Will the Out-Of-The-Box Intranet You Choose on Office 365 Be Able to Grow With Your Company Now and in the Future?
With a profusion of out-of-the-box (OOTB) intranet solutions on Office 365 recently available, small to medium organizations now can afford a way to drive higher business success through improved employee collaboration and more effective communications.
But, will the intranet solution you choose today continue to add value to your growing organization tomorrow; or, will you have to replace it in a couple years when your company's needs expand?
With this information in mind, here are some questions to help you decide what the right intranet solution is for your company?
These are all very important questions that SMBs need to not only consider but also answer before even beginning to research and choose an intranet solution.
Here at SP Marketplace, we have successfully deployed intranet solutions over the last six years for more than 1200 customers worldwide. We know what an SMB should expect from an intranet, how much the intranet should cost, and what features are necessary for the SMB at the time it is considering an intranet, both now and in the future.
An important consideration when researching an intranet solution is the structure. If you were going to build a house or buy a house, would you choose one without a foundation or without a blueprint? No. And neither should you do the same when choosing an intranet solution.
When researching an intranet solution, consider if it is going to be just a shallow home page for news and information, or will it be a gateway to a full structure that serves as an integrated internal services solution?
Is the intranet your company is looking at flexible enough to allow your organization to add or expand to it in the future? Can it serve as an organizational hub that will be the foundation to a structure upon which your company can build in the future across departments?
When researching and choosing an intranet, consider these four things:
1. Does it provide a single platform for your employees to do business on?
Office 365 is ubiquitous and used in more than 80% of companies. Microsoft is taking Office 365 from just an email platform in the cloud to a complete ecosystem.
The reality is that your employees are, or will be, using this platform daily, so any intranet solution you deploy should be a natural, native part of this platform. It needs to take advantage of Office 365’s powerful collaborative features, such as Delve, Skype for Business, Yammer, Video Portal, and more, all from one location in the app launcher.
More importantly, can employees access it anywhere, anytime, and on any device?
2. Does the intranet have a flexible, native Office 365 Home Page with Active Content?
Does the home page serve your organization’s unique needs? Is it flexible with different layouts and content that business power users can easily change and update? Can business power users make changes to the home page without code; or, does the intranet require programming changes by an external vendor?
Will the intranet’s content (news, announcements, events, etc.) become stale or will the system automatically capture operational events for the Content Manager (Active Content) to push forward for employees to see and use to be more productive and increase their level of collaboration and communication?
Can employees set up their own personalized content? Does the branding (look and feel) follow Microsoft guidelines? Or, does it overwrite the Office 365 user interface? Many OOTB solutions have impressive user interfaces, but will they still work after the next Office 365 update?
Many will not.
3. Does it provide a complete structure beyond a home page for future growth?
Does your OOTB intranet stop at just the home page? Can it really serve as an organizational hub to automate internal services and business processes? Does it provide a consistent approach for service departments, such as IT, HR, Finance, Security, or others to assist employees? How about a central help desk? Does it provide a documents or forms portal?
When your company grows and expands, as it surely will, can you add modules to grow with it, like an IT Help Desk, Employee Self-Service, or a Project Tracker that plugs into the structure and works seamlessly with the other modules? Could your company actually consolidate and replace disparate legacy siloed systems that dramatically lower IT costs? What is the 5 year total cost of ownership (TCO)?
4. Will it live up to your company’s ROI, and will it transform the way you do business?
One of the toughest decisions when purchasing a new intranet solution is how you will actually justify the cost of the purchase. If the home page just looks great but offers limited functionality and features, the justification is going to be tough.
How much money will you save for news that doesn’t actively update or provides limited collaboration in a single place? What if you could actually transform your manual processes to automated processes so they save employees time and allow them to focus on more important tasks?
What if you could consolidate legacy systems into a single platform that serves as an organizational hub that allows your company to replace hardware, software, and time-consuming maintenance with a consolidated cloud solution that makes it easier to do business inside your organization? Those are hard dollar savings matched with soft dollar productivity savings for employees and department staff. The ROI is a no-brainer.
Additionally, the intranet you choose on Office 365 and SharePoint will be able to take advantage of the many applications Microsoft is adding now and in the future, such as Delve, Skype for business, Yammer, and Video Portal, just to name a few that are currently available.
