Sitecore 8.1 – What you need to know from those who know best

The Sitecore experts (MVPs) were lucky enough to get their hands on XP 8.1 two months before it was publicly released in October 2015. The early access allows them to get a head start on mastering the new release and provide Sitecore with essential feedback for improvements and the roadmap. As part of this Sitecore have released a whitepaper on the MVP’s initial reactions to three questions:

  1. What’s your favorite feature of Sitecore XP 8.1, e.g., what part do you think businesses couldn’t live without?
  2. What in your opinion is the greatest benefit of Sitecore XP 8.1 for digital technologists and IT leaders?
  3. What in your opinion is the greatest benefit of Sitecore XP 8.1 for developers?

You can grab your copy here. We’re pretty p

Going digital to save Taylor & Francis 150 hours a week

“Our e-copyright system was a relatively simple idea that required some fairly complicated problem-solving to make a reality. We worked side-by-side with True Clarity throughout the process to make sure the product we ended up with didn’t limit our flexibility. We appreciated the willingness of True Clarity to have people doing the development work available to us throughout the process. ”

Edward A. Cilurso Vice President – Production

Taylor & Francis Group are one of the world’s leading publishers, releasing over 2,100 journals and 4,000 books annually, with a backlist in excess of 60,000 specialist titles.

What was needed

Taylor and Francis (T&F) have to handle around 250,000 copyright agreements annually in order to publish articles on their site. Getting these agreed involved a lengthy process of emailing out forms, toing and froing through lots of amends and relying on scanning, faxing and emails to log author’s approvals electronically. The business case was crying out for moving this process online, in order to eliminate the pain for authors and staff, save time and keep up with the competition’s online offering.

How we tackled it

Prototypes and early delivery

We kicked off with a discovery phase, involving a few workshops and sessions to completely map out the process, then put together some flow charts to illustrate how we would automate the copyright process. At this stage we carried out some proto-types to validate the approaches, flesh out the unknowns and start delivering to T&F as early as possible in the project. Beyond the author approval on-site, we also needed to map out the integration points with internal legacy sites, such as the production and content management system, and map out some complex workflows to keep the site as self-sufficient as possible.

Designed for Flexibility

The site was designed to present the author with a set of questions, which dynamically change based on their response. The outcome is then used to generate a personalised version of the copyright agreement for the author to agree and submit. Key to this project was to ensure migrating the process online didn’t take away the flexibility of the manual process, so we worked with T&F to create a sophisticated back end allowing T&F to define the routing of questions and answers used to generate the copyright agreements. We also created a number of customisable email templates sent out for different statuses, including reminders for authors who may not have completed an agreement after X amount of time.

The Value

Copyright agreements turned around much faster

T&F sent out 193 author publishing agreements upon launch. 118 were approved within a week, with the vast majority clicking standard options, requiring no further intervention from T&F and minimal enquiries. The approval of 118 licenses would have averaged a longer turnaround, with inspection of each form, using the old process.

Saving staff time on menial tasks

T&F are able to compile detailed weekly reports from the author approval system based on the current status of manuscripts, licenses assigned per country and APAs completed by day. T&F have calculated from the initial launch stats that the new system will save them up to 150 man hours per week – the equivalent of four full-time staff members.

Building Personalised Experiences with Sitecore

The Conservative Party is the current party of government in the United Kingdom, having won a majority of seats at the General Election in May. As part of their election efforts, we used Sitecore to build a personalised map that helped undecided voters understand how the party’s policies had helped secure a brighter future for people across the country. By entering their postcode, users could see exactly what that meant in their area.

We integrated various electorate information systems APIs to render the map information based on the content in Sitecore. The Conservative Party managed all of this content in Sitecore and placeholders were used to pull in the relevant numeric stats and personalised data. True Clarity knew that Conservatives.com would be one of the first places undecided voters would go to find out about the Party’s policies in the days leading up to the election – and on polling day itself. Therefore, it was imperative that the site focused on helping people understand not just what those policies were but what they meant for them, their family and their area. This is a great example of how Sitecore can be used to enable personalised experiences for customers.

https://www.conservatives.com/yourarea
Map of Data for True Clarity’s London Office

View your own personalised area map here.

Sitecore Gold Partnership

WE’VE STRUCK GOLD. (AGAIN).

