The right answer is: BOTH.
So the question we need to answer here is, which one comes first? Should you be concentrating first on collaboration? Or on publishing?
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
4. How do you begin a new Publishing Intranet in Office 365 (Coming Soon)
5. Lessons learned by building 7 SharePoint Intranets (Coming Soon)
Before we get started, let’s look at the difference between these two concepts in the context of building an Office 365 Intranet for an organization. This is the classic representation of each concept:
Collaboration: the action of working with someone or multiple people to produce or create something.
In the context of a collaboration Intranet, users will be looking for tools that provide easy and efficient ways to work together, with one or multiple teams, inside or outside their organization.
Publishing: Generally for top down communication of information. We could also now call these "communication sites", following Jeff Teper’s announcement at the 2017 SharePoint Virtual Summit.
In the context of a publishing Intranet, users are looking for tools that allow content management in a controlled and structured environment, with authoring and versioning features.
The Office 365 Intranet Project
When a company starts to talk about an Intranet, they're either looking to “refresh” an existing one, or they have none and realize it could be useful.
This kind of project can go different ways, depending in which part of the business the product owner works.
Communication departments expect a tool to publish important corporate information, documents and news;
IT departments are generally more interested in the collaboration side of the things (project sites, document management, etc.)
In my experience, both aspects are important if you want to meet your Office 365 Intranet’s goals: Improve communication and productivity.
Top 5 Intranet Features
Every Intranet is different, yet so very similar. I've often noticed that organizations struggle with the same issues and tend to come up with similar solutions. That said, here's a list of the top 5 features you'll normally find on a homepage:
Useful links to my productivity tools (in or out of Office 365)
Links to my collaboration/team sites
My latest documents
What can we observe here? Three out of those five important features are relating to collaboration. They're presenting YOUR personal files, the sites YOU use frequently and YOUR necessary tools.
Why is that? Because organizations started positioning the intranet as a mandatory stop to get to your work-related information.
It was a way to make sure corporate news got maximum visibility, by forcing it in the employees workloads. We even started referring to the intranet as the “employee portal” or “Virtual corporate entrance”. A user-centric Intranet… a one stop shop!
What Really Matters
When people open their Intranet, they have a clear goal in mind. They may be going for their emails, for their documents or to have conversations with their colleagues.
When asking users how they use it on a daily basis, rarely do people say: “I'm going to see what’s up with my organization today”.
Remember that collaboration is the main reason employees will start using your Intranet frequently. So, bringing people to work together in a controlled and secure environment should be your primary focus.
I'm not saying that your publishing Intranet is not important, only that collaboration is far more valuable.
When you think about it, this approach is quite pragmatic.
Go ahead, draw what your Intranet’s home page would look like.
Does your drawing include the feature set described earlier? Do you think your homepage would be more useful and attractive if the user didn’t actually have collaboration spaces or any working documents yet in Office 365?
I think you know the answer… It'll look empty and unused!
Where to Start: My Advice
I recommend that you go against your first impression.
Your instinct may tell you that you need to have a pretty facing gateway for your employees. Maybe a publishing Intranet to present your organization’s HR politics or your corporate communications. Basically a responsive and modern internal website…
Do you really need this stunt to try and convince your employees that Office 365 is cool? You shouldn’t! With Groups, collaboration just gets better and better every day.
Whether it’s on an obsolete CMS, an older version of SharePoint or a bunch of word documents, you can keep your old “publishing Intranet” active for a little while longer. Help your teams settle into their new collaboration environment first.
In order to kickstart your Office 365 Intranet project, you will need to consider these pre-requisites:
Your Active Directory users should be synchronized to Azure Active Directory using Azure AD Connect
You should migrate your mailboxes to Exchange Online
These aren't complex steps, but they can prove difficult in certain organizations, especially larger ones with complicated infrastructures.
Define a Roadmap
Next, you should consider planning a migration project for your files. After all, those files are the core of collaboration in your organization and require some thinking.
Build an inventory of everything you have in your environment. Be sure to identify the different owners of your documents.
Clean up everything that no longer has value and reorganize your files as necessary.
Prepare your destination environment. Define the requirements for each team and/or department in terms of collaboration. Make sure you consider data sensitivity (permissions).
Migrate your files to Office 365.
Work on user adoption.
After all of the above, your users should have everything they need to try out this collaborative tool and be comfortable using the tool on a daily basis. Office 365 offers a wide range of solutions for your employees to collaborate.
I'll finish off this article with a reference containing great content to help you to engage your employees.
Do you agree with me? Can we really move forward without a publishing Intranet? Let me know what you think.
NEXT ARTICLE IN THE SERIES 3. How to Start a Collaboration Intranet in Office 365