There have been a series of announcements this year about the new acquisitions by Sitecore. Sitecore got access to $1.2B and that is a lot of cheeseburgers, so Sitecore wasted no time with spending. On a personal note, the pace at which Sitecore started moving has given the company followers a breath of fresh air and a whole lot to think and speculate about after a prolonged low point. In this article, I’ll do some “leaf reading” as well as share some wishful thinking for the future of the platform.
Composable Architecture Predictions
“Organizations will respond to increasing disruption and uncertainty by becoming “composable.” To be successful, enterprise architecture and technology innovation leaders will shift their focus to business design and architecting composability across multiple interrelated viewpoints.
By 2025, 50% of vertical-specific software providers will leverage composable enterprise architectures to compete more effectively with generic SaaS.
By 2024, organizations that have adopted a composable approach to application architecture will implement new features by at least 80% faster than the competition.” (Gartner, by Alan D. Duncan)
The predictions are pretty impressive and the story is great – easy to understand and makes logical sense. There is plenty written on it , and the well-known research analysts from Gartner and Forrester support it fully. Under the covers, however, it is a pretty complex feat to pull off and lots of things need to be done for the story to become a reality.
Before we dive into the educated speculation around the composable story with Sitecore. There is one myth I’d like to dispel – the composable “best of breed” architecture. The goal of a Composable architecture is not to bring the “best of breed” tools together, but rather provide resilient and adaptable architectures that will allow brands implement change more efficiently. In other words, composability is more about agility and interoperability, rather than “best of breed.” In fact the so called “best of breed” phase is what we are moving out of now, this approach has been found impractical, as it turned out that brands ended up overpaying for the features they weren’t using.
By the way, let’s also dispel the myth of the “best of breed platform”. Back in the day, when life was simple in the digital world, when someone could rate themself a nine out of 10 in frontend and backend development at the same time, when digital systems were rudimentary and there was more demand than sophisticated supply, it was possible to compare systems as “apples to apples”, and the “best of breed” term was relevant. Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to find systems that are the same even in the same category, the modern complexity of the digital space and fierce competition amongst vendors have created the world where systems that do not differentiate fall out pretty quickly. Even within a single category we cannot compare systems purely on features and capabilities. For instance, there is no CDP that solves the same problem in the same way. Each one started off filling a niche, just like any business, thus, every single one is strong in their own way, and there is a similar story with the other types of platforms. For my personal blog, WP is the “best of breed” CMS. As you can see – the term is so subjective and relative that it’s meaningless. If you find yourself in a debate around which systems to go with, cost aside, I’m willing to bet that the requirements and business priorities simply need to be tightened up. There may be some marketing value left in it – it does have a ring to it, however, if you are on the receiving end – be mindful of the facts above.
The Timing for the Composable DXP Story with Sitecore
It will require significant amount of new development on the Sitecore’s end to bring the newly acquired tools together and setup the support infrastructure, therefore, we are likely at least a couple of years away from seeing the story we heard about at the Sitecore Symposium ’21 come true. Here is where this forecast is coming from –
- Companies that Sitecore acquired will go through some staff churn that will slow down their individual roadmaps. The churn is inevitable, and I’m sure there are some retention clauses in the acquisitions for the leadership to soften and spread the blow across a few years, however, some dropouts will be hard to control. Having gone through an acquisition before, I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of the acquired staff will be gone within a year due to no fault of either side. In fact, it will likely get worse in terms of product momentum before it gets better.
- Significant development will need to happen internally at Sitecore:
- The product management portal – think a rudimentary Azure Portal, a place where you can login to, manage Sitecore products, and view their performance, assign access rights, monitor consumption, etc.
- A backend middle layer to stich all products together – there will need to be a sophisticated layer of integration created to stich all the products together. This will be a complex piece of middleware to get right, more on that later. This is a big piece that will take some smart architecting.
- The Symphony – the new Sitecore management tool to bring it all together into a single experience orchestration portal.
