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Six Sitecore Strategies for 2021 & Beyond – Part 1

Dean Thrasher

Head of Sitecore Practice, EPAM
Blog

The disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic raised the priority of many organizations' digital transformation efforts. This shift has accelerated several important technological trends and has brought back, and even elevated, customer experience-oriented themes into the focus.

In this first of a two-part blog series, we explore three leading-edge technology solutions that have catapulted into the mainstream and how Sitecore technology is harnessing them. 

1. Decoupled Digital Systems

Decoupling is a strategy in software architecture and code to separate concerns. By splitting features and functions into logically or physically separate routines, you can evolve these pieces of a system or program independently. This often improves scalability and maintenance and helps reduce dependencies, which can speed up delivery and accelerate time-to-market.

When it comes to Sitecore Experience Platform™, this means adopting the two-stack content management system (CMS) so you can develop the management application separately from the content delivery application. After all, the point of optimized content management is to allow for the reuse of content, but that shouldn’t necessarily imply that you reuse the code to deliver that content. There are many reasons why you might want to tailor experiences for specific devices and specific purposes. For example, while both a website and a mobile app might present information about your store, customers on a mobile device may be on the go. Customers using the app may be looking to find driving directions or pickup times more often than looking for product information. Or consider an app used to control various smart devices around your house. Although the app might reference the same product content the brand’s online store does, customers might need specific features on their app to control their devices that they wouldn’t need on a company website.

The most extreme form of this can be found in the new wave of headless CMS providers. These focus on the management and administration of content using well-defined APIs, but the ‘head’ of the CMS—the consumer-facing application—is all up to you. Sitecore is taking a less extreme approach, providing a site scaffold compatible with the three most popular front-end frameworks: React, Vue and Angular. They also provide npm packages that enable advanced features like analytics, preview and editing modes. By providing these components, Sitecore allows you to rapidly develop a ‘head’ for your sites that supports the advanced features your content marketing teams need. Whether the best fit for your requirements is a truly headless platform or a decoupled one like Sitecore, it will serve as the guiding principle behind today’s digital application architectures.

2. Cloud-Native Architecture

Many executives tasked with cloud migration initiatives for their organization have been surprised to find the benefits of moving to cloud hosting were not what they expected. If you treat the cloud simply as ‘someone else’s data center,’ you won’t reduce costs, improve scalability or experience the other improvements that cloud migration offers. To reap the benefits, you must redesign your systems to take advantage of the flexibility that cloud architectures provide. ‘Lift and shift’ is just a first step.

This applies not only to your own organization’s systems but to many of the software platforms and services you’ve relied on. Sitecore is rapidly moving to a cloud-native Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. By designing your enterprise systems as loosely connected, independent services, you can adapt to this emerging ecosystem. Ultimately, this means less code to create and maintain your system and more configuration and integration.

Sitecore Content Hub™ is already a cloud-native, SaaS application. And in early 2021, Sitecore will launch Sitecore Experience Edge for headless content delivery at scale. Sitecore Experience Edge enables JAMstack architecture for Content Hub as well as Sitecore Experience Manager™, bringing the benefits of increased scale and improved performance to your sites.  

3. Microservices & API-first Development

API-first development underpins the first two themes. By separating concerns into distinct domain services—each with its own API contracts—you improve re-usability and add flexibility to your systems. These small web services can then be scaled and tuned for performance independently of one another. This style of application architecture, as seen below, is a natural fit for cloud-native approaches.

As its name implies, an API-first approach starts with the interface or service contract. From the point of view of a person or system that uses the API, the underlying technology is unimportant if it gets the job done. Adhering to the API can allow organizations to upgrade or replace systems without disrupting the rest of the enterprise. Designing the API first places the emphasis on the business function of the API while allowing technology teams the flexibility to determine how to build and maintain the system that delivers it.

Per the below diagram, you’ll see that Sitecore has adapted to this trend by introducing new APIs to products and standardizing on GraphQL as a common foundation for retrieving content. With these APIs in place, Sitecore has started innovating ‘under the hood’ to tease apart its tightly-integrated Experience Platform into independently scalable services. The work began a few years ago with Sitecore Publishing Service and XConnect, and continues today. This shift allows Sitecore to fit into your overall enterprise service architecture alongside your other critical systems, making it easier to manage and integrate.

Conclusion

These three technology trends mutually reinforce each other. Decoupling will lead you to make smaller, more focused applications and services. Standardizing the APIs will allow these services to be consumed by—and composed into—new offerings, and cloud-native architecture will allow these pieces to flex to meet demand and performance targets.

By adapting its platform to meet these trends, Sitecore plays a vital role in your enterprise IT ecosystem, allowing you to manage and deliver content across all your sites and applications. Stay tuned for our second blog where we will discuss how the shift to digital touchpoints for consumers affects marketing and customer experience.

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