Jackie (Jacqueline Baxter, Digital Strategist): Welcome to our live chat, where we will be discussing the existential question that plagues us all...What is Sitecore??? That's as good a place to start as any. How do you describe Sitecore generally when people ask?
Ele (Eleanor Palmer, Solutions Developer): I tell friends it's a content management system to the power of ten.
Jackie: I admit to falling back on the "it's a digital experience and content management system" - I may have to steal yours, Ele! Seems less likely to make people wish they'd never invited me to their party.
David (David Opp, Solutions Developer): I like to try and use metaphors. We don't create the painting we create the paintbrush's so that our clients can paint whatever they want. Hope that was colorful enough for you... pun intended.
Jackie: I use a car metaphor sometimes; I say that Sitecore is like a Corvette, except you don't get a pre-assembled Corvette. You get a box of parts and build your own Corvette. Which is ideal because not everyone wants the same Corvette with the same styling and accessories. Still, I think going a little more technical is worthwhile.
Derek: Defining Sitecore is difficult because it's constantly evolving and improving. Even with the Corvette example, one could argue SXA provides some basic parts that most Corvette owners will want on their cars.
Jackie: I think that's why it's hard for people (especially people who might be considering Sitecore) to get a handle on it. Sitecore is a lot of things. It has digital marketing tools, it's a pretty robust content management system (CMS), it has Experience Manager and the Experience Database...
Elena: These metaphors could probably be applied to any content management system in existence...I think what defines Sitecore is that it's not only a CMS, but a complete platform that brings web development, marketing, analytics and digital strategy together (or a Corvette that can also cook you dinner and tuck you in at night?)
Derek: The way I like to describe it is that there are levels of Sitecore, starting with the base CMS, which is also known as Experience Management (XM). From there, you can step up to the Experience Platform (XP) to add a slew of Marketing capabilities. Lastly, there is Experience Commerce (XC) which adds a comprehensive e-commerce platform. Everything else either comes OOTB (like EXM does in v9+), or is an add-on module. To Elena's point, it's all under one platform, which I think is pretty unique.
David: Do its best features get smothered under all of that?
Derek: It's an interesting question. I think one of the main strengths of Sitecore is that it IS all under one platform (Gartner seems to agree with this assessment). I think Sitecore is doing a good job of architecting each piece as an extensible service that you can use or not use. They are doing it in a way that does not limit scalability or create overhead.
Jackie: Exactly - the option not to use certain things is key. Not using part of Sitecore doesn't break the rest of it.
David: Yeah, Sitecore does a good job segmenting its offerings.
Jackie: Sitecore also works best when foundational pieces are laid down correctly, and it's not always immediately clear what those pieces are or how important they are. That's where a partner comes in, because they know those things (or should!)
Derek: [cough] Engagement Value. Jackie, did I read your mind just then?
Jackie: WOW! You're psychic! :) EV is something I personally feel pretty strongly about. But it’s not the only thing that falls in that category.
Derek: I would add things like defining custom Dimensions that align with KPIs up front, workflows, security, and roles to that list.
Jackie: Returning to the subject David touched on, what are some of the features of Sitecore that are especially beneficial to users? I'm fond of SXA. I think it makes it easier to build and iterate Sitecore websites, especially for users who aren't familiar with Sitecore.
Ele: I like the new Sitecore 9 forms. xDB is also pretty rad for marketers. It's useful; they can keep track of information of users that visit their site, which they can then use for personalization of content displayed. It allows you to customize the facets on your contacts too. So you can keep track of stuff like what users are downloading (keeping it attached to that particular user) and send that info off to wherever you need to.
Derek: The new Marketing Automation is really powerful when combined with EXM. There are some interesting nurture possibilities there which are within reach for most organizations.
Jackie: Are there things about Sitecore that you all, as developers, think are unique or especially useful?
Derek: First and foremost, it's extensibility. One way to describe that is that "Sitecore is built on Sitecore". Every menu item, option, or feature usually has "hooks", or ways to adjust its behavior. Sitecore's pipeline architecture provides a way to supplement functionality where it's needed. I don't think I could say the same for other platforms I've worked with.
David: I would agree with that. Super powers make super heroes and super villains - just depends how you use them.
Derek: Agreed - it's important to anticipate how customizations will be impacted by future upgrades and develop them in a way that can withstand change.
Ele: Sitecore Powershell extensions! Great for migrating content.
Elena: What David and Derek said is spot on. Sitecore is a platform, not a solution, so the solution developer here has full reign. With other platforms you do have a lot more constraints. That freedom is double-edged as they've pointed out. Thankfully, the Sitecore development community is like an encyclopedia on what to do and not do.