Sitecore 9 xDB Sharding

Have you ever wondered what is going on with those new Shard databases in Sitecore 9? This is the new xDB! The new Shard Manager stores data based on the contact ID. A contact ID is a GUID identifier that is unique for each contact. It looks something like this:

B9814105-1F45-E611-82E6-34E6D7117DCB

The xDB scales out by splitting these contacts across the various shards based on their contact identifier. A 16-byte hash of the GUID is used and assigned to each shard to ensure distribution.

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New Microsoft Planner Due Date Notifications

A short while ago I wrote about our team’s initial adoption of Microsoft Planner. At the time, we were having issues with the due dates feature because there seemed to be no way to view our schedule. A few months later, we ran into another issue with due dates. The complaint? Users were not being notified when their content was due. Since the team was not looking at the plan every day, and had no way to view a schedule, tasks were getting lost and we were having to work around this issue in other ways. What could we do?

As I spent some time after a team meeting discussing this, I discovered Microsoft had actually started development on this feature. As of January 16th, all users now have access! With this feature, you now get emails in your inbox reminding you of tasks that have expired as well as upcoming tasks.

planner_tasks

This was exactly the functionality we needed to make sure the team was reminded about the items that were coming up on their plate.

Bonus: Schedule view

The new Schedule view also gives us a calendar view of our tasks based on due dates. This will make reviewing upcoming tasks even eaiser so we can visualize the distribution of tasks over time. Sometimes, as we reschedule late tasks, we can wind up with too many tasks all clumped together and this is a good way for us to find those clusters.

A good start! I’m looking forward to seeing Microsoft continue to invest in this tool and bring it up to par with others in the field.

 

Scaling Sitecore 9.0 XP Services

The blog here has been a little quiet lately as I have started moving to creating content on the corporate site. I wanted to share something I worked on and has been posted on the Community blogs.

Here you go: Scaling Sitecore xConnect and XP Services architecture

In the linked blog you’ll get a brief overview but primarily you’ll get access to the video content I’ve created to help you understand the new Sitecore 9.0 services and how to scale them!

Continuous Improvement for Sitecore DevOps

Did you miss out on my Montreal SUG presentation a few weeks back? Not to worry, I got your back!

I recorded a run-through of my presentation and uploaded it so you can hear my thoughts on how we can continuously improve and invest in DevOps practices for our Sitecore projects. It’s not exactly what was in Montreal, but close enough ūüôā

Want more? Come hear the Effective DevOps for Sitecore panel at Symposium 2017 on Wednesday, October 18th, at 11:15am. I’ll be moderating panelists Kam Figy, Derek Hunziker, and Joe Bissol. Great panel, great content!

Microsoft Planner – The task tracker we deserve

For years, I have been a dedicated user of Trello as you may have seen in some blog posts. Recently, however, my team has been using O365 and Microsoft Teams in an effort to push Teams to its limit and get the most out of the integrations Microsoft has put together between all their tools.

In this case, I needed the ability to get some planning put together for a content calendar, so in came Microsoft Planner. Built right into O365, I was able to get started quickly and start assigning tasks. However, I quickly learned that this tool was the hero we deserve, not the hero we need.

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Sitecore + SOLR + SSL

When you are doing local Sitecore development, you might need to setup a local SOLR instance to host your indexes. This is especially important if your project isn’t using Lucene indexes in production and you need to replicate the environment. When replicating production for troubleshooting, it is also useful to replicate the security setup as well, including SSL.

In this article, I’ll cover how you can take your SOLR installation and get it running on HTTPS in 11 easy steps!

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Continuous Improvement for Customer Engagement

Sitecore’s Customer Experience Maturity Model has been around for a while and it is still as relevant today as it was when it was first released. The model helps a team to understand where they are right now and where they could possibly be with customer engagement.

However, it isn’t easy to keep improving. I’ve written a lot in the past about using baby steps to continuously improve your software delivery. The same is true for marketing efforts. As teams we often focus on big-bang improvements: a new redesign, content re-work,¬†big integrations to our back-end systems to better leverage our digital assets. All of this is awesome work to get us started.

Unfortunately, it often stops there. We lose the momentum to keep iterating and improving on how we engage with our customers. We need to have a plan that will allow for small incremental changes to our content and marketing automation. This ensures that we can give customers a better experience and ultimately help them with their problems.

How do we increment?

  1. Analytics.¬†First off, we need to be tracking data. Whatever your analytics platform, make sure you know what’s happening on your site. Also, if you are using Sitecore xDB, make sure you have your xDB tracking enabled. You’ll need that data in the xDB for later steps.
  2. Content Tagging. Learning about visits is great, but we need to know more about what type of content engage people. Start by adding a few tags so you can get a baseline to learn about user behaviour.
  3. A/B and Multivariate testing. Once we have learned a little about the types of content our visitors view, we can start focusing on which variations of content are working for our visitors. This testing will greatly inform further improvements we make to the site. Keep it small, just a few tests so you can manage it.
  4. Personalization. Add a few rules-based personalizations into your website based on what you are seeing from analytics and results of testing. Again, focus on some big win personalizations: a hero banner, or a call-to-action button. Sitecore can even suggest personalizations based on analysis of your tests.
  5. Engagement Levels and Campaigns. At this point, we should be learning enough about our customers to start determining their engagement and moving them through a campaign. Our personalizations should start becoming less rules-based and more about where they are in our engagement level. Leverage your calls-to-action!
  6. Omni-channel. Start reaching out to your customers in different ways. Add a mobile app. Tap into your onsite kiosk. Develop email campaigns. Build a game app to complement your messaging. Keep making iterative improvements to add more sources to feed information back to your central xDB data. How can we reach the customer in a new way?
  7. Machine learning.¬†At a certain point in the continuous improvement cycle, the data is just getting too big to handle by hand. Automation is required to process the information and look for trends. Microsoft Cognitive Services is one way to start adding some intelligence to the mix! You can read more on machine learning Sitecore’s “The Mind in the Machine” series.
  8. Learn. At this point, we probably need to take a moment to learn about what worked well and what didn’t.¬†Time¬†to improve our tests and personalization¬†with the new information¬†we have!

Want to see the original Customer Experience Maturity Model information? Check out the full PDF doc here:

Sitecore Customer Experience Maturity Model

Swimming against the waterfall…