My first Sitecore conference in over 8 years of Sitecore development, so it was long overdue! 

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend the SUGCON event in the wonderful city of Amsterdam, thanks to Kamruz Jaman who found me a spare ticket the day before the conference. This was my first Sitecore conference in over 8 years of Sitecore development, so it was long overdue!

The lineup was promising and focused on things we are pursuing with a vengeance here at Valtech.  With talks on Helix, Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) and Sitecore Azure, I was keen to learn more and the only problem was that I couldn’t see them all!

Day 1

Sitecore co-founder Lars Fløe Nielsen delivered the keynote but more importantly was the guinea pig while Pieter Brinkman and Mark van Alast demonstrated a SXA site built in three weeks. Lars donned a HoloLens, displaying an augmented reality view of the earth, with Sitecore user group locations superimposed. Super impressive!



A futuristic Showcase of the Omni-Channel Capabilities of Sitecore XP


Bas Litjen & Rob Habraken

Bas and Rob showcased “Robbie” a homemade robot running Windows 10 IoT Core. Robbie comprised of a Raspberry Pi, a camera, servos and LED matrices. Not your typical Sitecore integration project! This used the Windows Media Face Recognition API and LUIS (Language Understanding Intelligent Service) to recognise faces and interpret spoken commands. So how does this relate to a CMS? Connecting this to Sitecore Experience Platform (XP), enabled facial identification of users in the XP database.

Using SpecFlow to Drive your Test Automation

Nathanael Mann - Freelance Sitecore Consultant

Nathanael demonstrated Behaviour Driven Testing (BDT) using SpecFlow. This produces tests that run in .NET code from human-readable test specifications. This could be something like “does the page have a call to action in the sidebar”. One problem of unit testing is that you can have high-test coverage, but still have a failing or unreliable site. BDT tests the end functionality, which is most important to the user.

Day 1 - Closing Ceremony

Pieter Brinkman - Sitecore

The first day concluded with the Hackathon and MVP awards. I was honoured to receive the Sitecore Technology MVP award for the second year. What struck me was the number of MVPs in the Sitecore community. Over 250 across Cloud, Commerce, Digital Strategy and Technology. This is one of the great strengths of Sitecore; the community. You never need struggle for long with a technical problem, as there are always experts out there ready to help.

Day 2

What’s New in Publishing Service V2.0

Stephen Pope - Sitecore

The publishing service has been around for about a year and is proving to be very useful. In the past publishing was rather slow. Seeing this shrink from hours (or days) to a few seconds (or minutes) is a testament to some amazing work. Stephen gave a fascinating talk, explaining the history of the Sitecore APIs and how they circumvented them! The publishing service uses .NET Core, the next-generation, open source .NET framework.

Glass Mapper - Things that I really should have documented

Mike Edwards - Freelance Sitecore Consultant and creator of Glass Mapper

Glass Mapper is an Object Relational Mapping (ORM) framework for Sitecore. Mike, its creator, demonstrated some of the latest features. He listed anti-patterns, how to avoid them and many tips to reduce boilerplate code. One interesting point was the idea of multiple Glass Mapper contexts. This is useful for large teams and multi-site Sitecore instances. This benefits Helix solutions where you can use separate contexts for each module.

Sitecore on Microsoft Azure PaaS

Christof Claessens - Microsoft

Christof is a Sitecore Cloud MVP from Microsoft. He mentioned that Azure is now used by around 90% of Fortune 500 companies. A testament to how the hosting landscape is changing.

Sitecore 8.0 and 8.1 needed an on premise (or VM) Sitecore instance with the Azure module installed. This pushed web-root files to Azure. It’s now possible to set up an instance of Sitecore within the Azure portal, without any coding or other admin work. This handles the setup of the WebApp and SQL databases. Solution code is deployed using WebDeploy packages. This is no more than a few clicks in Visual Studio. This is a big help when setting up several environments for a CI system. Solutions can now reference Sitecore module packages, so they don’t need to be part of the solution. This solves the old dilemma of whether to embed third party modules in a solution or install them by hand.

The roadmap for Sitecore Azure is pretty interesting with upcoming enhancements to App Insights and the introduction of ARM (Azure Resource Manager) templates. These will cover Sitecore Commerce, EXM (Email eXperience Manager) and some modules from the Sitecore Marketplace. Also in the pipeline is support for Docker containers. This could simplify configuration as well as ensuring consistency across environments.

Extending SXA with Custom Components

Adam Najmanowicz - Sitecore & Mark Van Alast - Sitecore

Adam is a longstanding Sitecore MVP and creator of SXA. Out of the box, Sitecore is a framework for building sites. Developers build templates and renderings for each project. The absence of standard components surprises some people. SXA addresses this with 80+ components and enhanced functionality in the presentation layer. It features drag and drop design, page designs, partial designs, components and rendering variants. SXA enables rapid website development. You design your site in wireframe mode. Export static HTML, CSS and JavaScript for front-end development, then import the updated CSS as a theme.

Sitecore & JavaScript Finally in Love!

Alex Shyba - Sitecore & Adam Weber - Sitecore

This was a demonstration of Sitecore as a headless CMS with ReactJS for the presentation layer. This allows front end developers to build JSX components without Sitecore. A custom layout service generates Sitecore items from the JSX components. This could be a huge productivity gain by freeing front end developers from the constraints of Sitecore.

The Sitecore Philosophy

Jeppe Grue - Sitecore

Jeppe hinted at the future of Sitecore, including OData, .NET core and microservices. They will adopt Angular JS within the client. I'm looking forward working with AngularJS as it will simplify UI enhancement and customisation.

Pluggable services are a hot topic. Examples are Data Exchange Framework, Commerce Connect and CRM Connect. They standardise integration with third party systems, following established architectural patterns. This allows swapping e.g. a Dynamics CRM connector for a salesforce one, without a re-write.

New too is the Sitecore Express Migration Tool. It allows upgrading to the latest version in a single step. It includes analysis tools to highlight breaking changes. Current support is for 6.6 -> 8.2 and 7.2 -> 8.2. Other manifest files will become available in time supporting more versions.

Final Thoughts

I would recommend SUGCON to anyone interested in Sitecore. There were some excellent presentations. My only ask; make a rating system for the talks so we know the intended audience level. It was great to meet like-minded people, connect with former work colleagues and meet some of my fellow Valtech-ers from the Netherlands!

If you’re sad you missed out watch the videos found here: