Your intranet needs more than SharePoint

SharePoint Online is making great strides with their new modern communication sites and will continue to. I question if this is what our intranets need, is this enough.

I’ve been SharePointing since 2003, I’ve seen SharePoint come a long way. I’ve grown to appreciate it where it excels, and cry in the corner when common sense eludes it. SharePoint Online is heading in a great direction with lots of new “modern” features. However, how about the features of today’s modern websites? How does the new modern SharePoint stack up? In comparison to itself, it’s so much better than where it was 2 years ago, or even last quarter, but what about the rest of the world? I’m not promoting cutting edge ideas, instead recent, tried and true, modern ideas. Platforms like Sitecore, AEM, Acquia/Drupal and many others, provide user focused capabilities lacking in our intranets, capabilities sorely needed. We’ll explore some of these here and see how SharePoint compares.

Enterprise Content Management Magic Quadrant — Microsoft still in the top!

Microsoft Office 365 is a fantastic collaborative solution. It boasts market leading capabilities for enabling true collaboration within your enterprise like Teams and SharePoint along with almost-seamless integrations across the entire stack (from Outlook to Teams to SharePoint to Planner, etc.), and even other cloud providers.

SharePoint Online is making great strides with their new modern communication sites and will continue to, but I question if this is what our intranets need, is this enough? I equate communication sites to micro sites: spin one up for sharing a quick fact or feature, or a landing page about your department or group. For smaller companies this may suffice for the entire intranet, but larger enterprises need more.

Office 365 and SharePoint is only part of the equation for a modern digital workplace.

I propose that your intranet needs more than SharePoint to effectively reach and impact your users. Keep collaboration in Office 365, use Teams, SharePoint, Forms, etc., but look elsewhere for your intranet, your internal website.

What more do we need?

Sometimes our intranets are as useful as a library, you have to know where to look!
“Today, employees face a technology experience at work that is starkly inferior to the technology experiences in their personal lives. [They] don’t believe their corporate intranet (accessed via computer) is important for productivity and efficiency and that 40% aren’t satisfied with it for job needs. A majority of the survey respondents access the intranet site once per day or less.” ~ Forrester

Does that quote surprise you? Look at modern websites, and the sites you love to visit, like Amazon.com, your favorite sports team (Patriots of course), news website, etc. They all have some modern core capabilities in common that intranets will lack if they rely solely on SharePoint.

Personalization

Beyond simple audience targeting based on demographics, personalization needs to be based on the activities of the user. I’ve made my fair share of components in SharePoint, where we’d list files or information based on the users’ office location or department. Great, this makes sense and, in many cases, will continue to be a good solution. Office 365 boasts intelligence with Delve and the Office Graph, however out of the box that targets documents.

Instead, we need to look at serving intranet content to our users based on what they do (and they do what they want). Personalization is the ability to present relevant content to your users, based on their own actions. As your users navigate the intranet, from site to site, page to page, the intranet can learn about the person. What are they interested in? What are they looking for the most? Taking into consideration their demographics like location and role, but also weighing in their activities, personalization can provide your employees with an incredible value by providing truly relevant content over static suggestions.

Intelligent Related Content

SharePoint does support relating content to one another, but not in the modern site content pages. I would imagine this functionality will eventually come, but for now, you can’t relate pages to one another. This is huge as your content will spread multiple pages and will most definitely be related to one another.

You should be able to relate your content to one another, based on what users are doing. Think of Amazon and their “Frequently bought together” feature, driven from actual user engagement on the site. What if your site could show related pages based on what most people do before and after they visit this page?

Hierarchy and Taxonomy

SharePoint supports hierarchy and taxonomy but not in their new modern sites. This is a big deal as you want to create content for your users, which is easily discoverable and browsable. Imagine your corporate public web site without a mega menu? How would we find it all? You can’t create hierarchy like folders or sub sites in the new modern sites. You can’t add metadata tags to the pages either. With SharePoint, your content is being discovered by chance in search or sharing links and by a minimal menu structure.

Comparing public websites: a small company can get away with WordPress, a few pages, easy enough. As I said before, your department or a group might be able to get away with a communication site, of a few pages. Large companies, ecommerce sites, sites with heavy B2C capabilities, etc. can’t look at WordPress as it’s too limiting. They need a large platform like AEM or Sitecore to provide the rich functionality their customers would expect.