- The changes to the existing products to make them work together better – these changes will range from getting the platforms to play well together in the backend, as well as on the frontend, and create the “better together” stickiness effect of the Sitecore ecosystem. There is also a lot to unpack here, and in order to tackle the enterprise space, there will need to be a good amount of clever architecting involved; the APIs that systems currently have won’t be enough. This backend layer has to be present for Sitecore to create a moat around their ecosystem, otherwise, the “better together” will not have a significant structural competitive advantage.
- A new group will need to be created to power all of these changes plus the integrations with other platforms to make it truly composable. Without the external integrations, it’s not far off from the XP. Some developers will likely be pulled from Sitecore Services and the DXP product development, however, that will not be nearly enough, so Sitecore will need to hire a significant amount of developers to close the gap. Knowing the digital market these days – this is not an easy one to pull off. Sitecore will have to go shopping to a market that hasn’t yet been used and abused by the tech industry, has low labor cost, and small-business favoring policies for tech. We can’t expect further expansions in the US, Canada, Western Europe or Ukraine – too expensive and competitive. India and Latin America are also entering the same group. Greece comes to mind, perhaps due to the affiliation with Steve, the new CEO. There seem to be political backwinds for technology companies, and there is a significant time overlap with the new acquisitions in Europe. The only way to spin up a large development team quickly is to outsource, but you cannot outsource your competitive advantage, so this group will have to be “homegrown”. Sitecore has been hiring a good number of engineering staff, close to 74 people already based on LinkedIn Insights as of 10/1, and may already be well-positioned to burst its integrated stack story, however, depending on how things go, it might be just enough to cover the acquisition-related churn.
- The actual development will of course need to happen, which would take months to get even the basics in.
Up until we see the big things like the middle layer and the required product changes for the “better together” story, Sitecore will have to play the “restaurant waiter” game by first serving the silverware and plates with aligning the UI of the products, bringing out the condiments likely in a form of a simple unified portal, and continue bringing endless “appetizers” with the new developments in Symphony, while the complex foundational overhaul work is happening behind the scenes. We should prepare for an increased amount of exciting marketing updates coming from Sitecore continuing to strategically contribute to the company’s leadership.
In other words, those Sitecore customers worried about their recent investment in the platform, shouldn’t worry about having to migrate away from the XP immediately, it will take some time to get there (think your next redesign or the one after). It will likely take Sitecore a long time to move their account base into SaaS, look at Atlassian, their cloud version was released in 2011 and they are still struggling to get everyone on the Cloud one. Sitecore is more aligned with Microsoft in respecting legacy functionality, for instance, still having the XSLT support in the platform is simple proof; this has been much appreciated in the enterprise space.
However, some new products are clearly superior to the existing ones and will make sense for many brands to move to them now. For instance, Sitecore Send is a good alternative to the EXM, Sitecore CDP and Personalize with XM are light years ahead of the XP, and OrderCloud is what XC should have been. Brands on other content platforms should also evaluate the new Sitecore products due to the recognition by Gartner and Forester; they have significant competitive advantages. If you are a Sitecore existing client or a considering one of their products, check with your Platinum-level Sitecore partner on recommendations; keep in mind that there are no official connectors for these systems yet, so you want to make sure to have a highly skilled talent by your side for the implementation.
There is some risk in XP, XC, and add-ons like the EXM slowing down in the their roadmap. This risk was elevated when Sitecore spread out the XP’s minor version releases, where the next XP version, 10.3, won’t be out till next year’s symposium, based on the communication from Sitecore. One way of looking at it is that the development for the XP slowed to the point where Sitecore has to worry about creating “more impactful releases”. In fact, the Sitecore Commerce roadmap, not to be confused with Sitecore Experience Commerce (XC), doesn’t even have the XP integration on the radar, sending more signals that Sitecore’s focus is primarily around the new composable product story, which doesn’t include the XP. There is a good amount of risk on the XC roadmap in general.