In recognition of our sheer technical brilliance and ongoing enterprise development on Sitecore our Gold Partnership has been renewed for a second year running. Here’s the official line from Sitecore on what it all means:

Sitecore Gold Implementation Partners deliver on our complete vision for customer experience management. They can provide complex digital marketing solutions and educate customers on the evolving digital landscape. Sitecore supports these partners by creating joint business references, marketing and enablement plans. Gold Implementation Partners also benefit from access to a dedicated point of contact and early release information on new features and product roadmaps.

Put simply, it means Sitecore have given our work a golden stamp of approval and we’re in a great position to feed that early release information into our client work.

Sitecore Gold Partner

Winning the Digital Election with Conservatives.com

“True Clarity’s impressive team helped us – again – to deliver a website of the highest possible standard. Thanks to their input, Conservatives.com played a key part in helping undecided voters understand exactly how our plan would secure a brighter future for Britain while also empowering supporters to help the campaign in a number of ways. True Clarity’s commitment to responsive design meant that the site worked seamlessly across all devices, and their hard work in the months leading up to polling day meant the site was both stable and secure in those crucial final days.”

Craig Elder, Digital Director, The Conservative Party

What was needed

5 years is a long time in politics. In 2010, we helped the Conservatives build what was widely recognised as the best of the UK political parties’ websites but for 2015 we needed to adapt to a changing digital landscape.

In particular, the huge shift towards consumption via mobile devices meant we’d have to approach the election with a “mobile first” mentality, and work to deliver simple user journeys that worked as well on a phone as they did a desktop.

We also had to focus on delivering a tightly-focused website that gave two key audiences what they needed: helping undecided voters understand exactly what the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan meant for them, while also giving Conservative supporters the tools they needed to get more involved in the campaign.

And of course, we had to achieve all of this while ensuring the site could cope under the huge amount of traffic we could expect during the busy election period (and on polling day itself).

How we tackled it

A responsive site for a mobile-first audience

Working with the Conservatives’ in-house design team, we created site templates that worked responsively across all devices – be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This had to be achieved without compromising site editors’ ability to quickly add, edit and remove copy, content and widgets as required.

Giving undecided voters the information they need

Just as it was in 2010, we knew that Conservatives.com would be one of the first places undecided voters would go to find out about the Party’s policies in the days leading up to the election.

Therefore it was imperative that the site focused on helping people understand not just what those policies were – but what they meant for them, their family and their area. We worked with the Conservatives to produce a series of interactive pages throughout the site that allowed users – upon answering questions on location, salary and so on – to find out exactly how the Conservatives’ plan would help them.

We took this approach as far as making the 404 page on the site an interactive “find out what our plan means for you” page to ensure even users who couldn’t find what they were looking for could learn what the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan meant for them and their family.

Making it easy for supporters to support

Of course, one of the other key audiences for a political party’s website is its supporters, and it was important that Conservatives.com gave them the tools they’d need to make the campaign a success. We worked closely with the Conservatives’ team to optimise three key user journeys – membership, donations and volunteering – to ensure supporters could complete these actions as quickly and easily as possible. This was a huge success, with the donation page in particular seeing a huge leap in conversion rate, leading to the Party raising more money in small online donations than at any previous election. In addition, the new Volunteer page played a huge part in helping to assemble the ‘Team2015’ volunteer army which played a key part in winning the election.

Finally, we worked with Dynamic Signal to put gamification at the heart of a new ‘Share the Facts’ section of the website, which rewarded Conservative supporters every time they shared campaign images and videos on their own social networks – significantly increasing participation and reach for each piece of content.

The Value

Conservatives.com played an important part in the Party’s overall election efforts, which saw them win 331 seats and an overall majority – confounding the predictions of pollsters and commentators alike.

The Party raised more money in small online donations than ever before, and also assembled a 100,000+ strong ‘Team2015’ volunteer army thanks to people signing up via the website.

‘Share the Facts’ was hugely successful, helping Conservatives supporters reach an additional 3 million people every week – over and above the direct reach of the Conservatives’ existing digital channels – by empowering people to quickly and easily share campaign content.

And perhaps most importantly, the site performed seamlessly on polling day (just as it had in 2010), meaning voters in key constituencies all around the country were able to get the information they needed.

http://www.conservatives.com

ASOS – Sitecore Award Best Use of Mobile

We collected our 6th Sitecore award in 3 years last night and this time it was for the amazing results from moving ASOS’s mobile site into the Sitecore Experience Platform.

