Monday, October 3, 2016

Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) - Overview

Until very recently, building sites on Sitecore was intense development effort and required some good understanding of Sitecore and its capabilities to extend, customize and build content editor friendly sites keeping all the non-functional requirements such as Responsive Web Design, Flexibility to re-arrange components quickly on any page, Create completely new page as needed by business with short-turn around time.

All of this was possible but you had to do lot of groundwork to be able to create a sustainable model for various brands in the enterprise to meet their marketing / consumer needs.

There were few accelerators in the Market such as Brainjocks SCORE, Keystone and ZenGarden from Cognifide. All of these accelerators promised to reduce your effort in building a site with some fundamental principles such as OOB Responsive, ready-to-use components such as Snippets, Carousels, Navigation components etc. And they all aimed for reducing the amount of effort to take your sites to market and ability to easily author content without getting involved in development / assembly cycles.

Of-course each of them has its own pros and cons and has its own learning curve for developers, assemblers and content authors but it provides the agility brand organizations look for.

Lot of fortune 500 and multi-brand organizations expected this functionality to come out of the box from Sitecore and looks like they soon realized the need for one such capability to stay relevant in the market and accelerate time to market for these organizations to bring their digital properties to their consumers. With greater adoption comes greater responsibility and greater promises :)

Sitecore launched their own accelerator, influenced from ZenGarden and following Sitecore Habitat development guidelines which is based on Helix architecture principles, called SXA (Sitecore Experience Accelerator), what an apt name :).

First and foremost advantage of SXA is now its a first class resident of Sitecore. Though it needs its own license you don't have to rely on additional contracts / support levels.

In this blog post I want to highlight some of the key features of SxA and what it promises to bring on the table.

Key Features

  • Drag and Drop toolkit
  • Contextual information to the component (in terms of styling, allowed components etc)
  • New simplified page architecture
  • Wire framing mode for building sites - Allows repid prototyping - Allows content authors to enter content even prior to design being created
  • Export / Import visual designs - Allows Creation of information architecture and design team work on it to apply visual design 
  • ~80 pre-built components - Own gropuings, own components can be added
  • Mobile first with responsive and adaptive options
  • SXA extends capabilities for developers, designers, content authors etc..

New Page Architecture

Page Designs - Defines the way that the page is architected
  • Where you would ideally keep your header, content and footer
  • Attends to the layout in Sitecore
  • Defines sections in the pages

Partial Designs - Different main components of the page. For example:  Header, Footer, Main content area
  • Allows you to Design independently
  • Reuse it on multiple pages
  • Different styles of headers for different sections

Renderings (components)
- Anything from RTA, navigation structure, image, splitter (multiple columns)
- simple text, or complex component on the page that is integrating with external data

Build Sites with Wireframes

Create Wireframes

  • Created directly in Sitecore (avoids traditional wireframes)
  • Can start building pages while design is happening in parallel
  • Content entry can start directly after the information architecture phase
  • Ultimately gets transformed into actual site end of the day
  • Design and Content entry can happen in parallel (time to market)

Export and Import Site Design

  • Exports entire information architecture into html javascript and css files (nothing Sitecore specific)
  • Can be handed over to design agencies and they can start applying css styles, color. Placeholders to add css classes
  • Design agency does not need to have any Sitecore experience
  • Site building knowledge
  • Re-Imported into SXA
  • Saved into a theme (applied to a site)
  • You can import several themes on the site
  • Design agency can provide 3-4 different flavors of how the site looks and can flip / flop all the while navigating through the site

Business Benefits

  • Reduced Time to Market
  • Parallel Site Co-Production
  • Bring personalization and Content testing from phase 2 to phase 1 (usually an afterthought)
  • Simple and Fast Content Maintenance - Customer / Business users (Non Developers) are able to create new pages and sections. Do small changes themselves
  • Brand Governance - Increased governance usually means less design flexibility  but with SXA provides more tools and page layout options for the business user, while still adhering to brand IA guidelines
  • Rendering Variants - Customer can choose / create their own variants, but for governance sake you may provide them the options to choose from
  • Responsive Design by Default - Users do not need to be responsive experts. Adaptive options also available
  • Multi-site capabilities - share designs, enforce governance across many sites

Happy SXA, Hope my next Sitecore engagement will involve adventure with this :)

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