Another hypothesis is that Sitecore will likely need to rely more on its partners to keep the XP customers happy, while they are working on realizing the composable XP story. At the same time, the composable story is also going to be in the hands of Sitecore implementation partners in some ways, integrating the newly acquired products together, before the official integrations get released. What we cannot let happen is the Windows Phone story that we saw repeat with the XC, where anyone remotely familiar with coding built half-baked integrations and applications that damaged the platform’s reputation. One way to control something like in the case of the new composable story is to partner up with an existing Sitecore implementation partner and have them create quick integrations that would be scrapped later by the official builds of the Sitecore development team. It is a more expensive route, however, this would allow Sitecore control the short-term success of the composable story, which is often vital and can have a significant positive “butterfly effect.” Might be well worth the added spend.
Questioning the Newly Acquired Products
I recently heard someone saying “Sitecore has been making investments in the areas that make a lot of sense. The only problem I have with their acquisitions is that you have to Google all of them.” The acquisitions make complete sense to me. Perhaps it’s my investing background speaking, where one of my rules is avoiding the shiny objects that everyone talks about. In fact, the day my friends start talking about certain equities, I see it as a time to get out of my positions. My approach is to get in on a company that is close to hitting the ball out of the park; champions are about as bad as the duds in terms of investing; too much downside risk.
I like to think that Sitecore leadership thought the same, when acquiring the new products. Yes, none of the products are widely recognized, however, they do have excellent pedigree. For instance, Boxever, now Sitecore CDP and Personalize, has been recognized by Gartner in the personalization category, and Sitecore “Marketplacer”, likely OrderCloud (drawing my own connection here), got into the Forrester wave for marketplaces. All Sitecore acquisitions are adaptable, and the story that I’ve created is that this gives Sitecore a few years to mature and mold them into a well oiled composable machine. I’m excited to see the result!
Lastly, remember that the holy grail of a composable architecture is in its interoperability and agility, and I think Sitecore’s acquisitions fit right in.
What the “Better Together” Story Will Likely Look Like
Is Sitecore creating the Apple of digital? The “better together” story will require stickiness between Sitecore products; this is what Apple did with its devices, parts, and even repair tools. Life is a lot easier if you are fully submerged in Apple’s kool-aid. Many of their products aren’t the top picks in their individual categories, however, outside of the perceived image, we frequently buy them because the experience created by the Apple products being better together is worth it. This strategy allows higher pricing power and builds a structural moat, its own “blue ocean,” where the originating brands create an unbeatable competitive advantage.
While previous sections were about “tea leaf reading”, the following is more of an educated wishful thinking. There are a few ways in which I think Sitecore will create the needed product stickiness for the “better together” story:
- The ease of use and management, as we just discussed. The ability to plug the products together and manage them with ease is essential. Once the products can be easily and natively connected together, we would need a way to easily create solutions on top of them. This is where Symphony and the template library come into play. However, to really become the Apple of digital, Sitecore would need to do bold radical improvements. Imagine Sitecore Content Hub recognizing that an integrated Sitecore CDP just got integrated with a PIM and proposes to enable the integration to the PIM for content as well, which can be activated with a couple of clicks!
- Its own language – metrics, APIs, way of integration, etc. This will allow Sitecore ecosystem users gain efficiencies, over the ones with mixed stacks in development and operations.
- The “assembly model” – the proprietary “language” can also align the stack around common levers that can be used to deliver more value to customers. Shimano’s bicycle assemblies come to mind. Shimano was at risk of being squeezed by new competition, until they created their own “part assemblies” where their parts delivered higher performance when used with other Shimano parts as opposed to being part of a mixed build. Creating the “Sitecore assembly model” has the potential of being the biggest contributor to the “better together” story. These “Sitecore assemblies” can be created through sophisticated and streamlined backend integrations that will deliver superior security and performance, and that nobody without having access to the SaaS backend can replicate. A true product moat. From simple things like “express route” for traffic flowing between platforms to more complex and secure integrations via backend for performance vs. going through the public APIs.
These are the tracks that I speculate that Sitecore will be focused on, as the composable story comes to fruition.
There is still a lot to unpack in the Sitecore’s composable story, and in the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the middle layer, the underestimated backbone of the composable story that will need to be build between the Sitecore products, what it will really take to make an architecture composable, and some more wishful thinking for the future of Sitecore integrations with low and no-code systems.