What does an Intranet portal on Office 365 mean for you? Is it a place for employees to collaborate? Is it a repository for you to access key corporate information and work on your own projects? According to Microsoft, on its Office 365 page, an Intranet portal is a SharePoint site that provides workspaces with customizable security settings for individual teams within the organization.
In other words, Microsoft’s vision of an Intranet portal is a home page template in SharePoint Online. It’s a basic site intended for small teams to collaborate and share documents that includes a document library, a news feed, a One Note library. That’s it.
Let’s simplify things:
Each department might act as an extended team site with a department tasks list, calendar and document libraries. Create one of these and make it the template for the staff of that department to access and use.
Once your organization grows and your needs expand, so will the Intranet portal structure. An advanced structure will provide self-service functions for employees, such as Service Requests, a Documents Portal and a Forms Portal. Each department will have its own portal allowing access to employees in that department. Below is one example of an advanced Intranet portal structure (as provided in SP Intranet Portal module from SP Marketplace).
Basic Intranet Structure
Additionally, you will want to add collaboration sites with the Community Site template as well. This will enable sales, service or other groups to not only use SharePoint Online to store documents and manage activities but also easily share knowledge, experiences and information.
A Consistent Experience
Having the right structure is a good start but to really transform the Intranet into more than just a home page you have to go further. Having a consistent user experience across department sites will achieve this.
An employee who visits the Intranet and then accesses the IT Portal or the HR Portal should experience consistency and unity in look and design. Often this isn’t the case because each department sets up its own portal independently.
Confusion can arise if access to important documents or forms for IT or HR is in different locations in the department portal. Also confusing is if each department uses a different Help Desk or Service Request approach. Having consistency across all departments ensures employees quickly and effectively access key documents and services, which improves productivity and the user experience. Below is an example built by SP Marketplace of consistent portal design across two departments
The above example clearly defines what an Intranet is and what it should accomplish. A successful Intranet portal is in the details and is more than just a home page.
More than 50% of Intranets run on SharePoint. Here at SP Marketplace we have implemented our Intranet Portal template at more than 500 organizations since starting business three years ago. That is roughly two organizations per day since starting business. We have learned a thing or two in that time that we would like to share with you. View our whitepaper here on using Office 365 as an Intranet portal. Let's look at some ideas about how an Intranet should be designed.
So what should an Intranet look like on Office 365?
The answer to this depends largely on your organization. The Intranet portal should reflect the structure of your organization and make it easy for employees to navigate. The documents and services that employees use the most often should be easy to find. And the Intranet should provide intuitive access to those things only used occasionally.
A simple, straightforward design at the basic level would have the organization home page portal at the top with several department portals - HR, IT, Marketing, Engineering - underneath. If you operate a retail organization or run several divisions that share overlapping services, the Intranet structure might have the organization at the top plus a portal for each division, store or region.
Obviously there is much more to a successful Intranet deployment using Office 365, including organization education, keeping content fresh and contextual just to name a few. Tune in next week to learn about how to resolve issues relating to Intranet content.
A Branded Intranet
Branding the Intranet portal will achieve organizational unity and increase value for all stakeholders. This is easy to do using Themes in SharePoint Online. You can match the colors to your organization and add a logo.
If you want to go further, hiring a consultant will help you design a custom SharePoint branding master page. Be aware that if not done right, it could result in problems upgrading to newer versions of SharePoint.
An alternative, and more cost-effective way, is to use a preconfigured branding template offered by third-party vendors. Apply specific colors and other elements to bring it in line with the branding for your organization. Below is an example of a customer’s external site versus their Intranet portal.
A major difference between the SharePoint Modern and Classic UI, is that the Modern UI editor and web parts are built much like popular website building tools (Weebly, Wordpress, Wix etc). That makes them easy to use. Unfortunately, the designers did not seem to realize that building an Internet page is very different than an Intranet. The main difference is the audience. Internets are generally pages built for the masses - anonymous users generally viewing information only. Whereas, an intranet audience is not anonymous. It is made of authenticated users who have different information needs based on role, function and level. The content in an intranet needs to allow targeting, and provide governance (security), over what is shown and who can change it based on the user.
