One of the best things about working with Sitecore is the continual investment that goes into the platform and the significant improvements that come with each release. The platform just gets better and better, adapts to the way people are working and takes advantage of the advances in emerging tech trends such as AI.
The very latest release is Sitecore 9.3 which was released in December 2019. Each release usually involves:
• Making the administration experience easier and better
• Extending the use of the platform, potentially to new market sectors
• Making it more cost effective to operate
• Fixing any bugs
• Making little tweaks and improvements based on user feedback
• Evolving the platform so it is future-proofed
Version 9.3 is another release with some exciting and useful developments, both significant and modest, but all delivering value in some way. Of course, if you upgrade to version 9.3 from an earlier version it may be that you are also not just accessing the features in 9.3 but those from earlier versions, such as 9.0 and onwards.
Here are seven of the new features in Sitecore 9.3 that stand out for us.
1. A brand-new content editing experience
The “big ticket” item in version 9. 3 of Sitecore XP is a new content editing experience that has been redesigned from the ground up. This is branded as “Horizon” and will ultimately replace the Experience Editor, so it is a significant new element in Sitecore.
Horizon is designed to make editing even easier; we think this will help support the decentralization of content marketing with a wider publishing group, allowing central marketing teams to focus on strategy and more value-add activities.
Horizon covers page editing with all the features that you might expect, an overview of analytics and also the ability to preview the content across different devices and screen sizes. There is an extensive use of drag-and-drop and everything is designed to be one click away.
2. Scheduling for marketing automation
Marketing automation is obviously one of the platform’s strengths. The new scheduling features in 9.3 allow teams to better schedule the time that contacts will automatically get enrolled into a particular list that then goes through the automation. The scheduling can be configured very exactly right down to the time of day.
The scheduling helps teams to have even tighter control of their marketing automation processes in an area where precision and timing matter.
3. Better templates for email campaigns
If you’re leveraging Sitecore for email marketing and use the pre-built email templates then the good news is that in 9.3 these have received a bit of love and attention with the addition of three new templates. These include a dedicated announcement template and also one that specifically focuses on one single call to action; we see this being particularly useful for urgent or high-profile campaigns which feature a particular download, for example. There is also a new template (“Alternating Columns”) that can be used for newsletters.
Email marketing is still an important and effective channel when it comes to digital communications, so these new templates are definitely welcome.
4. Improvements to Sitecore Forms
In version 9.3 Sitecore Forms has had a sprinkling of improvements that extend capabilities. These include the ability to publish the form from within the Forms module itself, a standard “Confirm email” field that comes straight out of the box, the leveraging of bot detection so that there is no need to add Captcha to a form and also the ability to send a user to an external URL once a form has been completed. There’s also now the ability to create conditional fields right out of the box, a very useful feature that means you can tailor how a field appears based on a response to another field.
Although these changes don’t sound too significant, when you use Forms the devil is often in the detail, and in our view these enhancements are very welcome in helping teams make a form work in exactly the way they want it too.
5. Blob storage for media files
This small enhancement allows users to store photos, videos and other media assets in Azure that can then be referenced in the media library with all the metadata attached. This both reduces hosting costs (especially for organizations with very large media libraries) but also increases performance.
6. Automated personalization with Sitecore AI
Along with the new editing experience, the other flagship feature bundled into 9.3 is Sitecore AI, a new capability that automates personalization by identifying customer segments based on data and clustering visitors into these segments. Insights are then delivered via a dashboard for each segment. The capabilities within Sitecore AI are expected to evolve in subsequent releases.
Automated personalization is potentially a game changer and dramatically lowers the barrier to entry for personalization which is often considered too time consuming or requires too much effort.
7. Extensions to the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)
Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) is a framework that allows teams to build websites faster and makes it easier to reuse components and templates across different sites. It provides an environment where different roles including front-end developers, designers and content authors can work simultaneously on different aspects.
The 9.3 release sees some very useful enhancements to SXA including:
• A new templating engine based on Scriban
• Improvements to search capabilities with two news components
• The ability to carry out front-end development via a command interface, meaning developers don’t even need to log into Sitecore
Upgrading to Sitecore 9.3?
There are multiple reasons to upgrade to Sitecore 9.3 but every organization should carefully consider when it’s best to upgrade based on their own needs, internal roadmap and budget. If you’d like to discuss upgrading or have questions about any aspect of 9.3 then get in touch.