The Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON) - Europe 2023
SUGCON 2023 was held on 23-24 March in the beautiful and sunny Malaga in Spain. SUGCONs are the most anticipated events of the year for developers. Lots of technical focused sessions along with an opportunity to meet and connect with the greats from the Sitecore world. General sessions took place throughout the day and break-out sessions paralleled these sessions. The breakout sessions were divided into three specific tracks - XM Cloud, Path to composable and Marketing track. The biggest problem though is choosing which ones to attend as all of them are enlightening and enriching! In this blog I’ll take you through my two inspiring days.
Day 1 – opening keynote by Steve Tzikakis (Sitecore CEO) and Dave O’Flanagan (Sitecore’s Chief Product Officer)
And the show began. We were warmly welcomed by Dave and Steve (virtual), they were delighted to see all the enthusiastic faces in the room. Steve says that thanks to the Sitecore team and community, Sitecore has grown 2 to 3 times compared to their rivals. He mentioned that there are around 40,000 active Sitecore developers and he sees the number going up to 100,000 over the next couple of years. Unfortunately, Dave didn't have a new product to show, but he said they were ahead of the market in launching all the products they've launched over the past 2 years as the market is still catching up. He mentioned that they have grouped their SaaS offerings into 3 -/models-:
- Content Cloud will focus on content and will have the products; Content Hub, Content Hub One, XM Cloud.
- Engagement Cloud will have the products CDP and Personalize, Send, Search, Connect.
- Commerce Cloud will have OrderCloud and Discover.
He went through the products one by one and gave a brief introduction to what they had to offer. It was great to hear him say that while they could launch the products they did, they couldn’t market the products properly. There is a gap between the estimated value and the actual value of the products. They are working on bridging this gap by creating better documentation, use cases and business scenarios to create more compelling stories for better adoption.
Furthermore, there were some important announcements:
- Sitecore XP continues, and version 10.4 is in development (should be released soon).
- Content Hub 4.3 will be released soon, and it will be the latest version.
- Sitecore is focusing on building deep connectors to connect the different SaaS products.
- Forms for XM Cloud are in progress and will be released soon.
- They are building a developer experience for XM Cloud to accelerate productivity and better adoption.
Breakout session 1: Life on the Edge with Vercel and Next.js
In the next session given by Javi Velasco (Tech Lead at Vercel), he discussed the importance of having a fast, dynamic, and agile website to meet the expectations of modern customers. He cited studies showing that even a fraction of a second can significantly impact on conversion rates, and that customers expect personalized interactions. He further discussed the challenge of meeting these expectations when constrained by legacy technology decisions, which may force companies to prioritize between features. He suggests that with newer, composable technologies, businesses no longer must make such compromises and can have a fast, dynamic, and agile website without sacrificing team agility or incurring significant infrastructure costs. He introduced Vercel, a serverless front-end infrastructure company that provides developers with tools to build dynamic web applications quickly and efficiently. He highlights the popularity of Next.js, Vercel's React framework, which provides data fetching, image optimization, and other features to help developers create fast, dynamic, and agile web applications.
Breakout session 2: Search Success Stories with Sean Carter and Peter Navarra
Sean (Head of Sitecore Development at Sagittarius) and Peter (Vice President at SearchStax) discussed the challenges of creating a search solution that meets the diverse requirements of customers from different industries. For example, the key requirements for an E-commerce site differ from those of an educational site. They highlighted consistency, efficiency, backups, disaster recovery, and scaling as the top challenges in setting up an administrator for search. The SearchStax solution is a cloud-based SaaS product that is fully scalable and is easy to work with. Pete discussed the product SearchStax Studio that provides personalized search experiences on websites. Search Studio enables fine-tuning of search results to ensure that end-users receive highly personalized and relevant search results.
Breakout session 3: Accelerate website builds with Headless SXA and XM Cloud with Martin Miles
This session by Martin (Sitecore Solution Architect at Perficient) covered everything about XM Cloud.To name a few he talked about the advantages, limitations, updates, upgrades, Sitecore Pages, Sitecore Portal, the subscription pricing model. The limitations included:
- no headless forms;
- limit of 50MB per media library item in Experience Edge;
- need for external search implementation;
- five regions currently supported;
- more manual work needed to build gated content on the website.
The benefits included:
- no Sitecore upgrades needed;
- refreshed tech stack;
- easier change adoption;
- easier for front-end developers.