Unfortunately that is not how much of the content management works in the SharePoint Modern and Communication Sites. It is the reason it is generating many articles of concern, here is a few:
Internet - Page building
Audience - anonymous users
Content - general information that is organized but not targeted
Content Source - the pages themselves
Governance - Simple, most of it read only
Intranet - Content Management System
Audience(s) - authenticated users by role, function, level
Content - Information, documents, data that is targeted to audience
Content Source - Lists, Libraries with meta data for filtering, targeting
Governance - Permissions based Content
I want to emphasize though, we are not saying Communications Sites themselves are bad, just beware of how their out-of-the-box content management works. Continue on to learn more.
The Difference is in how the Content is stored
In an internet most of the content is either on the page itself or is controlled by a web part. The content is simple and does not have a lot of intelligence about who should see it. Unfortunately, that is the way most of the Modern UI web parts are designed from Microsoft. News content (wikis) is stored in the general Site Pages library along with all other site pages on the site (including home pages!). They are hard to manage and governance is non-existent. Links and images are stored in the web part themselves on the page so again there is no way to target them. Announcements do not exist, and Events has no targeting or even a calendar view. Quite a step back from the Classic UI web parts that pulled content from lists like Promoted links.
Intranets require real Content Management
An Intranet needs a content management system which sources its content from lists rather than inputting it into a webpart on the web page itself. With the content in a SharePoint list, you can use meta data fields to define who can view the content, how long it should be displayed and even set permissions against it for security. You cannot do that with simple content in web part. Also, it is important that the list the content is stored in is only used only for that content. Microsoft implemented the News function via Wiki pages that reside in the main Site Pages library. This is the same library that all site pages (like the Home Page) are stored, which creates a big problem with security. What if your Content Manager accidentally deletes the Intranet's main Home Page?
Content Management is not done on the page but rather through the lists and libraries which can be organized into a Content Management Dashboard.
How we fixed this in the Modern UI
Having been providing SharePoint Intranet and Department portal templates now for over six years, we understand the best practices for managing content on an intranet site. We already had Lists for Content such as Announcements, News, Events and Promoted Links. We even had the feature to roll-up chosen News, Announcements and Events from Departments into the Intranet Home with approvals.
So the back-end content management structure was there, we needed a way to display it nicely on a modern site page. There were no supporting web parts.
What we did was to develop our own new content web parts for the Modern UI that use SharePoint lists for the content. Each of them sources from the specific lists already used in our solution templates and provides content targeting, governance and filters in a Modern UI page. Content Managers don't have to edit the page every time to change the content, they just go to our convenient Content Management Dashboard. Best of all, if it is used on multiple pages, it can be used over and over again with re-entering it. Our News web part presents the News Content just like the Microsoft web part. Rather than simple links from the Microsoft part, we can use Promoted Links from a list, using our Promoted Links web part. And finally we can actually display announcements, highlight alerts and target them using our new Announcements web part. That is what real Content Management is all about! â€‹
So now we can offer the best of all worlds, the ease of use of the Modern UI pages, and the robust content management of traditional SharePoint. Check out our new Intranet Solution templates for the Modern UI and Communication Sites at www.spmarketplace.com.
Compare our Content Web Parts to the out of the box Microsoft Parts
Recently, we have seen a number of organizations who are looking to deploy an Intranet Structure wrestling with the approach of building it themselves using tools, pieces and parts, from vendors vs. using an already built out-of-the-box application based on best practice design. They are looking at companies like Live Tiles, Unily, or Valo that provide building blocks, thinking they can design an effective intranet structure.
This is interesting because many of people shopping may not fully understand that just having the tools, does not mean you know how to design an Intranet portal structure.
Like building a house with no architectural plan
Let’s step back and compare building an intranet structure to building a house. We have all gone into custom built houses that are poorly designed and wondered what were the original owners thinking?