SP Intranet by SP Marketplace, combined with SP Business Suite, is an out-of-the-box intranet solution that is a fraction of the cost of many similar intranets on the market today, is 100% customizable, features “Active Content,” and comes with the intranet portal, employee self-service, and three generic department portals together.
Comparable intranets on the market come with just an intranet and nothing more, for two or three times the cost.
To really achieve an objective perspective on the right intranet for your organization when researching and finally making a selection, we have put together a free Intranet Evaluation Worksheet that you can download here.
Once you have filled out the workbook, download our free whitepaper, "Use Office 365 as an Intranet Portal."
For organizations who are new to Office 365, one of the challenges to getting to the full potential of the platform is getting employees to use SharePoint Online. As with any productivity / collaboration solution, it is only effective if it actually gets used. As part of the discovery process we have with clients (aka sales process) we hear over and over again the IT person's frustration over not being able to get their users to use SharePoint. Often it is part of the reason they are looking at our business application templates (www.spmarketplace.com). After
further questioning of the client we discover some common things:
This situation often occurs because SharePoint Online happens to come with Office 365, and while there is clear use of email (Exchange), Office, and in some cases Lync all because they were used before on-premise, SharePoint is the new kid on the block to the organization. Also, it does not help that many Microsoft 365 implementation partners also don't have a lot of SharePoint experience, so they do not position it correctly. So given this reality, how can you successfully bring SharePoint to your organization?
1. Define what SharePoint's role is in the organization.
In most cases we see successful positioning of SharePoint in the role of an Intranet Portal, or central website that employees can go to for the latest news, collaboration, and as a central point to access internal services and business processes. In this role SharePoint brings some much needed structure to the way the organization communicates and conducts business. You may need to do some education on the portal concept and its benefits.
2. Get Management and Departments buy in / support
In moving to Office 365, obviously your management has bought into the concept of the cloud and the potential cost savings and productivity gains. They already have made the investment, why not get more out of that existing investment. Educate them on the Portal concept, and how it can make employees more productive. Show them that allowing employees to collaborate will increase competiveness and effectiveness. Literally this is an infrastructure freebie because the investment in the platform has been made.
3. Setup easy to access SharePoint training
Once management is onboard, now it is time to bring in the workforce. Don't assume you will get everyone to attend a week long course, it won't happen. Setup links to quick video courses, and print off reference cards. The training needed is very much like the training to use Word or Outlook. We have an example of an end-user training curriculum on our site: www.-www.spmarketplace.com/sharepoint-end-user-training.html. Here you will find short videos and links to quick reference cards. You can even add online contextual help systems to SharePoint itself like we offer as an add-in to our applications called ShowMe. Of course make sure you have your portal or site up and ready to use before offering training.
4. Structure Your SharePoint Sites in the Context of the Organization
One of the biggest requirements for successful user acceptance is to put the site structure into something that is familiar to them. For instance make the top site (often called Home) your Intranet page. Then have sub sites that are organized by actual departments in your organization. If you have special sites like Employee Self Service, name it something that clearly describes its purpose. To often organizations just put a bunch of document libraries up scattered across Team Sites. There is little context to that.
5. Brand Your Intranet Portal with familiar Colors and Graphics
Your users are like your customers, they are influenced by the look and feel of the site. So like your company's Internet site, your Intranet site should be attractive also. This does not mean you need to hire expensive graphics artists to design it. It just needs to look good. We at SP Marketplace use branding templates to easily make the site look good and apply our clients branding colors, logo, and relevant graphics to do the job. One note: don't put the marketing department solely in charge of your intranet deployment. They will overdo the look and feel and underdo the actual functionality which is key to productivity improvements. It truly needs to be a team effort across departments.
Where do you go from here?
As you can see there is some thoughtful planning and work around getting the most out of SharePoint Online. If you are building from scratch, you could be looking at months or more, but there is ways to quickly realize the potential of SharePoint Online. Instead of building look into buying apps available on the SharePoint Apps Store to compile solutions. Or look at out of the box applications and suites which can install right on your existing SharePoint Online. These allow you to quick-launch organization context, and give your users something to start with.
Which ever way you decide to go, there is transformational productivity gains awaiting your Office 365 deployment!
As a SharePoint business applications Internet service provider, we have walked into quite a few disastrous situations in SMB organizations that picked the wrong consultants to create custom SharePoint applications, especially Intranets. We often get a quick sale of our prepackaged application templates (see more at SP Marketplace) and a relieved happy customer when a successful implementation occurs.
