Is the intranet still relevant with Office 365?

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For the past 5 years, I’ve been working day and night building Intranets for large organizations. What have I gotten out of this experience? A lot of lessons learned, a few failed attempts and some amazing Intranets.

In this series of articles, I’ll share some tips and lessons so you don’t encounter the same issues I have.

The Office 365 Intranet Series
1. Is the Intranet Still Relevant with Office 365?
2. Your Office 365 Intranet – Collaboration or Publishing?
3. How to Start a Collaboration Intranet in Office 365 (Coming Soon)
4. How do you begin a new Publishing Intranet in Office 365 (Coming Soon)
5. Lessons learned by building 7 SharePoint Intranets (Coming Soon)

I’ve read so many blogs discussing Intranets and most of them have confused me more than anything else. Some authors talk of “social Intranets”, others value the term “digital workplace”. I’ve read whitepapers on creating Intranets in Office 365 and I even found a few articles suggesting the Intranet is dead! But is it really?

I’ve decided to write this article to clarify the question.

In consulting, the typical scenario will go like this:

  1. An organization will put out a request for proposal
  2. Following the request, the organization chooses a business partner (consultant)
  3. The corporate communication department will work with IT to open an RFP and invest thousands of dollars customizing a good looking “Digital portal” to do the following things:
    • Communicate relevant and targeted information to the employees
    • Improve collaboration between the teams
    • Search for resources within the organization

No matter what your company is, business objectives are always the same.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the number of “Intranet in a box” solutions out there! These products exist because the problem is real. They address the exact same targets, while providing slightly different branding depending on your organization. Of course, they all have responsive design, because mobile access is essential in 2017.

The Mistakes We Made

A lot of companies started using SharePoint for document management in order to replace file systems. Some of them said:

“Hey! We already have this great tool with a lot of OOTB features, let’s build our Intranet on this platform. We’ll make it the gateway to our business information.”

Not a bad idea! After all, SharePoint offers content management, publishing workflows, language management, versioning and even security trimming features.

But, things are not always as they seem.

Here are some of the common problems with this approach:

  • Customizing SharePoint to a corporate image is difficult
  • SharePoint development experts are hard to come by
  • Intranet projects can cost between 200k and 500k$
  • Responsive design is almost never an option
  • Collaboration site creation is protected by IT admins
  • Managing an intranet infrastructure is complicated and expensive

Office 365 Is Changing Everything, What Should We Do Now?

Now that Office 365 is around, should you be looking at your business objectives in the same way you did before? I think not.

If you’re currently planning your Intranet project, I suggest you take a step back and think about the real reason WHY you’re even thinking about investing money into this thing.

The fact is that people in your organization are already trying to find easy and efficient ways to communicate and collaborate.

If you do nothing, they will most likely turn to other solutions like Dropbox, Google drive, Slack, Trello and all those other trendy tools available online.

If you’re an IT administrator or a communications expert, you already know that having multiple tools addressing similar problems will lead to a loss of control and ineffective communications. While users may feel a gain in productivity on the short term, the organization will suffer in the long run from a lack of standardization.

Productivity and standardization in the same sentence, is that even possible?

Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into making Office 365 this thing we call the “digital workplace”. Basically, it’s a place where communication tools (Teams, Yammer, Outlook) and productivity tools (SharePoint, Planner, BI Portal, OneDrive, Word/Excel/PPT), are all accessible in a single place. It’s a place where users can get work done in a smooth, efficient and organic way, because they shouldn’t have to go through complex processes to do so.

With or without Office 365

So, maybe my intranet isn’t what I thought it was… maybe Office 365 IS my intranet!

Let’s take a look at why I would think that:

  1. Office 365 comes with a lot of communication/collaboration tools out of the box
    Communicate relevant and targeted information to the employees in Office 365
  2. It offers document management and search solutions
    Office 365 offers document management and search solutions
  3. It’s linked with your Active Directory for people search and security
    Office 365 linked with your Active Directory for people search and security

Imagine all the effort it would take to bring all those things into one integrated solution for your organization. Now with Office 365, it’s done for you and it’s improving every day. No need to manage a farm on your own anymore!

You can now focus on leveraging those tools with your teams and to really improve your productivity.

In the next articles of this series, I will guide you through some of my recommendations for your intranet initiatives in Office 365.

2. Your Office 365 Intranet – Collaboration or Publishing?

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