Imagine you have bought a lot and you are ready to build your home. You can have a bunch of materials dropped off, get power tools and build it yourself. Maybe you have watched some videos and think you can design it yourself. Or you just start building it with the cool new power tools you got.
Small businesses of less than 100 people often have the challenge of building the business, developing product, marketing and generating revenue to keep the business going. Often this does not leave much time to think about putting in place a technology infrastructure to support growth. The owner or CEO, probably does not have the expertise or money to create a technology infrastructure plan.
They get the basics done like email, a website and the office essentials like Microsoft office put in. They might use a small business accounting system like Quick Books to keep track of their financials. The rest is often whatever they can get by with. The major tools are Excel where they may track client information, Employee information, and other data. Even tasks and projects often are tracked in Excel. No one thinks to put together a document storage strategy, and many are kept on employee hard drives.
With Office 365 and the cloud going mainstream, organizations are looking at ways to leverage this powerful platform to go beyond basic email and document sharing. Many small- to medium-size businesses are looking to create a central point of information sharing, collaboration and access to internal services through implementation of an Intranet for their employees.
More than 70% of all organizations rely on an Intranet. Often they are using Office 365 and SharePoint Online as a platform and are starting to become aware of the possibilities.
How you approach the Intranet project though can determine its success or failure. Do you build it from scratch or do you buy an out-of-the-box solution? What are the advantages of one over the other? How does cost factor in? These are all very important, very relevant questions necessary to consider before deploying an Intranet for your organization.
Building a basic Intranet from scratch can start at $30,000. But for more complex, robust Intranets, organizations can expect to pay considerably more, exceeding $100,000. But is building it yourself or with consultants your only option? Lets examine the alternatives.
The features that go into an Intranet are going to determine its adoption and how it benefits your organization. By not deploying an Intranet that empowers employees and helps them find the things they are looking for, companies can expect to lose money on their investment.
Standard features though for a successful Intranet that improves productivity and enhances company-wide communication and collaboration include:
The question is, if 70% to 80% of all organizations need the same features, why are so many Intranet portals being built from scratch? Why not start with an 80% template and customize from there?
In reality though that is what many consulting firms who build custom developed Intranets do. They have templates they use in engagements. Unfortunately they do not always tell their clients because if they did they could not charge the fees they are receiving.
There are a few companies though that provide full-featured Intranet applications, are easily brand-able and can be deployed and easily customized according to an organization’s requirements without programming.
Companies like SP Marketplace and others offer turnkey Intranet portals on Office 365 and SharePoint that introduce an option for "Buy" versus "Build." These applications are prebuilt Intranet portals that can be installed, configured and branded for much less money and time than the traditional custom developed engagement.
Additionally, because these Intranet portals are developed in standard SharePoint on Office 365, business power users can configure them to their specific needs without programming or calling back in consultants. Below is an example of one such turnkey application - SP Intranet Portal.
For example, one SMB in Virginia with 200 employees that was looking to deploy a basic Intranet received build bids from traditional Office 365 and SharePoint consulting firms ranging from $38,000 to $57,000. Alternatively they chose the buy route with a third-party solution and their cost was less than $10,000 deployed and configured. Deployment time was less than a month versus six months.
This is a natural market progression and we will see more packaged application vendors enter the Office 365 and SharePoint Online marketplace, which will result in lower overall costs for customers.
With the introduction and proliferation of Office 365 as a lower cost model for SMBs, providing the corresponding savings for application solutions will follow. This can only be done with repeatable packaged applications that are flexible enough to address the custom 10% to 20% of features required.
For traditional Office 365 and SharePoint consulting firms, they will either need to stick with just the large enterprise deployments or adjust their business model to fit the financial realities of the SMB market.
If you would like to learn more about deploying an Intranet and how to begin, see our white paper "Deploying an Intranet on Office 365."
To learn more about how you can extend Office 365 and SharePoint Online to create a dynamic, intuitive hub for collaboration and internal services with an Intranet portal structure, see a tutorial video Intranet Portal Template on our website.
