Monday, April 30, 2018

SUGCON 2018 - Sitecore User group conference in Berlin

The Sitecore User Group Conference (SUGCON) is getting bigger and better every year. The 2018 edition in Berlin was definitely a success. The sessions were great. We had plenty of good food and drinks - not enough tables but that made us join and meet new people (or bump into old acquaintances) which brings me to the most important part, the attendees: 600 awesome Sitecore community people that make this conference to the annual high mass for all Sitecore users, developers, marketers, .... With a 'little' help of an amazing group of organizers (also community people) who did a tremendous job putting this all together.
A warm applause for the community and a big thanks for the organizers!

Day 1 sessions

Day 1 started with an opening keynote, highlighting three community pilars (Sitecore community forum - Sitecore Slack - Sitecore StackExchange) and a surprise announcement on Sitecore's release cadence. From now on Sitecore will release:

  • a "Software release" twice a year with new features
  • "Update releases" with fixes but no breaking changes when needed. 

Jason Wilkerson and Richard Seal got the conference really started with a trip to "SitecoreLand". A fictive amusement park with bracelets, fast lanes, and a Sitecore driven website and mobile app. They used the whole Sitecore spectrum: SXA (Sitecore Experience Accelerator), Sitecore Commerce, Marketing automation and xConnect with a special sauce of IoT (Internet of Things) to accomplish a proof of concept for an all-in customer experience. It was a call to all of us to dream.. to use our imagination..  because lots of things are possible.

Kam Figy went on stage to show us "Uber-modern API's for Sitecore". The rabbit out of his hat (can a Unicorn wear a hat?) was called GraphQL. This is all still in preview, but the demo's were cool (and working). He showed the graph browser, an alternative database browser and the integration in JSS. It was amazing, overwhelming, cool, and a little bit "wtf".. (but javascript is not my usual playground).

Next on stage was Alexei Veshalovich. He showed us an omni-channel demo for an unrecognizable car brand using (amongst others) Outlook Plugin, Xamarin, and from the Sitecore platform JSS, ExM, xConnect and the Marketing automation engine. And still no angry demo gods :)

My next session was Commerce minded: Sumith Damodaran presented the architecture of the new Sitecore Commerce 9 platform with an emphasis on plugins.
We learned about inventory sets and sellable items, the storage roles and the application roles like Shops, Authoring and Minions. Commerce Plugins are a (or the) way to extend and enhance the solution, knowing that the product itself also implements it's core features via plugins. And a final note on SXA Storefront for building B2C e-commerce solutions using Sitecore Experience Accelerator.

Evening entertainment

Sugcon is also the place where the award ceremony for the Sitecore Hackathon and the MVP's take place.

For the first time the hackathon results were not announced up front, so the tension with the participants was a little higher when Akshay Sura presented the winners. As our team had to withdraw due to illness ๐Ÿ˜ž we didn't renew our title but we're still proud to see our name -No Weekend 4 Us- on the slide with past winners. But: congratulations to all 2018 winners! We know they did an amazing job. And thanks to Akshay and all judges for investing their time to make this happen!

During the MVP ceremony the many mvp's, who spend quite some time making the Sitecore community as good as it is, are being celebrated and their physical award is handed out. And of course, this is picture time.

The entertainment this year was a "Community Feud" with Akshay Sura and Robin Hermanussen as show hosts and Pete Navarra and Jason St-Cyr as team captains.
It was fun.. and our team (with Pete as captain) won - the prize money was donated to the non-profit Girls in Tech. The questions and answers were based upon a questionaire filled in by community members some time ago. "What drink would Pieter Brinkman and Mark Frost have in a pub?" - I think Pete learned that we have quite some trolls, as "water" was a top answer ๐Ÿ™Š

Day 2 sessions

Day 2 started with two Honorary MVP's (Todd Mitchell & Lars Petersen) showing us the power of connected data - how to bring all sorts of data in xDB through xConnect and get it out again in a meaningful way. Amongst others they used a calculated facet as a way to capture data instead of keeping and counting a number of events.

For my next session I had the heartbreaking choice between the "EXM Live!" session by the magnificant Pete Navarra or the xConnect evolution by xDB guru Dmytro Shevchenko.

I decided to go for Dmytro and the underlying mechanics of Sitecore's new scalable architecture. This means I will have to watch Pete in Orlando ;) The xConnect session was interesting and a good follow-up of the session of last year. The differences between the locking mechanism in Sitecore 8 and 9 was explained - we went from pessimistic to optimistic - and code was shown to handle this. We're looking forward to Dmytro's posts on this ;)

Thomas Eldblom went on the main stage to give his last session as Sitecore employee (as we would learn later ๐Ÿ˜ž).  
Using SIF -the Sitecore Install Framework- live on stage installing several Sitecore architectures might be a challenge but he was well prepared and the demo's went very smooth. He showed the different setups provided by Sitecore and how to tweak SIF to install the ones that are not out-of-the-box. Even installing modules like the Publishing Service can be done with SIF.

As I missed Mark Stiles' session on cognitive services last year, I decided to join it now. It was a good overview of what companies like Google and Microsoft are offering on AI and how this can be leveraged. It made me curious to see where this is going:

I don't think Mikkel Rรธmer expected so many people in his "White hat hacker's guide to the internet". The break-out room was fully packed and heard that he tested 3K+ Sitecore sites on some known issues like the Telerik and the PushSession vulnerabilities and faulty configurations like open logins with or without the default password. As the results were quite astonishing - meaning too many sites were not ok - this was an eye opener for a lot of people. Patch your solutions! Read and act by the hardening guides! And to be honest, I'm not sure if I was worried most by his results or by the questions afterwards as some of those made clear there is still a lot of work to make all developers aware of security risks... 

Up to George Chang to give us some thoughts on Identity in Sitecore 9.
The new Federated Authentication feature in Sitecore 9 looks very good. I already read some blog posts on it and this session confirmed my feelings. Quite sure I will be trying this one out in the near future.

Back to the the main stage for two well-known community trolls telling us the story behind the new Forms: Kamruz Jaman and Mike Reynolds (or was it Reybolds?). I must admit I had expected a bit more customizations and code but that might be because I already saw quite a bit about Forms already (and presented a session on this topic myself on the local user group). But the session was a good overview of the features, the possibilities and the missing pieces of a Sitecore module that a lot of users have been waiting for. And.. they managed to get all of us on Slack -during the session (so I might have missed a bit)- by posting Forms data on Slack:

The last session slot was for Sitecore's X-team -represented by Alex Shyba & Adam Weber- to demonstrate the current status of the Sitecore Javascript Services (JSS). Heavy stuff after 2 days of conference...

Pieter Brinkman had the honour to close the conference and announce the next Sugcon Europe: mark April 4th/5th 2019 in your agenda and start learning English because the community is going to London (in Brexit-country).

Final thoughts

Sugcon is truly the place and time to meet all those wonderful community members you got to know online in real life. Have a chat with the guy (or girl) who helped you solve an issue, or vice versa. Meet the people behind the modules you might be using. Sadly -as I am used to arriving the evening before the conference and leaving right after- it's too short to meet you all so I surely missed quite a few people. Let's catch up in Orlando ;)  

But still it was good to see some old and new prominent SSE folks (good to wear your 5K-shirt, Chris), people I've worked with in the past, people I will work with in the near future... many known faces from Belgium (SugBelux), and (un)known faces from all around the globe.

Thanks to all organizers for creating this opportunity for the tremendous Sitecore community to meet and learn in person. Hey, we are omni-channel! 

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