Sitecore releases always have a little bit of everything — some new features, an improvement here and there and a much-needed gap that needs filling. They also almost always offer something to please different personas — marketers, developers and administrators. The recently released Sitecore 10.1 delivers on that expectation.
As the first release since Sitecore 10, this one was unlikely to unveil a huge new capability, but nonetheless it does include an array of updates and new smaller features, some of which perhaps didn’t make the original 10 release in time. It also continues Sitecore’s policy of platform investment to help consolidate its position as a leader in the DXP space.
In this article, I’m going to walk through 10 of the main improvements delivered in Sitecore 10.1.
1. A Redesigned Launchpad
One of the most notable changes in Sitecore 10.1 is a redesigned launchpad experience, with an improved layout and new design. This divides the different features into five areas: Commerce, Marketing Applications, Content Editing, Control Panel and Access Management. Changes to dashboards and interfaces can provoke both positive and negative reactions, but overall, the design is clean, and will help teams make their way around an ever-broadening set of features.
2. A New Upgrade Methodology
Sitecore upgrades can get quite complicated, frequently leaving room for problems. Sitecore 10.1 brings a new upgrade methodology and accompanying notes for anyone upgrading from 8.1 Experience Platform or later. Anything that makes an upgrade project smoother and less costly is good news, particularly for those teams on significantly earlier versions who have been waiting to upgrade. The new methodology should be welcomed by both IT and marketing teams.
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3. More Improvements to Horizon
One of the major features recently added to the platform has been the improved Horizon editing experience, a potential long-term successor to the Experience Editor which is arguably entering its twilight years.
Sitecore first introduced Horizon in version 9.3, and it went through some improvements in 10.0. As expected, 10.1 brings further tweaks, including the ability to:
- Search for content and media items.
- Edit link fields, number fields, checklists and drop-down menus.
- Create and edit data source items.
- Publish sub-items associated with a parent item.
While Horizon is still not as feature-rich as the Experience Editor, this release definitely moves it closer to parity and may mean more teams consider it a credible replacement for the Experience Editor.
4. More Power to Sitecore Forms
Sitecore has been drip-feeding improvements to Sitecore forms over the last couple of releases, and there’s yet more on offer here. Sitecore 10.1 actually fills some substantial gaps, such as making it much easier to send an email message when a form is submitted. There are also improvements for front-end developers who can now create lists of CSS class options and link them to different elements of a form with auto-complete enabled, reducing the manual effort previously required. This will encourage better stylings on forms and a more consistent approach, thus making the use of Sitecore Forms an attractive option for marketers.
Sitecore 10.1 has also tightened up custom validation options to make it easier to validate different fields. This is supported with accompanying walk-throughs and documentation to give developers the tools they need to deliver more sophisticated forms.
5. Sitecore Experience Database (xDB) Reporting and Management
One of the areas of Sitecore with potential for performance issues is Sitecore xDB reporting. Personalization, digital marketing and analytics all involve large amounts of data, prompting occasional performance challenges. Sitecore 10.1 helps to minimize the risk of performance issues and gives teams more control over their data through:
- Merging STD reporting and content management roles, meaning you don’t need as powerful hardware for Sitecore xDB to run at its optimum level.
- Making improvements to data encryption.
- Providing a tool that allows you to clean your analytical data and purge data sets that you don’t need anymore, saving space.
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6. Streamlining Development Processes
Over recent releases, Sitecore has really taken notice of developer needs and provided support to the various tools they already use. In this release, new features in the Sitecore CLI support the use of the Git Commit app package manager as well as the NPM package manager, giving developers more control over plug-ins and allowing for the import of serialized items from NPM or NuGet.
7. More Flexibility for HTML Caching
Another new feature in Sitecore 10.1 allows for more flexibility over HTML caching, an area that has been awaiting improvement for a while. Sitecore admins now have much more granular control over caching policies and how the cache is cleared, right down to the page and component level. Previously there was a ‘one-size fits all’ policy that meant you sometimes had to choose to switch caching off for a whole page. The added flexibility of 10.1 means you can control caching to optimize the experience on every page.
8. Changes to Sitecore Experience Commerce
Sitecore Experience Commerce uses Redis as a super-fast repository for storing data, effectively acting as a caching server. 10.1 brings some new improvements to Redis, including support for connection pooling and data compression. Both of these measures help reduce the risk of the server getting overwhelmed, supporting sustained performance for high-volume ecommerce sites. This is important, as a split-second delay can have a measurable impact on buyer transactions.
There is also a new capability to move entities into an archive database, helping teams keep on top of their product catalogues without losing easy access to information.
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9. Enhancements to the Email Experience Manager
The Sitecore Email Experience Manager (EXM) also gets a bit of TLC with a small round of improvements. Here, more controls to stop pointless retries of email sends, better support for emails in languages that aren’t currently in the default set supported by Sitecore and new email templates will make a difference across specific use cases.
10. Value-Adds for the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA)
The Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) is a framework that comes with a set of components to help you build out your entire site. Companies investing in SXA will welcome features in 10.1 which really add value. In the new release, you can set themes at the component level and establish a template for a series of pages with branching. This latter feature will allow companies to use a template to deliver compelling microsites at short notice. Other improvements include the ability to utilize the Horizon editor on SXA sites, and use HTML to render assets that are not hosted on Sitecore onto a page.
Overall, the new Sitecore release continues to advance important aspects of the platform that many will find useful in content management, performance, development and administration.
Should I Upgrade to 10.1?
Here’s a few thoughts for those considering the upgrade.
- If you’re already on version 10.0, then it’s a no-brainer. The upgrade process is likely a low-impact one.
- If you’re a risk averse type who does not identify with the early adopter persona and has resisted the move to Sitecore 10, now is your time to act. Version 10 is now past the initial shakedown and you can move forward with confidence.
- If you do a lot of work with Sitecore Forms, have a lot of xDB data to manage, use ECM or SXA, I think there’s a lot in this release for you. Do a careful review of the changes and map the impact into your day-to-day operations. This release likely brings your team a range of good news.
- Finally, in the Sitecore world it’s never wise to get too far behind in releases. If it has been several years since your last upgrade you should seriously consider budgeting for this update.
- Sitecore 10.1 introduces a much streamlined upgrade process. If you’ve had painful Sitecore upgrades in the past (and you probably have) the new process will make future upgrades from 10.1 much simpler.
Ryan Bennett is a web content management and web engagement solutions architect. He is the co-founder of San Francisco-based consulting firm Cylogy, Inc.