Many organizations have gone to Office 365 – most because they saw the strategic value of a Cloud Solution and other because, well, Microsoft made them a deal they couldn’t refuse.
The bottom line for all businesses is that it makes dollars and sense to transform from a Client-side model with expensive servers to a Cloud-based solution. They have effectively eliminated the need to manage and install countless updates on so many different Client versions of Office. These companies give their employees greater capabilities and accessibility across all devices….anywhere… anytime.
That is…if they use it. The fastest Ferrari in the world can’t do much if you don’t learn to drive stick shift. We are finding that while a lot of people have moved to Office 365, in reality, their users haven’t adopted and are using the crutches of Client-based programs.
So now, you are paying for the cloud and the clients!?! Why should you pay for something you are not even using?
Putting It All Together: The Components of an Operational Portal Structure at the Core of a Digital Workplace
In our last blog "Putting Office 365 to Work with an Operational Portal Structure," we introduced the concept of an Operational Portal Structure (OPS) and how it is the contextual core of a Digital Workplace. We explored the meaning of an OPS, its evolution, and how it can be realized through Office 365 and SharePoint Online.
In this blog, we will take a deeper look at the core components of an OPS, what is necessary for it to be part of an Office 365 Digital Workplace, and why.
Ignite 2018 Preview: Announcing MS Herds, a New Collaboration Platform that Joins the Office 365 Team Tools
Today, Microsoft previewed MS Herds, a fresh, new addition for teams that want to work together more effectively than ever before.
MS Herds joins the roundup of Outlook, SharePoint Team Sites, Yammer, Groups, and Teams as another collaboration platform to the Office 365 family. It is designed for those teams that want to collaborate with other teams yet still want to stay part of the greater whole.
“We are excited about our newest collaboration offering for multi-team work,” said Carla Chaos, VP of Collaboration Strategy at Microsoft. "When combined with all of our other collaboration offerings, we are now able to include every possible type of collaboration model."
Many organizations have teams that want to collaborate with other teams as part of a greater herd. Microsoft recognized the ebullient need for this situation and developed MS Herds. With MS Herds multiple teams can hold conversations, share documents, calendars, and more without allowing other teams who are not part of the herd to participate.
As more organizations come to understand the value and impact of an Office 365 Digital Workplace, it will be increasingly important for businesses to successfully bring together all the necessary components. By doing so, businesses will empower employees to be more productive and proactive in their jobs while making business easier and more efficient.
To address the needs and the core components of a Digital Workplace, a new concept is emerging called an Operational Portal Structure, and it is the logical next step for businesses to move forward. But what is an Operational Portal Structure? And, more importantly, what is the impact on your business now and going forward?
In the last few months Microsoft has rolled out its new Communications Site, and at Ignite 2017 announced Hub. We compliment the Microsoft SharePoint team on the work they have done and how great the sites look; it's a vast improvement over the old user interface.
The only issue is that many users now think that they can put in a Communications Site and like magic have an Intranet. The question remains:
Are these new sites really my free out-of-the-box Intranet for my organization? The answer is perhaps yes, but probably no.
If your Intranet requires a simple news and activities page that looks good and is easy to create, then yes. If your requirements go beyond this then get ready to roll up your sleeves and put in some time and skills.
With the base Communications Site, you will find that the content will soon become stale, and you have no options for content targeting or personalization. Additionally, there are no built-in processes for approval or other content related activities. All news consists of wiki pages that require the content manager to know SharePoint who must dive into Site Contents and the Site Pages Library to manage news items.
Events consist of SharePoint calendars not related to Office 365 calendars. Communication Sites can only be created in their own site collection, so you cannot mix them with your existing SharePoint team sites. This means that you will have to manage users, permissions, apps and much more for each site collection, which can become cumbersome and complex. There is actually a long list of shortcomings with the design that can eliminate it as the magic out-of-the-box Intranet solution for many organizations. See more in the Clearbox Consulting blog.