In one example, an organization with 250 employees came to us after spending more than $150,000 with a consulting firm for their Intranet on their Office 365 SharePoint Online cloud platform. After one year they still did not have it in production and the IT Director was fired. His replacement contacted us to implement a buy / customized approach rather than a build from scratch at 1/10 of the cost. Unfortunately, in our experience this example is far from unique.
The issue we find is that many SharePoint consulting firms are focused on large enterprise implementations, with complex requirements, lots of IT staff, and large budgets. These firms have developed their business model to a point that they cannot afford to take on any engagement that is less than $50,000. For many SMB's, this is beyond their budgets.
We are not saying that the SharePoint consulting firms do not provide value and great expertise. We find that there is sometimes a mismatch between the SMB client and the Enterprise oriented consulting firm. Many SMBs are new to SharePoint via their move to Office 365. They have little experience with SharePoint and few technical resources. In most cases they are looking for a pragmatic intranet solution that will allow their organization to communicate and collaborate, and replace "email to everyone" as their main communication method. Also they are looking to use SharePoint to automate manual business processes that may be done in Excel today. What is necessary is a good straight forward implementation that will provide a quick ROI and can be built upon as they grow.
Enterprise SharePoint Consulting Firms - Big Solutions for Big Companies
The traditional SharePoint Consulting firm has been around for years and their focus has been the traditional SharePoint customer - large enterprises (over 1000 employees). Often these customers have had SharePoint for some time, many servers and have a good sized IT staff and perhaps several SharePoint experts. They use SharePoint in specific departments that have complex governance, security, business intelligence, and document management requirements. They are used to spending a lot of hours setting up the servers and administration. Also, their staff tends to be highly technical (sometimes programmers), rather than business analysts who are SharePoint Power Users.
The issue is when they are approached by a new Office 365 SMB client for help, they often don't understand that it is a simpler platform (little setup, easier administration), the business requirements are less complex, and the client may not have a bunch of IT people who can take over when the consultants leave. We find that the clients who just saved a bunch of money by moving to the cloud, do not intend to spend 100's of thousands of dollars to invest in a consulting firm that that focuses on enterprise level complexity and cost.
This is where the mismatch starts. On the Consulting firm's side, they cannot afford to perform an engagement on site for less than a month, because they have better opportunities with their enterprise customers. If a SharePoint consulting firm really wants to develop an SMB practice, they need to do things differently. First, by understanding the economics and a pragmatic approach rather than over engineering a solution, they better meet the needs of the SMB. SMB's should look for SharePoint firms who have created an SMB practice specifically and get references (with the costs).
Office 365 Service Firms - Your Local IT Guys who have moved their services to the Cloud
On the other end of the spectrum is the consulting services firm who may have migrated your email and Office apps to Office 365. Before the cloud, they were the IT service firms that installed and maintained your Exchange and Windows Servers. They are used to doing backups and setting up email, etc. They are your local operational IT guys, and Microsoft has worked with them to transform their services to the cloud. They are really good at the Office automation stuff, but have little to no experience with SharePoint, and often little knowledge of developing Intranet Portals or business process applications. Their business model is at the right price point, but they lack the expertise to create and implement correct business solutions.
We have seen some (those that get it) of these firms step up to learning SharePoint, and bringing in business analyst trained staff to develop their SMB SharePoint practice. These firms partner with us to implement our application templates to save money by not developing from scratch. They work with the SMB to define an overall approach to moving cloud benefits beyond Office Automation to a full business collaboration / automation implementation on Office 365.
Summary - Keep it Simple, Understand the Costs, Get the Right Firm
In summary, as an SMB looking to leverage the cloud, understand that you have an opportunity to really change the way you do business. Understand SharePoint and what it can do (educate yourself). We have some good introduction training videos to SharePoint on our site.
In starting to familiarize yourself with SharePoint, define your priorities (collaboration, information sharing, business automation) and create a plan. Don't "boil the ocean," implement it in steps, and bring your organization along through education about portal concepts. Most importantly, get the right services partner and check references of other SMBs they have done work for (ask how much they paid).
The right partner can be the difference between success and failure for an SMB organization transitioning to the cloud.
Rather than build your own SharePoint site, get an out-of-the-box template.