SitecoreASOSawadsitecore-experience-awards14

Since the Sitecore solution went live, unique visitors to mobile have gone from 7.8 million to 8.5 million per month, an increase of 10%. Conversion of visitors who read articles has now increased by 10%.

Have a read all about it – http://www.sitecore.net/customers/experience-awards/2014-finalists-uk.aspx

TrueClarity, Sitecore

How Not To Demo

Recently, I was asked to demo a system that we are building for a client to some stakeholders from across the business. The demo would be delivered by me remotely, although the stakeholders would all be in the same room.

Simples. I’ve been managing the project ever since development had started (actually earlier than this, as I was involved in the ‘scoping’ phase as well), so I knew the system inside out and back to front.

I also deliver demos to the key stakeholders on a weekly basis, so I had no qualms on delivering a demo to a slightly wider audience.

‘Yep, no problem” I responded, “Just tell me when and I’ll set it up.”

And that was that. I put it to the back of my mind.

A couple of days later, it was time for the demo. I dialled in and introduced myself to the room at large. I then asked the facilitator at the client site to open up a browser and go to a particular URL, which would then display my screen to the room (I was using an online screen sharing program, and they were having this projected onto a screen in the room).

After the facilitator confirmed that everyone was there and they were ready, I began. I started by showing some of the latest features my team had been developing and explaining how they worked.

I talked.

And talked.

At one point, I had to talk to cover up the fact that I was waiting for an email to be sent to me via the system.

At other times, I was talking simply because I couldn’t hear anything happening at the other end of the line.

I was flying through the demo and after about 15 minutes, I realised that I had gone through parts of the system that I had expected to take twice as long to present. Was I going to fast? I posed the question to the audience.

“A little” the reply came back from someone in the room, “This is the first time I’ve seen the system so I’m struggling to keep up”.

It was as though someone had poured cold water down my back. What?! I thought the participants all knew about the system? Why didn’t they tell me that I was demoing to people who had never seen it before?

Hang on, did I ask?

I tried to keep calm. I backtracked, and went over some of the previous functions in a little more detail. I explained some of the background to the decisions we had made and what we were trying to achieve.

The demo came to an end. Silence.

“Well, that’s the end of the demo” I pronounced, “Does anyone have any questions, or are you all fast asleep?”

That at least got a couple of laughs, and negated my fear that everyone had left the room in boredom.

The facilitator then spoke up;

“Thanks Chris, that was great. I’ll handle any questions as we’ve got some other stuff we need to discuss here anyway, so thanks for the demo.”

“Oh, no problem” I responded, “thanks for your time”. I hung up.

It then struck me. I had absolutely no idea of what those ‘participants’ thought of the demo. I use the term loosely as they hardly participated at all, it was just me talking for most of it.

All sorts of thoughts were running through my head, how could I have not checked who I was presenting to before-hand? Did they follow anything I said at all, or did it go straight over their heads? I had made all sorts of assumptions going into the demo, and I was coming to the realisation that at least some of those assumptions were wrong. I had dropped the ball in spectacular fashion.

“What I need”, I thought to myself, “Is some feedback on how that went”. I couldn’t speak to the participants face to face, this wasn’t possible due to the distances involved. Phone calls to everyone that was in the demo wouldn’t be terribly efficient. Perhaps some sort of survey would get me the answers I need?

So that’s what I did. I used an on-line tool (Survey Monkey, which proved to be quick and simple to use), to create a basic survey . I sent off the link to those persons who were in the demo. Within a couple of hours I had a number of responses and plenty of data to start to analyse.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought.

As it turns out, only one person hadn’t seen the system before and they appreciated the fact that I went back to explain some of the features in more detail.

Another participant explained how the order in which I presented the functionality confused them, something that could easily have been solved by showing another part of the site first.

The other participants all thought the demo was well delivered and the pace of it was fine. The biggest issue appeared to be the projector used in their meeting room, which was a little blurry, plus the glare from the sun coming through on of their windows.

All in all, it could have been much worse. But I learnt a number of things from this little escapade;

  • In future, I need to check the equipment that’s going to be used as well as have a practice run through, this will ensure that things run smoothly on the day
  • Always find out who I’m demoing to. What is their knowledge of the system like?
  • Try to get my audience engaged. If I want feedback at the end of the demo, then I need to keep the attention of the participants.
  • I’m going to try and get feedback from as many demos as possible in future. This is invaluable in improving my deliver mechanisms for future demos.

