Corporate messengers, chats, forums, video conferencing tools, SharePoint —these solutions make daily enterprise communication easy, secure, and engaging. But what is the place of intranets among other collaboration technologies?
Why organizations need them, and why does SharePoint stay a preferred intranet platform since the early 2000s?
Intranets Are the Kings of Enterprise Collaboration
According to the Enterprise Collaboration Market report by MarketsandMarkets, the global enterprise collaboration market is expected to grow from $34.57 billion in 2018 to $59.86 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 11.6%. While these numbers include a large set of collaboration tools that organizations invest in, intranets will most likely be among the top expense items owing to their high adoption rates among all generational groups of employees.
At the same time, if you check the most popular intranet platforms, you will find that Microsoft SharePoint tops the competition. Since its first release in 2001, SharePoint has gone through many transformations that let the solution stay one of the most used collaboration solutions for almost 20 years.
Answering Two Big Whys
1. Why do companies need an intranet?
Even though there are so many different types of collaboration and communication solutions on the market, intranets offer one unique capability. They put all collaboration channels and activities together under the same digital roof. Such a collaborative synergy enables organizations to ensure information consistency and centralized knowledge distribution while supporting and a unified communication environment.
Key functions of a corporate intranet include:
- Unified multi-level communication
- Centralized access to enterprise content and knowledge
- Uniform workflow and content management
- Coordinated internal and external collaboration
- Secure device-agnostic workplace
- Integrated collaborative environment
2. Why build an intranet on SharePoint?
Today, organizations can choose among dozens of intranet solutions and platform. So why is SharePoint considered the leading one of them?
The greatest advantage of SharePoint is its adaptability. The platform comes with a large set of out-of-the-box features that can be extended with custom ones, which allows for creating a completely unique solution. Owing to its customization flexibility, a SharePoint intranet can become a comprehensive enterprise system that covers multiple functional areas.
What Is What in SharePoint Intranets?
As we have already mentioned, SharePoint has been on the market for almost 20 years. Obviously, during this time, the application has changed substantially. Logically, a SharePoint intranet created in 2019 would have huge functional advantages over a portal from the early 2000s. At the same time, considering the platform’s evolution, multiple releases of new SharePoint versions, and the arrival of the Microsoft collaboration suite, defining a SharePoint-based intranet is ridden with confusion.
A SharePoint intranet can have at least four different incarnations.
1. A SharePoint intranet as an on-premises solution is a corporate portal built on top of any version of SharePoint Server (2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, or 2019). Organizations deploy it using their own infrastructure and take full responsibility for their intranet customization, management, and support.
To implement a SharePoint intranet, companies have to purchases SharePoint Server licenses. Taking into consideration the hardware costs coupled with licenses and tuning spend, on-premises intranets aren’t cheap. This is the reason why SharePoint intranets have been the privilege of large enterprises for over a decade. Fortunately, things have changed with the arrival of the Microsoft cloud collaboration suite that made the following scenarios possible.
2. A stand-alone SharePoint Online (SPO) intranet is a portal based on the SharePoint cloud version. Microsoft owns the platform, which determines the scope of customizations that subscribers can apply to their intranets. Microsoft is also responsible for the solution’s performance, updates, and overall security.
3. A SharePoint Online intranet as part of Office 365 (O365) is often named an Office 365 intranet. In this case, SharePoint Online would still serve as the intranet core. At the same time, if an enterprise gets an Office 365 subscription, they get a chance to build a wider collaboration ecosystem where a SharePoint-based intranet is coupled with other tools such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Planner, Outlook Online, Sway, Stream, etc.
4. A SharePoint Online intranet as part of Microsoft 365 (M365) is also a SharePoint intranet. It comes as a default application in both Business and Enterprise plans, which offer a full pack of Office 365 capabilities, Windows 10 licenses, as well as security and device management tools. All in all, Microsoft 365 finally opened the SharePoint intranet capabilities to all businesses, including small ones.
