Sitecore is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of CMS platforms, but its power and flexibility come with a caveat – that flexibility can lead to solutions which are functional, but have inherent structural problems. Over time this can lead to anything from slow page performance to the site completely falling over on what should be a small deployment. This can leave you feeling like you’ve paid for a Rolls Royce but received a Ford Pinto.
We here at Aceik perform a lot of work around auditing third party implementations, analysing and remediating these ‘fires’. We are one of, if not the most technically capable Sitecore specialist agencies in Australia, with two out of the total four Australian Sitecore Technology MVPs in our roster and a 100% project success rate across over 50 engagements. As you can imagine we’ve seen all manner of issues.
With this in mind I thought I’d compile some things we’ve often encountered in our travels and send it to you to see if we can help.
1. Not using the license to its full (or even partial) capability
Easily the most common issue we see is implementations which have been developed in such a way that the powerful analytics, personalisation and workflow capabilities of Sitecore are either not turned on, or outright broken.
Compounding the problem is that often the client doesn’t even know what they are missing! The original Sitecore demonstration of these features may have happened in another time long ago with different stakeholders, and the current marketing team is not aware of the capability at their fingertips.
Ultimately what I tell clients is that if all you want is a fast, slick website then you can achieve that in any myriad of technologies. If you are paying for Sitecore – the ‘Rolls Royce of CMS platforms’ you should be getting bang for your buck and capitalising on the ‘platform’. If you look at the image below, you’ll note that the website is only a tiny part of the platform.
The real value, and what you are ultimately paying for is the ability to track every interaction with your brand, build it into a robust ‘golden record’ of each customer, and then action this information; drive conversions, learn more about your customers, provide them with a better experience and learn where you should spend your marketing dollars.
We guide customers to using their license to the fullest by evaluating where opportunity exists to use Sitecore features, working with them to segment customers and define engagement values and then progressing through a strategy to use that data.
2. Performance Issues
Sitecore features a pretty robust model for caching and squeezing out performance increases – but you have to actually use it! In our experience the caching model Sitecore uses is not well understood by many developers, and encountering a slow website which isn’t actually caching anything is a common occurrence.
My colleague (and Sitecore Technology MVP) Thomas Tyack wrote a great blog on this topic which you can find here.
Outside of this, a lot can be said about developing a site in best practice and understanding the consequences of certain architectural decisions. Something as simple as deciding which method your code will use for retrieving Sitecore items can have dramatic performance costs when users actually start hitting your website. Likewise a deep knowledge of indexing strategies is needed to tune the way search will work to your particular organisation and context.
3. High deployment risks and large cycle times
Another thing we’ve seen time and time again are Sitecore clients that have had so many issues with deployments that what should be an empowering experience – pushing new features to be customer facing, has become a risky, anxious ordeal. One customer hadn’t pushed a feature to their live environment in over a year!
- Sitecore uses what can be a particularly error prone method of configuration so it’s imperative that deployments have:
Appropriate Continuous Integration/Continuous Improvement setup that removes the need for anybody to manually log into Sitecore instances and make manual changes. The environments should be ‘what you see is what you get’ setups with no configuration or infrastructure drift between them. This is probably a good time to plug Aceik Express – our best of breed CICD pipeline we endeavor to use on all projects. Each environment is destroyed and recreated from scratch on deployment so everything deployed is tracked and reproducible
- Business practices in place to empower multiple teams to develop concurrently. This encompasses the structure of the solutions to enable global, reusable components while managing risk around features which have platform wide implications such as Sitecore Pipelines. We also provide guidance as to the best, risk free practices around synchronising content from your live environment back to developers, testing methodology and graceful disaster recovery.
4. Transparency around solution
It’s often said in finance ‘the market can handle good news, it can handle bad news but what it absolutely can’t handle is uncertainty’. So it is with Sitecore development. The platform is so vast, with so many different options for configuration that it is often difficult for clients to have a clear understanding of the state of their implementation. You may be surprised to read this is not even limited to companies without a strong internal Sitecore team. The nature of the platform is such that unless you are developing across many different, varied implementations you may not be across the gotchas and implications around upgrades, integrations and the various technologies which can be used with Sitecore.
For this reason most of our clients engage us with a Technical Account Manager agreement – essentially a pool of hours with a senior architect which the client can use for technical strategic planning around new features, pre-upgrade analysis or just deep dive questions.
Typically we also start our engagements by performing our robust solution audit, a top to bottom investigation of every issue, gotcha and recommendation we have encountered across our cumulative experience with Sitecore. The output of this audit is a prioritised and sized backlog of issues which can blend with your current product backlog and determine dependencies.
Through these two offerings our clients enjoy the clarity to see where they are on their development roadmap, and plan ahead realistically.
I hope this has been food for thought and allowed you to briefly assess where you are on the totem pole of Australian Sitecore implementations. If you think you’re towards the bottom, or even at the top (and want to stay there!) do let us know if we can help.
We have dedicated architects in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and travel interstate frequently to put a friendly face to our Technical Account Managers.
Thanks for your time,
Chief Technical Architect – Aceik.