Kentico 8 - Our Experience So Far
Luminary has been building sites on the Kentico CMS platform since 2008, on version 3. In that time, it’s fair to say the CMS has come a long way!
Kentico CMS 8 was released a few months ago, and more recently 8.1, and we’ve now had the pleasure of using it to build a number of sites. The new version introduces a huge number of new features and improvements, which help developers, content administrators, and end users. This really is a huge release, and I can’t possibly cover all of the new features. If you really want to see the whole lot, check out the epic 60-page Kentico 8 Features (3.5MB PDF) released by Kentico CTO, Martin Hejtmanek. Alternatively, here’s our "Best Of" collection of new features you're going to love.
I recently did a presentation on the new release at an event we ran with Kentico in Melbourne, which you can see at the end of this article. For those who prefer to read, here’s a summary of what’s new in Kentico 8, and our impressions so far.
Major UI Redesign
In the years we’ve been using Kentico, the User Interface has undergone a gradual evolution. The changes have mostly been cosmetic however - updated colour schemes, icons, and minor changes to where you would find things.
In Kentico 8, they have completely redesigned the interface from the ground up. Kentico put together a dedicated UX team and looked at every aspect of the interface. They also consulted closely with many of their implementation partners (such as Luminary), and opened up their work in progress to the community at events such as Kentico Connection in Sydney.
For developers and administrators, one of the major differences is that there is no longer a distinction between CMS Desk or Site Manager! There is one “admin” area, which covers everything you could need, and simply changes what is available depending on your level of access.
A few major changes you’ll notice instantly, and that we’ve found have made our lives much easier in Kentico 8, are listed here.
The Application List
This is a huge change! Instead of tabs, ribbons and toolbars spanning the top of the screen, there is a drawer that opens from the left, with every module, or “application”, you could need to access. You can simply open the drawer (hit F12) and start typing what you want, and it instantly filters your options down to match, very much like typing on the Start menu or Start screen in Windows 8.
No one likes searching through documentation. In Kentico 8, the help options presented to you on each screen in the administration console are “contextual”, meaning they change and adapt to only present to you the help that you are likely to need on that page. For example, while editing a page, the help menu contains options such as “create new pages”, “edit new pages” and “work with the text editor”. If you’re editing a newsletter, you’ll notice the help menu has changed to include options such as “manage newsletter subscribers”, “track newsletter emails” and “A/B test newsletter issues”.
Of course, Kentico still provide their exhaustive help documentation for the system for when you need to go deeper. In fact, the documentation has been improved significantly with a move to the popular Confluence system.
New Forms Module
This is one example of a huge change, addressing something that was honestly a bit clunky in earlier versions (sorry guys!). It was admittedly a powerful tool, but it looked like it was built by programmers, for programmers.
In Kentico 8, creating forms such as a Contact Us form, is dead easy. Gone are the database-table-editor style screens - they’ve created a truly visual, drag-and-drop interface to create and edit forms in no time. For the devs out there, we’ve found that they finally give you better options to clean up that ugly table-based generated HTML layout too.
Kentico EMS Improvements
Kentico EMS (Enterprise Marketing Solution) continues to improve in leaps and bounds in Kentico 8.
Segmentation/profiling of your users is made much easier using User Personas. For example, you might create a Persona that represents a typical representative of one of your user groups, such as “Ted”, who is an 18-30 year old male, interested in highly technical content. This makes it simpler to personalise the content on your website, and instead of creating complex rules for where and when things should be shown or not shown, you just say “if this person matches Ted, show them this content”.
There are a bunch of other EMS improvements, including client-side activity tracking (similar to Google Analytics), improvements to A/B testing, and more. If you’re into the EMS, I’d highly recommend checking out Adam Griffith’s presentation on Improving the Customer Experience with Kentico EMS.
Ecommerce was a huge area of focus for Kentico 8. I can honestly say that we pushed them very hard for improvements in this area, and they certainly delivered!
Some of the major new features include:
New Discounts Engine
This new module allows you to configure pretty much any discounting rules you can think up. You can take advantage of the powerful rule editor, and tap into any and all information relating to products and customers. For example, it’s now simple to configure a “10% off all products from Brand X during October” special.