Building a Modern SharePoint Intranet
Whatever option you choose to develop a SharePoint intranet, you will have to adapt it to your specific corporate environment. SharePoint comes with so many features that it is impossible to offer a one-fits-all configuration for all intranets. It is still essential that any one of them include three main layers of employees’ activities:
- Individual work
- Team and cross-team collaboration
- Enterprise-wide collaboration
Even before deploying your intranet, it is reasonable to plan relevant features for each layer and then implement them in line with your actual organizational needs.
To help you understand which features form a solid SharePoint intranet, we will outline a must-have functional set for each of the above-mentioned layers.
In all on-premises versions of SharePoint, you can find My Sites that offer capabilities for individual work. A default My Site is an employee’s personal area that shows information on this person and their core activities. Contact details and a short bio, a document storage, a personal blog, a newsfeed, and a task list are a few possible components of My Sites that can be tuned individually.
In Office 365, Delve takes the role of My Sites. The application summarizes user activities, contacts, and personal description in one place. Besides, Delve comes with the blog where employees can share insights and knowledge within their professional domain or particular area of interest.
We need to admit that SharePoint intranets often lack well-developed areas for individual work because organizations mostly focus on team collaboration features. What’s worse, nobody explains to employees that they can use SharePoint for their individual needs. As a result, an important piece of functionality lies idle while employees search for third-party tools to arrange their content and share their expertise. So if you are just planning a SharePoint intranet, put My Sites and Delve on your feature list.
Team and Cross-Team Collaboration
Collaboration has become synonymous with SharePoint because the platform offers plenty of features for daily work of in-house, remote, and mixed teams. The many types of sites form the collaboration core of SharePoint and serve as the basis of each SharePoint intranet.
Team sites are the heart of team collaboration in SharePoint and the feature that organizations customize in the first place. A team site is where teams can store their content, communicate, manage projects, share insights, and more. Modern team sites are easy to launch, and even users who don’t have any specific SharePoint knowledge can apply basic customizations to new sites.
If organizations need a more sophisticated SharePoint intranet design and features, they can go for additional tuning of their team sites. Both qualified in-house developers and professional SharePoint consultants can transform default sites into a fully-featured collaboration medium tailored to the needs of specific teams.
For example, if a team is mostly involved in project management, it can be reasonable to fine-tune out-of-the-box project management features, couple team sites with specialized project management solutions from the Microsoft stack, or integrate the intranet with third-party tools.
A site owner can manage access to the team site and all the content stored there. Thus, a team lead can share access to a team site with the team members regardless of their physical location, or provide limited access to particular pieces of content. The mobile SharePoint version as well as the dedicated mobile app ensure that teams use the same collaboration medium across devices and stay connected at all times.
Using communication sites, teams can focus more on visually compelling content and spread it among a large audience. Communication sites can become a great addition to team sites or a core tool for marketing, HR, sales, and knowledge management teams that focus on content management. Similar to team sites, communication sites are fully customizable so that it is not necessary to use default layouts offered by Microsoft.
Hub sites are yet another type of SharePoint sites and a possible component of a modern intranet that is currently available in SharePoint Online only. Think about hub sites as aggregators that bring together content from a variety of associated sites, both team and communication ones.
Other types of sites that can become part of a SharePoint intranet are blogs, community sites, community portals, project sites, and enterprise wikis.
The key strength behind each type of SharePoint sites is that it can be adapted to the needs of teams from different industries and business domains. A construction team can be as successful in collaborating on a team site as a healthcare department or a group of independent lawyers.
To provide teams with other important collaboration features like live chats, video conferencing, and forums, SharePoint sites can be coupled with Microsoft Teams and Yammer.
Companies with Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions can extend their SharePoint intranets with a variety of apps that make part of the collaboration suites. For instance, project-driven teams can benefit from Planner or get an additional Project Online subscription to access the professional project management stack. Teams working with visual and media content can add Sway and Stream to their daily tools, while analytics-centric teams can leverage Power BI.
Enterprise collaboration suggests that information should reach hundreds and thousands of employees easily. On a SharePoint intranet, a Home page usually takes the duty of a corporate herald. The Home page is a separate type of site that offers a variety of web parts that put together content and features from the entire intranet. The Home page welcomes employees and external users, that’s why organizations usually put substantial effort in tuning it in line with their corporate style and business domain. You can find thousands of SharePoint intranet examples with a unique design.