Sitecore 9 is out and with it comes cool new whizzy stuff. Here's my top features from the new version of the platform.
#1 - New Forms module
I think everyone would agree that Web Forms for Marketers was starting to show it's age and the UI was getting a bit dated compared to the rest of Sitecore.
The new Forms module, which is just called forms is completely new from the ground up. It has a new drag and drop UI with long awaited support for multiple page forms.
Like WFFM, the module is extendable through custom save actions and comes with a number of useful default ones out of the box.
There is no upgrade option for moving a WFFM form to the new module but WFFM will continue to work on Sitecore 9 and is being dropped in Sitecore 9.1.
I think more than anything the UX improvements will make a real difference for users by being much simpler to understand and will drive to much more use.
#2 - Marketing Automation
In Sitecore 9 Engagement Plans are being replaced with Marketing Automation. Like the forms module, this is completely new from the group up rather than an UI update to the existing Engagement Plans.
The new Marketing Automation module has a really easy to use drag and drop ui which is a vast improvement over the old Silverlight implementation engagement plans had. It's also directly accessible from the dashboard rather than being hidden in the Marketing Control Centre.
One of the biggest changes (aside from the UI) is there is now no need to enrol users in a plan at a specific state either by code or a wffm save action. I found this one of the most confusing aspects to end users who were expecting creating states with a trigger to automatically add people once they had triggered a goal, so this is great to see fixed.
Plans now have very clear start and end points with a number of options on the start node (goals, events), which can be combined to trigger who should be added to the plan.
Overall for the moment you try creating a plan just to see what it can do, the whole process is so much simpler that I think this will have a significant aspect on users. Engagement Plans were something that needed to be learn 't in order to get anything out of them, and wernt intuitive enough leading to frustration. With Marketing Automation I think a lot of people that were put off before will now benefit from this module.
#3 - xConnect
xConnect is a new service layer that sits between xDB and the client. That could be the CMS, a device or some other custom server side process that needs to read or write xDB data.
With xConnect as the service layer this means that no system has direct access to the collection database or search indexes. Any system wanting to access this data will go through xConnect which also helps with support for things like GDPR.
xConnect is installed separately from Sitecore itself and does not have any dependencies on the Sitecore kernel. When you install Sitecore locally you will see two IIS entries, one for Sitecore and one for xConnect. Communication with xConnect is done via a set of RESTful API's over HTTPS, making integrating with it extremely simple to do.
What xConnect really brings to the table is the ability to scale an combine many more systems rather than just the CMS. e.g. Phone Apps.
#4 - Sitecore Installation Framework (SIF)
Installing Sitecore 9 is very different to previous versions (see my Sitecore 9 installation tips here), gone are the days of copying a web-root and restoring some db's. The entire installation is now done with a new framework based on PowerShell scripts.
While this is going to create a pain point in the amount of time it takes to get started. It will almost certainly vastly improve DevOps tasks as it opens up numerous options to put the installation scripts in deployment pipelines.