Launching a SharePoint intranet in 4 steps

Launching a SharePoint intranet in 4 steps

February 19, 2020

Sandra Göğer

Digital Experience Strategist

SharePoint is an intranet platform that will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021. Having gone through numerous transformations, SharePoint managed to survive a tough competition and stay the most popular software for corporate portals worldwide. Logically, not only technologies have evolved in two decades, but also the very concept of the corporate intranet and its functions. That’s why an intranet of the 2000s differs substantially from an intranet of the 2020s.

Let’s look at the most important changes.

A SharePoint intranet then and now

The global technological progress and changes to enterprise collaboration caused by business process automation have been shaping SharePoint, as a platform. Since its first version was released in 2001, the capabilities of SharePoint intranets have expanded substantially.

Cloud intranets. The release of SharePoint Online and Office 365 started the new era in the intranet history. Although moderately welcomed in 2011, Microsoft’s cloud suite grew into a collaboration giant with at least 200 million active monthly users. While the glory of SharePoint On-Premises has faded with the rise of SharePoint Online, the choice between different deployment options is still difficult for intranet owners.

Mobile-friendly intranets. SharePoint was long blamed for its lack of mobile adaptivity. Indeed, organizations often had to involve in extra mobile development to make their intranets available on mobile devices. Luckily, the cloud intranet has brought positive changes. Now, the iOS and Android apps are available by default for all SharePoint Online subscribers.

The shift from BPA to collaboration. SharePoint intranets have earned their reputation as multifunctional hubs. Objectively, SharePoint On-Premises portals often serve as all-in-one content, knowledge and workflow management solutions, sometimes even as fully-functional enterprise systems, such as CRMs or help desks. However, in the last few years, the platform became more collaboration-oriented for two major reasons:

  • Forced customizations entailed performance issues. Microsoft kept advising organizations against extreme customizations of their on-premises portals and voiced their concerns about related performance risks. However, the wish to stuff SharePoint with all possible features at once often prevailed over common sense. To protect their cloud suites from similar issues, Microsoft put customization restrictions in place, which changed the approach to SharePoint development and use and forced platform adopters to make do with its primary collaboration focus.
  • Organizational cultures became increasingly collaboration-centric. SharePoint, as well as Office 365 and Microsoft 365 suites, couldn’t stay away from the buzz. As a result, the platforms got enriched with numerous features and apps for various scenarios: from instant messaging to MR-enabled collaboration spaces.

Demand for the intelligent workplace. Finally, modern intranets couldn’t stay static content storages anymore. Intranets had to become working assistants, accompanying employees inside and outside the office. The modern intranet “intelligence” translates into smart content delivery based on employees’ preferences and activities, a greater freedom of communication, and deeper integration of intranet components, specifically within the complex Office 365 and Microsoft 365 ecosystems.

Building a modern SharePoint intranet from the ground up

The new requirements for the SharePoint intranet as well as its new capabilities make companies rethink their strategies of intranet development, implementation and adoption. At the same time, the quality bar of services provided by SharePoint consultants also keeps rising. Today, SharePoint professionals need to be fluent in all SharePoint On-Premises versions as well as be able to tackle cloud collaboration challenges.

All in all, to launch a well-functioning SharePoint portal, organizations have to take the following essential steps.

Step 1: Choose an optimal deployment model

Currently, there are three major options of intranet implementation:

  • An on-premises intranet on SharePoint Server
  • A standalone cloud intranet on SharePoint Online (or within Office 365 and Microsoft 365 suites)
  • A hybrid intranet comprising both cloud and on-premises components

More often, organizations face the dilemma of SharePoint On-Premises vs SharePoint Online, because the two platforms have several critical differences. Overall, when opting for either of SharePoint deployment types, business customers choose:

  • A licensing model that matches their budgeting expectations when it comes to the long-term TCO of their solution.
  • Out-of-the-box features. SharePoint Online comes with a number of features unavailable in SharePoint On-Premises (for example, hub and home sites) and vice versa (for example, publishing sites).
  • The customization model offered by Microsoft to tune an intranet.
  • The support model necessary to ensure an intranet’s stable and secure performance, as well as its further development.
  • The comfortable level of control over the deployment (for example, owners of cloud intranets can’t access the SharePoint Online physical deployment as it belongs to Microsoft)

Step 2: Tailor your intranet’s core features

After selecting the optimal foundation for a SharePoint intranet, owners can move on to its customization. The ‘stuffing’ usually depends on the overall business needs, as well as on the specific activities and preferences of particular departments and teams. Overall, a typical SharePoint intranet should include several essential components.

The homepage is the face of a corporate portal. This is the first page that welcomes users once they log in and the starting point for employees to access corporate resources and systems. The intranet homepage needs to be designed with care as it determines users’ first impression about the intranet and defines how easily they can find the required information.

In SharePoint Online, business users can access pre-built SharePoint home sites that are based on SharePoint communication sites described below. Home sites can be the fastest way for organizations to set up well-structured home pages for their intranets without spending much effort on their customization.

Collaboration sites are the heart of a SharePoint intranet. They come with newsfeeds, discussion boards, calendars, rating and ranking features, mentions, and likes.

SharePoint owners can choose among different types of sites to cover various collaboration scenarios. Let’s take a closer look at the most popular SharePoint sites that can be part of an intranet.