This one had our developers cheering. The way the checkout pages work has been redone totally. You can now build your checkout process using portal templates and web parts, just like other areas of the site. This allows you to simply create any checkout process you need, using your own markup. For example, you can now quickly build out a fully responsive, one-page checkout. In previous versions, this would have required considerable customisation.
Kentico now has full support for complex, granular product variations. For example, if you sell t-shirts, you probably sell them in different sizes. But you might also sell them in different colours, and you might need to track your inventory for every different size and colour combination separately.
Kentico will now manage your variations, creating and managing individual SKUs for your variants, and allowing you to manage the stock, pricing, discounts and more for them in efficient and easy ways.
Social Media Integration
Kentico CMS has supported basic integration with Facebook for quite some time. In this version they’ve really gone deeper with their social media integration.
There are now dedicated modules for managing your social media content, right within the Kentico interface. This can easily be configured to be right there on your marketing team’s personalised Kentico dashboard.
Posting directly to Facebook or Twitter can be configured to be part of your automated workflows when reviewing and publishing content such as blogs.
Authentication against social media has gone deeper too - now when your users authenticate using their Facebook details, you’ll be able to fill out more of their user profiles within Kentico (and the EMS), so you have richer profiles to help personalise your content and guide your marketing automation workflows.
The new dashboard upon login looks really pretty, but what if you’re not interested in most of those tiles? Luckily it’s incredibly easy to personalise your own dashboard, adding or removing applications/modules to put links to the things you’re actually interested in right there.
For developers and administrators, you can configure the dashboard that users in particular roles will see. So your content management users can see links directly to the Pages and Forms modules, while your marketing users might see information about Newsletters, Forms submissions, and Analytics.
In Kentico 8.1, tiles are now “live”, meaning they actually show dynamic content right there on the tile. This is really useful, showing information such as the number of form submissions, or errors in the event log, right there on the tile, without you even having to open the module. I’m already noticing the lack of these handy dashboards when I’m working on a site running an earlier version.
Smart Search Improvements
Kentico already has quite a good search engine, but they've made it even better. For the nerds reading this article, it takes full advantage of the Lucene engine now. Kentico CMS has used Lucene for its “Smart Search” for a number of versions, however now they’re opening up access to more of the advanced and powerful features it provides such as:
- fuzzy search - in other words, typo-tolerant
- synonym matching - search for "assistance" and get results for "help", "aid" too
- stemming - a search for "conditional" matches "conditions" and “conditioning”
- native support for searching through file attachments such as PDFs
There’s also support for predictive search, which will show a preview of your search results as you type. I can already see this being in high demand!
Previously, the Workflow module was something that administrators would configure as part of applying business rules to the site. The majority of users would then be limited to editing and approving/rejecting documents within the workflow that had been applied to their document type or site area.
Now, more flexible workflows can be configured, and applied ad-hoc to documents where appropriate, by document editors. For example, you might have a translation workflow that is not necessarily applied to every page in your site, but can be selectively applied to only pages that require it.
Upgrading to Kentico 8
So how do you access all these awesome features when you’re stuck on an earlier version? The good news is Kentico have now started releasing their upgrade packages on the same day that they release the new version.
As always, new Kentico versions are major upgrades. They introduce new features, and in some cases, make significant changes to the underlying APIs. It’s not always possible to upgrade with a single click, and even if it is, it’s not something you do lightly!
We’ve successfuly upgraded a number of sites so far (including our own) and found the process to actually be a bit better and smoother than previous upgrades. Part of this is due to the new upgrade tools Kentico has made available, such as a tool that will scan your site for any potential upgrade hiccups, such as custom code that is using deprecated API methods.
This isn’t a sales article, but if you’re interested in upgrading, just get in touch with us and we’ll be able to let you know what’s involved in your particular case.
Kentico 8 is great. It’s a huge leap forward on top of the solid base of Kentico 7. It introduces long overdue modernisation of the UI, and some truly powerful new features. If you value the User Experience of your CMS, you should definitely look seriously at upgrading.
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