He covered webhooks, Experience Edge and local development with containers. As mentioned before, this session covered everything there is to know about XM Cloud from a beginner’s standpoint, what, why and how of XM Cloud with great tips as well. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to demo due to lack of time.
Breakout session 4: Hacking Sitecore with Thomas Stern
Thomas (Architect at Pentia) talked about security, vulnerability and CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures). The session was hands-on, where he demonstrated his ability to hack into the host machine using one-liner PowerShell scripts either running from within Sitecore or remotely. An important point that he mentioned was even CVEs with low score could be a critical vulnerability so we should not just go by the score. The scripts were executed in a Sitecore instance where the Security Hardening guide had been applied, which showed that modified Sitecore environment may not always be secure. The session was kind of an eye opener as to how easy it can be to hack into systems even with all the security checks in place.
Roy Vousten (Software Engineer at Iquality) says: "in this session it was very interesting to see that an up-to-date Sitecore instance, with all the recommended security patches, could still relatively simple (by using off the shelf solutions) be vulnerable for RCE (Remote Code Execution), to demo this he remotely opened the famous “Windows Calculator” on the target system under the “System” user. This could also be used for more evil actions. Security in a composable architecture is ever more important as there are more ‘Entry points’ and a more diverse list of technologies and must be integrated in the DevOps loop."
Breakout session 5: Creating a custom module for Sitecore XM Cloud
Ruud (Technical Director at Human Digital) showed three possible ways in which one could create custom module for XM Cloud;
- creating a custom package,;
- reating a custom Docker/container image;
- creating a Nuget package.
Furthermore, he showed us implementations for each one of them and how the first two methods were not viable for XM Cloud. Through this session, Ruud paved the way on how to add custom modules for XM Cloud implementations. He also had a great tip on having an empty project specific for deploying custom configuration files and settings.
Community, mentorship, Awards Ceremony and Special Appearance
For day one, the technical sessions came to an end. It was time for a session on the Sitecore Community and mentorship by Jacqueline Baxter (Senior Digital Strategist at Sitecore) and Nicole Montero (Community Marketing Specialist at Sitecore). They discussed the importance of the Sitecore Community and the way it has been growing over the years. Also, they talked about the Sitecore Mentorship program, which was started last year, and the way an existing Sitecore MVP could become a mentor for an aspirant Sitecore MVP mentee helping them to contribute their learnings and spreading knowledge. Unfortunately, the Sitecore MVP awards could not be distributed due to a logistic issue. There was a special performance by Rodrigo Peplau (Country Head at Arke) and Sebastian Winter (Senior Solution Architect at Sitecore). They rocked the stage singing songs with lyrics transformed into Sitecore related terms. It was a nice wrap to an eventful day for me.
Day 2 - Content Hub ONE Insights with Ezgi Göçücü and Hande Bodart
On day 2 we started with a very informative session about Content Hub ONE. Ergi (Principal Product Manager at Sitecore) and Hande (Senior Product Owner at Sitecore) discussed on the improvements coming in the next releases of Content Hub ONE such as bulk editing, publishing, deleting of media items, pulling data from one tenant, pushing it to another using Sitecore CLI and creating reference items on the fly. A key feature discussed was the ability to preview a website’s content, which is currently not possible. The point raised by Dave about the gap between the true value of a product, in this case Content Hub ONE, and its perceived value came up. Sitecore is working on documentation and marketing to bridge this gap and gain better adoption.
Breakout session 1: Migrating advanced Sitecore implementations to XM Cloud
Rob (Technical Director at IO) discussed the challenges and solutions of migrating an advanced Sitecore XP solution to XM Cloud – and shared tips on ways of working locally. I found this session very helpful, he did a great job in breaking down the complexities involved in the migrating proces into four major steps:
- Assessment – Gap analysis, taking of stock of what we must need, breakdown of customizations.
- Preparation – Transforming current architecture, moving out business logic to a composable product.
- Rework front-end – Remove customizations, custom content resolvers, using GraphQL and creating new renderings if needed. Even introducing new framework if required.
- Migration – Setting up the new solution based on XM Cloud Foundation Head and carrying out the actual migration process.
