SharePoint is the most widely-used platform for intranets according to Gartner. And the value of intranets in SharePoint is just further enhanced by the current ecosystem of cloud apps offered in Office 365.
In 2016, Microsoft presented a new paradigm for SharePoint sites, introducing two new site types: modern team sites and communication sites. The former is a complete makeover of the well-known classic team site, while the latter is a site with a focus on delivering news in a more engaging format for readers.
A SharePoint site using the communication site template.
In addition to this, the recently introduced concept of hub sites that connect different sites and aggregate news from these sources means a modern site can be ‘promoted’ to a hub site and can serve as portal for a collection of other sites.
SharePoint communication sites for corporate intranet hub sites – Example by Microsoft
With the recent announcements coming out of Microsoft SharePoint Conference (#SPC18), modern SharePoint sites have reached a new maturity level and provide the icing on the cake for intranets with out-of-the-box Office 365 elements. The following new features are sure to increase the impact of SharePoint intranets and top the value for organizations and employees.
You will soon be able to select from which sources you want to pull content in to create news for communication sites.
Promote a news article as being ‘organizational news’ and see the news being pushed to the top of the news feed and getting a more engaging display layout.
News in hub sites get new design capabilities, e.g. carousel sliders, so you can add multiple news to the layout without overloading it.
A long-awaited feature! As news articles in modern SharePoint sites are pages, metadata at page level allows to customize the distribution of news in a way that suits your organization.
Figure 2: page metadata in SharePoint will allow news targeting, an essential feature in intranets.
When you write a news article (or add a comment in a Word document), you will be able to mention other people from your organization with @mentions. By typing a ‘@’ followed by a person’s name, that person will get a notification via email to have a look at the document. This feature improves the already great document collaboration possibilities in Office 365 and in a way creates a lightweight task assignment workflow.
For the first time in its history, SharePoint will have a weather web part out-of-the-box! Since not everyone has the ability to work by a window, this gives your users the convenience of their local weather forecast and something to look forward to when they leave work or plan their weekend.
Figure 3: Introducing the out-of-the-box weather web part in SharePoint!
Your intranet content authors can now edit and enhance images on SharePoint, e.g. adding text overlays or hyperlinks.
For a long time, Yammer was considered as written off by Microsoft. But Yammer still plays an important role in the Office 365 ecosystem and the updated web part proves this. The interface is tweaked to drive users to engage in discussions, with social feed interactions such as “likes”, @mentions and more.
You won’t recognize the new list creation experience! It gets a complete makeover with a more intuitive menu, updated list templates and even the possibility to create a new list starting from an Excel file!
Figure 4: The new list creation experience in SharePoint.
But it doesn’t stop there for lists in SharePoint. They get a new column type ‘Location’ that should play well with the maps web part in SharePoint or with the maps visualization in Power BI. Users who frequently edit information in lists will be happy to hear that ‘in-place editing’ has returned in the modern design and is now always available! Lists also get built-in task assignments for the Planner app in Office 365:
Figure 5: Built-in Planner tasks assignment in SharePoint lists.
A last update for lists will be an Insights button, enabling analytics from Power BI on the list data. This great feature will make reporting on list data extremely easy: click the Insights button, create a report in Power BI and publish that with a few clicks back in SharePoint!
The SharePoint mobile app also undergoes a ‘paradigm shift’ and drops a few tabs in its user interface. The new focus goes to keeping you informed via the News tab and keeping you connected to sites, documents and people via the AI-infused Find tab.
Figure 7: A central role for search in the SharePoint mobile app.
The new features in SharePoint and Office 365 raise the bar once again and make the platform better than ever for a great intranet. But is it perfect? The updated features-set provides great tools to power internal communications and bolster team engagement. But mixing them and customizing the complete intranet experience to your particular business context might not be so straightforward.
If you give priority to the workplace experience but are also concerned with implementation time, then a ready-to-go intranet software has proven to be a more successful choice. The most popular intranet-in-a-box platform - VALO - uses all the possibilities that Office 365 offers and augments them with solutions for some of the missing features. Such an intranet package reduces the required time to implement a SharePoint intranet, but will also follow all the developments in Office 365, integrate the latest improvements and add new updates automatically. As a result, your intranet will have the best of both worlds: the latest and greatest from Office 365 and from VALO!
Alexander Ernon is ECM Business Consultant at AMPLEXOR. Alexander has over 13 years’ experience in business analysis, software consulting and project management, specializing in SharePoint and Office 365.