Reliable, repeatable branded pages, i.e. templates

I do love the new modern interface in SharePoint, how we’re able to drag and drop widgets and configure them on the fly. I can add sections, columns, widgets, text, images, videos, etc.: basically, anything I, as a user, want to put on my pages. I have complete freedom…

This should scare us a little more than it does. There is no set layout, template, or format to adhere to! Your content authors need a structure to fit their content into. The risk here is poorly laid out pages and wildly different experiences across pages, which will confuse your employees. Consistency should be cherished. Individual teams or small function groups may be able to handle inconsistent pages, or self-govern page layouts, but thousands of users browsing HR should not have to rethink what’s what on each page they visit.

Modern web content platforms will give content authors the ability to customize their page within a clearly defined template. For example, the widget on the top right of the page can be removed or swapped out between 2 other widgets. The main content area only supports 1 other widget in its area. These types of practical governance applications allow users to understand pages and what the content means.

Intelligent Agents, like chat bots

Intelligent bots (think Cortana, Siri, Google Home, and Alexa) are poised to be a big hit for the business in 2018. Alexa has services for business, Microsoft Office 365 has its own Q&A bots, native to some features like Teams and it’s easy to create your own. Cloud services like AWS and Azure offer a slew of intelligent bot-like services as well!

Is your intranet ready? To create an intelligent bot, you need to feed it as much data as you can (not just SharePoint pages, but everything on the intranet) and back it with intelligence. Many bots are simply business logic, if the user says this, then respond with that. For example:

Q: Who’s the CEO?

A: Brad Jackson.

Intelligent agents introduce machine learning and AI to provide value to these responses.

Q: Where can I find our latest pursuit for XYZ?

A: Based on usage and search, here’s the top 5 files.

Oh, you’re a sales guy in Boston? Here’s the top 5 that relate to your office.

Oh, you’ve recently spent a lot of time on the DXM practice site on the intranet, here’s the top 5 that relate to your activities.

Oh, you’ve emailed this client over the last 2 weeks, here’s the top 5 files…

and so on…

Campaigns, Funnels and Goals

This might sound funny for an intranet, but it’s all too important to ignore. I loosely define a campaign as things we do to get the word out about a new service, product, offering, etc. Campaigns also have to be measurable, and focus users on an outcome, a goal. Most companies send company-wide communications about new functionality, capabilities, products, services, etc. These normally have links to intranet pages to follow up and read more. Running on SharePoint, your campaigns stop there. Sure, you can see analytics on page usage, but what about the end goal for the campaign? Do you want your users to stop at just reading the page?

Campaigns on modern sites push you to complete a goal, for example: purchasing the product or downloading a white paper. This idea should be applied to our internal comms as well. We have goals for our users too: watch the video, download a file, connect with a colleague, use the new tool, etc. That’s our end goal. How do we track if that’s working? How do we know where they stop along the path? Modern website platforms are built with this in mind, they can provide detailed campaign and user engagement details.

SharePoint isn’t enough

As we look to the modern technologies our employees use daily and come to expect (without even realizing it), we see SharePoint won’t cut it. We want our employees to engage our intranets! User driven activities, intelligence, basic content authoring and governance is a must and should be sought after for your intranet. But don’t fret! As we started, SharePoint Online and the Office 365 suite is a fantastic collaborative platform.

Now, how to we look to get the best of both worlds?

Understand one platform cannot do it all, one provider cannot be the end all for your intranet! Look to leveraging many capabilities across many services.

I’ve always been a fan of using what works, the best. I went from a Windows phone to Android to iPhone because I love what works best (yes, we could argue long and hard here).

Web Content Management Magic Quadrant — Look to integrate with the leaders!

We must look for what works best and integrate. Some capabilities we discussed are going to be difficult to do alone within SharePoint, some near impossible, without significant effort and coding. There are modern solutions that can be leveraged to add these capabilities, alongside SharePoint, to provide your employees the best digital workplace and web experience. Providers like Sitecore, Adobe and Acquia lead the way in filling in the gap. There will be other services to continue filling in the gaps.

We can begin to move away from “starkly inferior” intranets and help employees believe their intranet is “important for productivity and efficiency”.