Breakout session 2: Headless Rendering 101 with Mike Edwards
Mike (Technical Director at Konabos) demystified the latest concepts and the options available in building a rendering in the headless composable world. Some of the concepts he touched upon were Static Site Generations (SSG), Server-Side Renderings (SSR), Increment Static Generation (ISR), Partial Hydration, Progressive Hydration, and Island Architecture. He also talked about the term “uncanny valley” which is basically a page load state where the page is visible but not yet fully loaded. A user is not able to access the interactive elements of the page.
Johann Mey (Front-end Developer at Iquality) tells about this session: “It was very interesting to find out that there were so many different techniques to consider when deciding how to render your website, a lot of which I have never heard of or considered. He also referred to a study in which it was found that an increase of 0.1 seconds of loading time can result in an 8% increase in ecommerce conversions, whilst also heavily influencing customer satisfaction when using your website. This made me realize the importance of investigating all possibilities to increase the load times of the websites which I am working on”.
3 quick but in-depth 15-minute sessions
Mini session 1: Grappling with the Many Heads of Headless with Chris Sulham.
Mini session 2: Monitoring your Sitecore Content Hub solution using APM tools with Timothy Marsh.
Timothy (Solution Architect at EPAM) compared the differences between SaaS and Non-SaaS products and how to incorporate a monitoring tool in a SaaS product like Sitecore Content Hub. He shared in detail the steps required to integrate Application Insights into Content Hub using Google Tag Manager.
Mini session 3: What is Flexibility Over Features Philosophy in Sitecore OrderCloud Architecture with Himadri Chakrabarti.
Himadri (Global VP of Technology at Nishtech Inc.) discussed the importance of a flexible product over a feature-rich one. He discussed this in the context of Sitecore OrderCloud, where they follow a minimalistic approach and how it makes it easier to implement new changes for a customer. He demonstrated an example of customizing the wishlist feature collection.
Breakout session 3: Leveraging XM Cloud APIs and Webhooks to powerup integrations
Ramkumar (Global Sitecore Lead Developer at Valtech) initially talked about how XM Cloud APIs works under the hood and that the XM Cloud CLI was just a wrapper to the XM Cloud APIs. Elakkuvan (Senior Sitecore Developer at Valtech) introduced us to Webhooks in XM Cloud with different use cases. They showcased the lighthouse integration they made using XM Cloud APIs and Webhooks and how it could be used to audit the pages, generate reports out of it and even see historical reports in a dashboard. The session was intriguing and full of details. Through this session, I learnt more about webhooks and how to use the XM Cloud APIs for building custom integrations.
Breakout session 4: Sitecore Components in Action
Sebastian (Senior Solution Architect at Sitecore) in his session showcased Sitecore Components feature of XM Cloud. He demonstrated Sitecore components by creating the hero teaser component from sitecore.com homepage. Furthermore, he showed how to create a component by adding data from an external URL. The Sitecore Components are divided into four areas:
- Component builder – organize, build and assemble the components.
- Design System – style section where fonts, color, icon set can be defined.
- Data sources – where we can configure where and how to pull the data from.
- Publishing – all components can be published in a certain workflow.
Breakout session 7: Experiences with Content Hub One - Journey of relaunching our user group website
Katharina (Solution Architect at Sitecore) and Christian (Solution Architect at Sitecore) talked about the Sitecore product Content Hub ONE and how they used this product to revamp their Sitecore User Group Website. From WordPress, with just a team of 4 members, they were able to quickly transform their user group website to use Content Hub ONE. They mentioned that they had a lot of learning in this process while having a lot of fun too. They singled out communication as an important element which at times they lacked. They went on to show each of the components they built on the page.
Virtual Closing Keynote with Scott Hanselman
The closing keynote was reserved for Scott Hanselman (Partner Program Manager at Microsoft) who attended virtually. The closing note was fun, informative, full of learning with wonderful stories, encouragement, and great tips on productivity. Scott mentioned that he avoids responding to emails instead sending his responses as blogs. The reason being mails are one to one while blogs are one to many and he has been doing this for almost two decades now. There were a lot of other interesting and valuable lessons that he shared, and one could listen to him for hours without getting bored.
Ronald Nieuwenhuis (Team Lead at Iquality) tells: “Scott pointed out how he made his career, and it was because of “luck”. He explained that luck is the combination of opportunity plus to be prepared. I think that is very important in our business, technology is constantly changing so it is important to be prepared so you are ready for the job when a new opportunity is there.
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