  • Team sites are the digital workplaces for team members to publish project updates, coedit documents, organize events, and discuss ongoing activities in a centralized manner.

    It is necessary to add that Microsoft Teams often take up the task of team collaboration in cloud intranets. For example, Helmerich & Payne, Inc, a US-based oil and gas well drilling company, launched over 2,000 Teams channels to support real-time team communication and content sharing, as well as synchronize the activities of distributed teams from different cities.

  • Communication sites help employees share information with large audiences. This is a suitable medium for analysts, marketers, and HR managers to spread news and reports, showcase projects, and organize events or training sessions across the organization. The greatest advantage of communication sites is that they come with several pre-built templates, which makes it easier for users to launch them and fill them with content and features they need most.
  • Hub sites (available in the cloud only) let SharePoint Online owners better organize their cloud intranets by putting similar sites, projects, content, and common activities under one roof.
SharePoint look book—Global marketing hub
  • Project sites offer a set of collaboration features similar to those provided by team sites. Additionally, they contain default project management features, including project summaries and timelines, project-related tasks, and libraries for project documentation. They can also be extended with the Planner features or integrated with Microsoft Project to let teams collaborate on complex projects.
  • Community sites help companies diversify social collaboration. In practice, they can serve both business and entertainment purposes. A community site can be a hub for employees from the same business domain to discuss their activities, share experience, and accumulate professional knowledge. At the same time, community sites can be a meeting point for users who share the same interests (sports, traveling, music, etc.) regardless of their professional status.
  • Enterprise wikis host organizational wisdom. SharePoint wikis can also become learning and training centers in an organization. Smaller teams can use them to accumulate corporate knowledge and experience within particular projects or business domains.

Organizations can use all of the above-mentioned SharePoint sites as either separate collaboration units or building blocks of large business solutions that cover specific processes (for example, document management, quality management, reporting) or activities of particular departments (for example, legal, R&D, accounting, etc.).

Step 3: Give unique features a go

Opting for only standard SharePoint features means stopping halfway. To make their intranets stand out and attract users, companies can extend their intranets with extra features.

Personalized content delivery. As it was mentioned earlier in the article, today’s digital users got used to personalized content all over the internet. Logically, they expect the same individual approach from their corporate resources. Fortunately, the modern SharePoint already includes smart AI-based technologies that allow end users to activate a smart search and see recommended connections and content. To make a step forward, companies can turn to qualified SharePoint consultants to build custom web parts with personalized content that will adapt to users’ preferences and working habits.

SharePoint portal

Knowledge management embedded in team collaboration. When trying to come up with a knowledge management strategy, organizations often implement knowledge bases that stay unused. But rather than generating stiff and isolated wikis, it’s worth implementing knowledge management features within other frequently used intranet components. For example, if you run team sites, you can extend them with idea-sharing areas and subsites for brainstorming and research, where team members can accumulate and improve project-related knowledge and expertise as part of their working activities.

Social components. Apart from launching community sites, a company can enrich their SharePoint intranet with social components accessible for all employees.

  • Corporate benefits help employees stay updated on corporate perks and choose offerings according to their taste. This group of features can include discount programs, food menus, events, and learning activities.
  • Corporate markets enable employees to give away or sell things they no longer need, share gifts, and offer help to their colleagues. Intranet-hosted markets can also be suitable for charity programs and events, or even bookcrossing.
  • Contests and awards can feature the most productive employees or those who excel in particular projects. This section can also be entertaining and used to announce in-house and external contests, list winners and their trophies.
SharePoint intranet example

SharePoint productivity add-ins. Organizations usually prefer traditional add-ins that display weather forecasts, birthdays, or currency rates. However, productivity add-ins can be of greater value than informational ones. Those can be task management, document management, personal growth or learning management SharePoint add-ins. Such add-ins will help employees have important information (for example, reports, statistics, project timelines) at their fingertips and stay productive.

Step 4: Zero in on SharePoint design

Last but not least comes SharePoint design. Again, with the growing popularity of Office 365, SharePoint in the cloud was the first among SharePoint versions to get a reworked look and feel, which facilitated intranet design. The common approach to SharePoint design is simple: it’s unreasonable to create unique designs for every single page of a corporate portal; instead, it makes sense to focus on the key components.

  • The intranet homepage determines the portal users’ very first impression, encouraging users to continue their journey or making them leave.
  • Custom site templates can be adapted throughout the entire intranet across team sites, community sites, and knowledge bases.
  • Custom web parts can be designed in line with the SharePoint site to which they belong. Web parts can also include the elements corresponding to the team or corporate identity or styled symbols of the activities they support.

Intranet is an ongoing commitment

By following these four steps, you can deliver all the components essential to your corporate portal. You can add your own elements to align the intranet with your organizational structure, business domain and corporate culture.

When cooperating with a SharePoint consulting company on an intranet project, it is important to find the right balance between out-of-the-box SharePoint capabilities and customizations. This will help to create a functional and unique intranet while staying within a reasonable budget.

It is also necessary to avoid one typical mistake: neglecting post-deployment activities. First of all, SharePoint intranet owners should plan user training to ensure successful intranet adoption. Second, continuous maintenance is a must. Organizations need to monitor the deployment to address issues at the technological level as well as implement new features, dismiss unused components, control content workflows, and prevent the unmanaged propagation of collaboration sites.