Last week our Sitecore Technical Director Steve Shaw attended the latest user group in Leeds to discuss all things Sitecore. Here’s a whistle stop tour of the highlights.
Creating conversations not destinations
The evening kicked off with a run down of a proof-of-concept Chatbot developed during a recent two-day hackathon. The idea was to show how a combination of machine learning, a hotel information management system and Sitecore content can be used to create a tailored experience to users.
Rather than giving visitors the traditional large form with complex arrays of fields to define and filter, the Chatbot showed how customer needs can be discovered and focussed using natural language to give a more engaging experience.
The application was connected to Microsoft Cognitive Services to apply the language learning and used Sitecore to power the responses using its Item API. Long term this could be converted to use the Sitecore JSS services to provide personalisation and further tracking in user responses.
It was a great example of how engineering teams are the key to very quick idea generation and turning them into business value. This showed very clearly how Sitecore is truly ready to power experiences that draw deep from the power offered by the Cloud.
Sitecore Publishing Service (SPS)
After a brief round the room survey it was surprising how few had used SPS. AmazeRealise has been actively recommending the Publishing Service since it first landed a couple of years back.
For anyone that doesn't know, the Sitecore Publishing service replaces the existing in-built publishing process with a better UI which gives a much sleeker publishing experience. Rather than locking up the author’s interface, SPS works by using a queue to create publishing jobs that work in the background which is ideal for those publishing large amounts of content and need to keep working rather than be blocked.
SPS works in transactional batches, meaning should it ever fail for any reason, it can resume gracefully rather than start again. A Publishing Dashboard means you can view the status of the queued jobs and any previous jobs including any that have failed, improving visibility to admins.
The SPS is a stand-alone .NET Core application which was written from the ground up, and it can be scaled up or out as needed.
SPS is really starting to mature and we continue to recommend it for situations where you need better throughput and higher visibility of publishing processes.
Sitecore Powershell Extensions
This talk opened with the bold statement that “Sitecore Powershell Extensions is the best module for Sitecore!”. We were interested to know more.
SPE is an open-source community module that aims to provide a scripting environment for managing and optimising common Sitecore tasks.
A particularly interesting function is the ability to swap out renderings on items in bulk. This can be extremely useful, for example when introducing a site-wide hero banner or new footer component where you don't want to modify every page manually.
There are SPE context menu options which include downloading a tree from the content editor as a package featuring any related layouts, renderings and media items. This process is a fantastic time-saver compared to using the Package Designer interface which requires you to select the appropriate items from various locations.
SPE also contains the ability to produce reports that list Sitecore items matching certain criteria. The example shown (and a common requirement seen on projects) was to show all media images over a certain size – ideal for authors focusing on improving performance by optimising assets that get delivered to the end user.
Finally, and arguably the most useful element of SPE, is the ability to create and save your own scripts essentially as macros. This means once you’ve spent time fine tuning a process you can save it and re-run it on another instance without writing it all again.
As one of Sitecore’s global Platinum Partners, we’re in a great position to advise you on how to get the most out of the platform. Get in touch using the form below to talk about the possibilities.