Five Highlights from SUGCON 2017

Sitecore flagsThere were so many excellent sessions at this year’s Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON). But I’ve picked my personal top 5 take-aways and summarised here for anyone who couldn’t make it.

1. Integration with Cognitive Services

There are so many innovative integrations that the Sitecore community are exploring between Sitecore and commercial AI services. For example Bas Lijten & Rob Habraken demonstrated their Raspberry Pi-powered “Robbie the Sitecore Robot”, a physical extension of Sitecore’s personalisation capabilities using IoT technologies. But the session which left me feeling the most inspired was Mark Stiles’s Cognitive Services extensions to Sitecore. This open source project adds additional features into the Sitecore UI. For example, when a content editor uploads an image to the media library, it can be interpreted by the image service and tagged with appropriate metadata. Images can then be searched for using these tags (for example “outdoors”). Such a time-saver, and a brilliantly practical application of AI technology.

2. Sitecore in Azure PaaS

The release of Sitecore 8.2 update 1 featured full Azure Web Apps support. It was so exciting to hear how Sitecore have been working closely with Microsoft to build features and tools to enable and accelerate Sitecore’s cloud roadmap. Sitecore are working on an Azure Marketplace wizard to make it easier to deploy Sitecore ARM templates, as well as a lower-level Sitecore Azure Toolkit if you’re a developer and want more fine-grained control of the process. Sitecore have done a great job of mapping the Sitecore platform architecture to the various Azure PaaS services, ensuring that partners and customers can take full advantage of Azure features such as auto-scaling, reliable automated deployments and application monitoring.

3. Publishing Service 2.0

Performance optimisations can be such a satisfying developer task on any platform, but Stephen Pope and the rest of the team in Bristol have been working on a major rewrite of the Sitecore Publishing Service and deserve kudos for huge gains in publication speed in the new Publishing Service 2.0. The new Publishing Service, developed in .NET Core, is scaleable, transactional and highly efficient even in geographically distributed scenarios. The numbers spoke for themselves, with publishing jobs which would previously taken 5 minutes completing in under 5 seconds.

4. DevOps in the cloud

When you think Sitecore and cloud, you think Azure. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nick Hills from True Clarity described their team’s journey to delivering the EasyJet solution using Amazon Web Services. I’ve always thought about DevOps as a component of the overall project delivery, but it was clear to me that at such a level of scale and resilience described in this case, the DevOps work can almost be a separate project with its own scope, budget and team. To do it properly requires you to build your own “shims and jigs” to manage the infrastructure. Nick gave such examples as 3.5k line PowerShell scripts and standalone deployment configuration applications. And just because you’re hosting in the cloud, don’t take it for granted that you won’t have downtime, blips in service and content freezes!

5. Sitecore Commerce

Since acquiring Commerce Server, Sitecore have been investing heavily in integrating Commerce Server into the Sitecore platform, and re-writing much of the 3.5 million lines of code they inherited, to align it with the Sitecore platform architecture. There are still a few areas which are being worked on, but I really like the direction this product is taking – such as surfacing the product catalogue as first class content items, eligible for personalisation and all the other richness of Sitecore’s digital marketing platform.

To catch up on the rest of the Sitcore community’s activity around the SUGCON event, take a look at the Twitter hashtag or look out for the event videos on the official event website.