care: In short, Cortex is machine learning for Sitecore. Widespread expertise in machine learning is still hard to come by, but Sitecore is trying to make it easy for developers to get started. With a limited implementation out the door – providing personalization recommendations and automatic content tagging capabilities – Cortex also provides a pluggable architecture for other ML engines to be utilized (specifically calling out IBM Watson by name!). As is the case with most Sitecore products, the Cortex tooling can be customized by developers using a robust API. For developers looking to invest in the API right away, check out the new
Sitecore.Processing.* namespaces. The previous Sitecore xDB classes are now considered legacy. The actual implementation of Cortex is a new worker role process that runs alongside your Sitecore instance.
Why businesses will care: “Machine learning” has been the hot, hot buzzword in IT for the past couple of years, and Cortex is Sitecore’s big play into the field. From day one, content authors will be able to take advantage of automatic content tagging capabilities, which will enable advanced search and highly-refined personalization. With proper training and extension, Cortex will be able to suggest personalization options for components based on past behavior and expected outcomes.
Why developers should care: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – or WCAG for short – is a set of web standards that help web and related content be accessible to users of all backgrounds. Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) moves to verison 1.8, and is bringing WCAG 2.0 compliance alongside it, although this will be rolled out in a phased approach rather than a complete update with version 1.8.
Why businesses will care: SXA has been one of Sitecore’s most-iterative products, and 1.8 is no different: small improvements abound, along with the aforementioned WCAG 2.0 compliance. More importantly, SXA is a reliable product that fundamentally changes the flow of Sitecore development for the better – sites can be built quickly and simultaneously by multiple teams (in other words, time to market for websites is greatly enhanced with SXA). After a couple years of development and iteration, SXA is ready for prime time.
Why developers should care: Sitecore Host is a significant reworking of Sitecore application development that is now based on .NET Core. Rather than building custom tools, applications, and modules on a giant pile of DLLs and services, Sitecore Host is a new starting point for developers. Host provides only the core services of the platform – configuration management, logging, database access, etc. – and invites developers to build on top of that clean, simple starting point. Developers get a reliable API and set of services that will be universal to all Sitecore installations going forward, ensuring application compatibility across future versions of Sitecore.
Why businesses will care: Developing applications based on or in Sitecore can be a mess of mixing different development libraries, inefficiently copying configuration files, and integrating with the monolithic structure of a Sitecore installation. Sitecore Hosts resets years of cruft and looks to the future of the .NET Core development platform. Custom applicaitons that integrate with Sitecore can be built with the latest tooling and standards from Microsoft, and should be future-proofed for many years to come.
Why developers should care: Authenticating users in Sitecore has always been done with a simple implementation of ASP.NET Membership using Forms Authentication. Active Directory integration came along in the form of a module. With federated authentication now in widespread use across the industry, Sitecore finally provides user authentication and authorization through a centralized federation service. Built and run as a separate application, Identity replaces the traditional Sitecore login process, and provides federated authentication options and single-sign services in one portal. Developers will no longer need to install various modules to support different login systems.
Bonus tip: Identity also provides a copycat version of the traditional login screen to help Sitecore users with the transition, but I think from here on out we may see more creative and customized login experiences with Sitecore.
Why businesses will care: Identity streamlines login processes for not only Sitecore, but potentially for other applications that run alongside Sitecore. In fact, Identity is standalone, and does not need to be connected to a Sitecore instance to provide authentication services. This lets your developers create third-party applications that utilized the same logins as Sitecore, drastically simplifying the need for users to managed multiple sets of credentials.
All the Rest
There are many more enhancements and updates introduced with Sitecore 9.1, including changes to Email Experience Manager (new content for commerce), XM-only platform deployments (for simpler CMS needs), support for Solr 7.2.1, and much, much more. Overall, these changes bring quality of life improvements for developers and expand the capabilities and potential capabilities of the platform for businesses.