Good Times at SUGCON NA 2015

— Traditional New Orleans food & drinks, new Sitecore releases, and an awesome Sitecore community.

Posted: October 15, 2015

SUGCON 2015 Class in Session
A client of Mark Stiles, whom he built an app for using Azure machine learning, speaks at his session, "Sitecore Skunkworks: Personalization Driven by Machine Learning."

Last week we were fortunate to attend the first ever SUGCON North America, held in New Orleans. This event was a community organized, developer-focused Sitecore conference, which welcomed over 350 attendees and 56 Sitecore MVPs. From the welcome reception with traditional New Orleans drinks and cuisine to the closing keynote about what’s next in Sitecore, the event was definitely one to remember!

Here are a few of my favorite tidbits from the event:

The Sitecore Community is Focused & Growing

When I walked into the welcome reception, I was a bit surprised to see so many people (kudos to the organizers) and was excited to meet some of the Sitecore MVPs. As I got to chatting with people, I realized quickly that the community members and MVPs were extraordinarily helpful. Maybe it was the traditional New Orleans’ Sazerac beverages making everybody so talkative, but regardless I was impressed. One of the MVPs, Kam Figy, even released a new version of his Sitecore utility, Unicorn, which is designed to simplify deployment of Sitecore items across environments automatically.

After a fun night of introductions, the next day started with an opening keynote from Sitecore about connecting and engaging users. Their focus is clearly around personalizing user experiences and they do it well. Towards the end of the session, they highlighted the Sitecore End-User Council, which gives end users a great opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions on Sitecore releases.

Sitecore XP 8.1 & The Two Year Roadmap

With the release of Sitecore XP 8.1 we’ll see some new features across different areas of the platform as well as the launch of the cloud version in Microsoft Azure. First, Sitecore will be introducing a new campaign creation tool, Experience Profiles for Commerce and EXM, FXM and Personalization with WFFM, and new SPEAK UI components for developers. Next, there will be continuous improvements in areas such as Experience Analytics (with expanded and improved reporting), content testing, path analyzer, FXM, list manager, and personalization.

Finally, there will be foundation improvements that include new personalization features for the marketing foundation and a CMS-only mode, which allows users to run without xDB. The content foundation will see improvements across SPEAK Core and Business Component Library, Language Fallback and MVC update. Commerce foundation will introduce Azure PaaS support with a simple install/configuration as well as Dynamics AX7 support.

I should note that one exciting special announcement was that Sitecore will focus on supporting the three main versions (7.2, 8.0, and 8.1) and will be doing one new release a month over the next year.

During the conference we also learned about Sitecore’s two year roadmap. As many of you know, Sitecore XP 8.1 will be released in Q4 2015, with another 8.x release slated for mid-2016. Sitecore XP 9 is currently slated to be released in 2017.

Personalization is Key to Website Success

Yes, we’ve all realized it for quite some time, but it’s always good to have a refresher and validation as to why we spend so much effort creating engaging online experiences. As Chris Nash pointed out in the introductory keynote, “websites see a 19% conversion increase when personalization is leveraged.” My favorite parts of these discussions surrounded the customer experience maturity model which showcases the path of attracting, converting, and obtaining advocacy across your customers.

Sitecore Customer Experience Maturity Model
Sitecore’s Customer Experience Maturity Model

But what really got me engaged were the discussions about how to effectively implement personalization. In order to do that, an organization must clearly define the objectives, segments, and goals. Next, they must review the data, create insights, and build journeys where you can customize components, create personalization rules, and deliver in context content.

It Was Great to be a Part of the Community

Overall, the event was a great experience mostly because of the community. My favorite session was the Commerce Panel (which you can read about in Clint’s Recap) where five ecommerce platforms spoke about their products and discussed what set them apart from the others on stage. While there were some jabs, it was obvious that there's a special sense of community and support. I can’t wait for the next event…(hint hint). 

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