If you ever find yourself having to deliver a demo. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Why not read my handy guide for avoiding the major pitfalls.

How Effective Are Your Demos?

For those who have read my recent experience with undertaking a demo, you’ll know that sometimes you feel like they could’ve gone better. This is my simple yet effective guide that may help you avoid some of the usual pitfalls;

Feedback is important. Especially so when it comes to software development. How does the new functionality meet the expectations of the stakeholders? Does it ‘feel’ right? Does it positively impact on the customer experience? We need to know the answers to these questions to determine the value of any newly developed function.

There are many ways to gather feedback, but chief amongst our arsenal is the ‘demo’. A simple yet effective tool when done right, you get a bunch of stakeholders together (either on site or remotely), and present the new functionality to them. They can then freely discuss what you have shown them, allowing you to gather their thoughts and feelings on whether any further changes are required.

Demos can be extremely powerful, they allow us as the facilitators to guide the stakeholder’s thoughts onto particular areas of a system or site, to consider certain scenarios or UI enhancements. But, do we use them effectively?

We’ve all attended poor demos in the past. You can picture it; the stuffy room, filled with people from all areas of the business, some of whom have only passing knowledge of the subject matter. The monotone voice, droning on. The demo bounces around, showing different pages and functions so quickly that you have no idea what is going on. Or perhaps the facilitator is focusing on something that you know in detail already, and you’re being taught how to suck eggs. You lose interest, allowing your mind to wander. Your eyes glaze over…

A boring presentation

Sounds awful doesn’t it? It’s a waste of your time, the facilitator’s time and the business ultimately sees no value.

Now consider this, how many demos have you given that play out as described above? You sure? How do you know?

If you want to be sure, then follow this guide for delivering great demos and getting that all important, quality feedback;

Step One – Know who you’re delivering to

Who is coming to the demo? What is their background? Do they understand the system in-depth, or have they hardly seen the system before?

The content of your demo needs to take into account the knowledge held by the audience. There is no point going into technical detail for an audience that has never seen the product before, Similarly, don’t waste time demoing basic functions to people who know the product inside out. It’s not always possible, but try to keep the audience limited to those with a similar level of knowledge. You can then tailor the content to fit. These leads us on to point two.

Step Two – Limit the audience

When inviting you audience, consider what you are trying to achieve. Do you really need to invite someone from marketing to a demo of backend systems? Does QA need to be involved in a demo focused on user experience? Try to keep the audience limited to those who will have something to offer in terms of feedback, those whose opinions matter. Don’t invite loads of people; the more people there are, the less likely it is that your audience will feel confident to ask questions or provide opinions.

Step Three – Keep to a predetermined scope

It’s obvious really, but know what you want to demo and what you want to get out of it from the stakeholders. Don’t let your audience get side-lined onto a completely unrelated conversation. If needs be, you can always arrange for a separate meeting or demo to discuss any unrelated issues. Keep your audience focused on the task at hand.

Step Four – Have a run through before-hand

Again, a simple yet effective step. Practice what you intend to demo. If possible, use the same equipment and/or software that you intend to use on the day. Deliver the demo to a colleague; can they understand the information? Was your delivery clear and concise, or were you mumbling? Preparation is key.

If you are doing the demo on site, make sure the room you are delivering in is big enough, has the right number of chairs and has the equipment you need. There is nothing worse than wasting the first ten minutes of a meeting trying to get the projector working.

Make sure you consider different delivery mechanisms. Does it have to be done using a PowerPoint presentation or could you use something more creative or unusual? If it helps engage your audience, then give it a go!

Get creative with your demo deliveries!

Step Five – Gather feedback on the demo

Probably the step that most often gets overlooked. Just because you delivered the demo successfully and got some feedback, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have gone better. Try to get some feedback on the demo itself. You can do this in any number of ways, from chats around the coffee machine to asking the audience at the end of the demo. Personally, I have used online questionnaires to great success (Survey Monkey is a free, simple, yet effective tool). Keep in mind that some people don’t feel confident enough to make their opinions known in front of others (particularly if there are loud, brash or opinionated members in the audience), so sometimes you will get honest feedback only by approaching these people on their own or allowing them to answer anonymously.

All of these steps are simple enough, but they will help achieve that ultimate goal of getting useful, valuable feedback.