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Why do we continue to build Static Intranets with SharePoint?

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The company Intranet, now there’s a big one, and almost every time I hear it associated to the word « SharePoint ». Many SharePoint projects start by building an Intranet and often, depending on the success of that implementation, it will go on to attack different business needs in the organization such as Collaboration or simplifying business processes. The world out there does not yet know or understand SharePoint enough to make a decision on how to use SharePoint so building the Intranet with it is a great way to get familiar with this platform. However, instead of taking advantage of the situation to reinvent the Intranet, we are still seeing « Static » Intranets with content on the page that is built to somehow serve the hundreds or thousands of viewers of the Intranet.

A STATIC Intranet – What do I mean by that?

Why do we build STATIC Sharepoint Intranets

A Static Intranet is really a personal expression of mine and I am sure we can find a better definition for it. It’s what comes to mind when I see an Intranet for people that does not seem organic in the way I view and find content as well as interact with it, especially in today’s world of Social in the Enterprise. There is one time where it really struck me and I often use it as an example in my speaking engagements. I was building an Intranet along with my colleagues for roughly a little over 5,000 people in the organization. At some point in the project we were told we absolutely needed to add a section called « Useful Links » and they had decided what these links were. That’s right, the three of them had decided what the useful links were for all of the 5,000+ people in the organization. At that moment, I didn’t think too much of it and executed their demand. It’s only today, looking at the analytics and collecting feedback that we realize it has almost never been used, what’s useful for one cannot always be useful for the 4,999 others.

For me, a Static Intranet is one where the menus, content and mostly everything inside of it is manually managed and/or does not change to adapt to the user currently visiting it. 

From Home to the Office – I just went back 10 years

Why do we build STATIC Sharepoint Intranets

With today’s ever evolving world of technology, people have grown accustomed to Searching for the content they are looking for. Actually, in most cases a simple page with nothing but a Search Box is what they see when they first arrive on the Internet and it allows them to find all the information they need. Once they find what they have looked for, they can easily Share it through their respective networks of people, people they often interact with. There could come a time where they need to quickly create an event where they will meet with others to do something and it literally takes a few minutes to organize it and link whatever information is needed. If they need to have access to their documents from anywhere, they can look for services that will give them quick access to them from anywhere in the cloud. (See the article SkyDrive Pro vs Dropbox)

Then, they arrive at work. (sigh)

Suddenly, it feels we stepped back 10 years staring at a Static Intranet, Folders to manage our documents and most importantly a Search engine that rarely finds what we are looking for. This means we need to subdue ourselves to the hierarchy and structure one or a small group of people have decided for all of us to find our documents or the right information. We all have different ways of thinking and this applies at work when we are looking for the logical place to find our content. If I have a Contracts folder and a Customers folder, if you are looking for a particular contract for « Customer A » would you go under Contracts or under the Customer A folder? This is just a simple example, obviously it’s a little more complex than that in our wonderful Shared Drives.

I know what you’re thinking, « well that’s nice but we can’t do that here, we’re different ». And I completely understand that but will have to disagree. I am not saying to scrap everything you have and rebuild internally what Google, Facebook, Microsoft, SkyDrive, etc have taken years to build with an obviously very competent, dedicated team. 

What I am saying is « It’s time to reinvent our Intranet ». Remember when telephones arrived in the office? It was unimaginable, how could we do this, no one would work anymore but spend time on the phone calling family and friends and using it in a non-productive manner. It’s interesting to me to hear the same arguments today with the arrival of Social for the enterprise.

To date, my most successful Intranet was one where the homepage was the SharePoint Search Center in 2010 with a few modifications to the design to allow for communications and other pertinent information to appear. Here is an interesting find: which shows stats and some experts in the field’s opinion regarding the popular carousel on the homepage of your Intranet. Time to rethink! 

You use Analytics for your Internet website but not for your Intranet

Why do we build STATIC Sharepoint Intranets

If you still don’t see where I am going with this or simply not convinced, let’s look at the numbers. Anyone managing a website will tell you, use Analytics to see what works and what doesn’t so that you may adapt and optimize the traffic on your website. When’s the last time you did that for your Intranet? How do you know that the money you have or are investing in this behemoth of an Intranet is well invested? SharePoint may not be perfect in terms of available Analytics Features but it does offer enough for you to make better decisions or simply adapt over time to deliver better information to your users. The out of the box will give you Traffic reports as well as Search reports, these can be very valuable to you to see what people are searching for most often so that you can adapt and give them a faster and easier way to get to this content they seem to be searching for.

Start reinventing your Intranet with SharePoint 2013

Ask anyone what the biggest change was in SharePoint 2013 and nine times out of ten they will say « Search ». What is often missed is that even the updated Analytics features of SharePoint have been closely tied to and integrated to Search. It’ll be able to suggest or provide recommendations based on what is often clicked or viewed in your Intranet. In SharePoint 2013, we are seeing Search take a much larger space in everything we do, Intranet or not. In a previous article, I looked at the impact these changes have and explained what Cross-Site Publishing and the new Search Catalog Feature could do. 

Today, we can build smart, search-driven, SharePoint Intranets.

In another article, I show you how to build a smart and friendly navigation that is automatically managed based on the Announcements you build in your Intranet. 

Search-Driven Intranet Announcements

These are very basic examples and really show you technical concepts that can be applied, but the real exercise is to step out of our comfortable zone and try to completely change and drop these static Intranets. Understanding what can be done with SharePoint is key to figuring out the possibilities available for your next Intranet. 

Though Search has a big part to play in reinventing your Intranet by providing Contextual and Dynamic content to the user visiting, there are other ways to deliver a useful Intranet.

More and more are realizing that Social in the Enterprise isn’t something to worry about and can help the enterprise be much more productive, very similar to the office telephone when it first got introduced. Social doesn’t always mean to start allowing the Share to Facebook and Twitter, in fact I would never recommend that for your Intranet. And of course, this can be interpreted in different ways but it’s simply allowing teammates and anyone in your organization to engage in open communication instead of closed emails that only a few can participate in. Adding the new SharePoint 2013 Newsfeed features at the bottom of each of your Intranet content pages will allow them to comment or see what others have said on a certain article. This can be applied on all types of content served by your Intranet as well.

My last example would be with the new « My Profile » accessible by clicking on the Newsfeed in the Top Suite Bar. An interesting approach is to build an Intranet around those three links at the top. From there, visitors can see the company Newsfeed and important messages, access aggregated Tasks, SkyDrive Pro Documents as well as the ones they are following and the Sites tab allows them to see the sites they are following. I think it’s a great time to stop using the Intranet as an internal communication tool but rather empower the workforce to find their content and be more productive.

Stop building static Intranets with SharePoint.

  • Evaluate the current usage of your Intranet using Analytics
  • Understand what SharePoint 2013 can do:
    • Search
    • Social
  • Understand what you are trying to do with an Intranet, what is the need for it?
  • Empower your users by creating a Search-Driven, Interactive Intranet that delivers on these needs.
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