Sitecore 9.1

Sitecore 9.1
15th January 2019

Upgrading to the latest Sitecore version has many benefits. However, failing to upgrade could be risky. Uncover what’s new with Sitecore 9.1 and what happens when businesses choose not to upgrade

If you’ve been with the Sitecore platform for a while you’re probably aware that it’s an evolving software that has grown to be a trusted web experience platform worldwide.

The 2008 release of Sitecore 6 shared the beginnings of web experience management. Since then, Sitecore has gifted us with cloud deployment models, omnichannel digital experiences and more recently machine learning capabilities with the recent Sitecore 9 release.

Features like Sitecore Cortex are already helping organisations to get closer to their customers and to create personalised user experiences.

Upgrading to Sitecore 9.1

You might be asking yourself, ‘if we’ve got Sitecore 9, is it worth upgrading to Sitecore 9.1?’. The chances are, if you’ve already been using your existing set up to its full potential and are ready to take your marketing and customer experience up another notch, then yes.

Digital marketing has done a lot of growing up in the past decade and Sitecore has been there for the whole journey, helping enterprise level organisations to reshape their marketing output and move through digital transformation. One of the biggest shifts in the Sitecore 9 release was the move towards reducing reliance on front-end developers and giving more powers to marketing teams.

Sitecore 9.1 continues that vision of empowerment for marketers and builds on some of the features in Sitecore 9 to take digital marketing into a new league.

In a nutshell, Sitecore 9.1 allows developers to integrate and deploy experiences quickly using JavaScript without relying on backend or .NET expertise. Marketers have access to the new Sitecore Omni feature, which gives the powers to test, aggregate and optimise experiences in real-time. This extends to headless applications such as Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR).

What’s new with Sitecore 9.1?

Organisations that are ready to revolutionise how they create unique customer experiences won’t want to miss out on these new features.

  • Truly headless – We’ve discussed Sitecore as a headless CMS previously, but with the 9.1 release its now available on a wider scale to agencies and JS developers. Javascript pros can now develop and deploy digital experiences, whether they’re working in-house or at an agency. This update is perfect for organisations that want a manageable, self-contained JS bundle that’s quick to deliver.
  • Sitecore Omni – Sitecore’s Universal Tracker retains data on and offline as a visitor moves across different channels or devices to create a seamless user experience.
  • Machine learning – Sitecore Cortex can be used for automated personalisation recommendations, content tagging and for additional integrations. Marketing teams can tag people places, event and facts within content accurately to maximise SEO marketing results and to continuously learn more about their customers.
  • Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SxA) – If your organisation has a need for speed without the development resource, this is a game changer. SxA enables content teams to design, build and deploy content across channels easily. Reduce your time to market with pre-built components, mobile first layouts and dynamic wireframes.
  • Data Exchange Framework – Version 9.1 allows you to easily push and pull data between third-party systems. DEF is Sitecore’s toolbox for automating these processes and provides the infrastructure code for reading and writing common data like Sitecore items or SQL database rows. With Sitecore 9.1 users can reduce cost, time and custom development for building integration processes.
  • Cloud integration – Along with many other bits of well-established software, Sitecore is on a bit of an architectural journey. The old model of “your software is one big monolithic thing” worked ok when most deployments were one or two servers in your own data centre. However, as your software grows it becomes harder to maintain.

The push to cloud infrastructure and automated scaling across many small servers to meet customer demands becomes harder to manage. Sitecore are in the process of breaking off sensible pieces of their overall product so that they can run on separate servers. That allows users to scale small pieces of the software (i.e if you have more users today, run more Content Delivery servers) more easily and more automatically.

Sitecore 9 took a step towards this goal by moving much of the analytics measurement and processing out of the core of the Sitecore CMS and into new xConnect services.Version 9.1 continues this trend by upgrading some of the low-level infrastructure used to run these separate services. And by moving Sitecore’s user authentication system into a new separate identity service.

This supports a single sign on (SSO) model so that as more features move to separate services, users need log in only once to access features on different services. This supports both editors (in the future they’ll be able to log on to the new DAM UI from StyleLabs, or the “Horizon” shiny-new-content-editing-ui preview that’s coming soon) and internet users who might need SSO across a range of public websites. This potentially includes ordinary Sitecore sites and JSS-based ones that are largely disconnected from the traditional Sitecore Content Deployment process.

Support – Each new release of Sitecore gets a new support window, this release will have mainstream support until the end of 2021. At Kagool we offer Sitecore support and training with a guaranteed fix time.

This is also the second release to have Sitecore’s Upgrade Centre tool (it appeared in v9.0u2). This is a friendly UI for finding, downloading and applying patches and hotfixes for Sitecore. It should make the process of keeping your installation up to date easier in the future.

What happens when you don’t upgrade?

The most serious issue with falling behind with new versions one is that patches and updates can contain crucial security fixes. The threats that a publicly facing website faces are constantly evolving, so staying on old versions can leave your site vulnerable to security risks.

These updates will also include bug fixes and performance enhancements which will make the software better overall. It’s important to remember that versions of Sitecore have a fixed support lifetime (Usually ~3 years for mainstream support, ~6 for extended support). If you sit on the same version for too long you will eventually stop having the option of applying security fixes and getting support from Sitecore.

Another risk is that old versions will fall behind in features and technology. The exciting new features listed in the document have all been added into new releases over recent years and if you don’t upgrade you lose out on new features. Users that upgrade can gain a competitive advantage. Upgrading extracts additional value from your investment in the Sitecore platform.

Aside from these crucial issues the upgrade can save valuable time and aid collaboration between administrators. In principle upgrading is similar to keeping a household cupboard organised. A tidy cupboard encourages good housekeeping, if you regularly have a clear out, you only keep the things you need to best keep your house in order and buy new, in date, improved products. Keeping your software upgraded has the same maintenance principle. Keep updated or you risk accumulating old stuff over time is unusable and has a negative impact on the overall house.

Find out more about Sitecore 9.1

Awarded Sitecore Platinum Partner status in 2016, our teams have the experience and expertise available to answer your questions about upgrading to Sitecore 9.1. With more Sitecore Most Valued Professionals (MVPs) than any other UK agency, we’re the best people to help you with your Sitecore projects and share our knowledge about the latest developments in Sitecore. Contact us today to talk through your requirements, we’d love to help.