SharePoint Intranets then vs. now: A UX Perspective

SharePoint Intranets of Today

SharePoint Intranets Then Vs. Now: A UX Perspective

The intranet is the hub of the digital workplace, a central driver of collaboration and transformation for organisations in the digital era.

As a SharePoint and UX consultant, I have lived and breathed the evolution of this collaboration platform over many years, experiencing the rapid transformation of SharePoint from a primary collaboration platform for intranets to an online environment where users can embrace creative collaboration, with a higher level of self-service for all.

SharePoint Intranets Of Yesterday

The average intranet development time in 2001 was over 33 months. Small teams worked on these projects, with limited access to human resources and even fewer employees dedicated to intranet maintenance, governance and iterative development. However, in recent years development time has reduced to 14 months and usually involves teams of up to 20 members, which can grow even larger as different stages of the intranet goes live.

Intranets act as a reflection of an organization’s brand and identity. Therefore, customization has always been an important element when organizations are designing their SharePoint intranets. Microsoft enabled this functionality in 2007 when it merged its Microsoft Content Management Server (MCMS) into SharePoint, which gave designers complete control over page rendering. Around the same time SharePoint introduced Publishing Sites, which included most of the MCMS capabilities as well as design composites.

This level of flexibility led designers and developers to believe they could build any imaginable site from scratch. However, when the next version of SharePoint was rolled out, it became apparent that upgrading required a lot of rework in terms of new master pages and page layouts. This caused many customers to put off the upgrade, leading some to believe SharePoint should never be customized as it only led to significant problems in the future.

SharePoint Intranets Of Today

The phenomenal growth of SharePoint Online has resulted in more customers building portals using SharePoint Online as their main platform. This provides access to a powerful suite of modern features and ensures the right content is always placed in front of the right people, resulting in smoother, more reliable communication and experiences for site owners and users.

SharePoint Online continuously evolves, allowing intranet teams to use modern web parts as the building blocks of their intranet requirements, with modern templates offering attractive out-of-the-box designs.  The adoption of these modern sites can strengthen intranets, resulting in improvements in search and collaboration, while at the same time reducing development and design costs.

Organizations are also analyzing the cost difference between building solutions on SharePoint vs. building an application from scratch, especially when considering the integrations with other Office 365 apps like PowerApps, Flow and Microsoft Teams which automatically come with the former. While previous versions of SharePoint made it tempting to customize everything, with SharePoint Online, it’s a good idea to evaluate the business benefits of the required changes. Is there any real business value to this change?

Critical Considerations For Intranet Success

Using an agile approach to developing a modern intranet enables increased flexibility, and allows the digital workplace to develop and evolve as your organization does, and removes the sense of finality of a released design.

Another critical consideration is your intranet content strategy. The importance of content, rather than purely the design of the platform, plays a big part in your employee’s experience with the intranet. Without fresh, engaging content that’s relevant to different segments of users and maintained on a regular basis, adoption suffers.

A content audit, migration and ongoing management are essential to each team’s strategy. Training for content editors and publishers is also key to ensuring the content strategy works effectively. By regularly reviewing what’s working and what’s not, the strategy can adjust to ensure ongoing effectiveness.

In line with the quest for continuous improvement, Microsoft is releasing products aimed at increasing efficiency and collaboration across organizations, right out of the box. These collaboration sites integrate with Office 365 groups, greatly improving employees’ experience. They are also responsive by design, allowing use across all devices.

Emerging technologies are pushing designers at Microsoft to rethink customer and user journeys, working on delivering a seamless flow of experiences across the entire Office 365 ecosystem. New technologies will transform the design process, with AI already helping designers to work faster and smarter by automating time-consuming tasks, and, thereby, leaving more time to be creative.

What will collaboration look like 20 years from now?