With the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have needed to adapt quickly and perform their fair share of hastily organised technological experiments. Whether managing employees, finding ways to make information and systems externally accessible, maintaining communication amongst teams or adjusting resource requirements, being forced to quickly make strategic decisions has shown how important good technology is to being a flexible and dynamic business.
What became obvious from March 2020 was that tasks and functions that were manageable in the workplace are far more challenging to perform with a distributed workforce. Even large companies with highly qualified IT staff have admitted to facing baffling issues.
What was especially challenging was the abruptness. A gradual transformation towards a virtual workplace might have taken years, but the last few months forced change on us quickly.
Companies that already had an existing well-built and managed intranet found the transition to a remote workforce easier. As these platforms act as a central area of key business information, collaboration, news and resources, employees have been able to continue to work productively without significant disruption.
While intranet enabled companies adapted quicker to the pandemic, it's not too late to consider adding this level of flexibility for your business. Looking forward one to two years, the trend to greater flexibility in working arrangements has only accelerated, and by supporting employees with remote access to information and systems, as well as better collaboration tools, you will no doubt improve their productivity.
As a digital agency, we've delivered intranet projects for clients and based on our experience, we believe SharePoint is a powerful option worthy of your consideration as part of your Office365 solution.
So why should you look work with an agency and build out an intranet or extranet on SharePoint? Let us walk you through some key points.
SharePoint is the most popular intranet choice for organisations, and each year many sites featured in the Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards are built on SharePoint.
The most common reasons for SharePoint being the best option to consider include:
- Configurability: No two intranets look and function the same. Each is customised to the needs of the business.
- Scalability: No matter the size of your business, an intranet based on SharePoint can be as small or large a project as is required to meet the needs of your workforce.
- Personalisation: Each user can have a unique view of data and information, giving your workforce more power at their fingertips.
- Third party integrations: You can integrate a wide variety of data and information sources, supporting better business decisions.
- Ongoing investment: The platform will only continue to get more powerful with the commitment of Microsoft behind it.
- Mobile friendly: Information and data are accessible, no matter the device.
- Powerful search: The search functionality has become a lot more powerful, allowing users to access information and data faster.
- Collaboration: Whether it’s messaging functionality or working on documents collaboratively, SharePoint supports workforces coming together.
- If you are a Microsoft 365 customer, your business already has access to SharePoint in the cloud.
Customisation and design
- When developing an intranet, user experience and flexibility for customisation are top two priorities. SharePoint has the most flexible tools and integrations you need to function efficiently. Consider how some of these enhancements could improve productivity in your business.
- A range of 3rd party tools can be added to SharePoint, taking your employees' experience to an entirely different level. Centralised storage, shareable spreadsheet data, notification alerts and analysis tools all ensure the platform will meet your business needs.
- Award-winning intranets follow a model of rapid development to support an initial release, followed by a commitment to incremental updates. This ensures the core product is sufficiently built out to offer employees value initially, while also committing to optimise the performance and value of the platform over time.
- Partnering with a digital agency to build your company intranet is essential. With the flexibility the platform offers, it is important to have a good plan of attack to determine the correct structure, data sources and feature enhancements required. This will result in an efficient development process and ensure your company doesn’t miss leveraging the key benefits that any intranet offers.
- Optimising user experience is a key area where a digital agency partner shines. Through the initial discovery and planning process, an agency will identify your business goals, technical requirements, useful features and user stories in order to build intuitive user journeys.
- Intranets fail to deliver productivity benefits when the experience isn't personalised to users, requiring people to dig around to find the information they are looking for. A digital agency can help you personalise your SharePoint platform, so that each team or office location has a unique view of tools and information.
Content and data sources
- One of the biggest advantages of using SharePoint is that it makes it easy to integrate information and data from third-party sources. Using SharePoint as a centralised hub for multiple data sources not only improves productivity, but potentially gives your organisation more powerful views of data to make better business decisions.
- Of all platforms, SharePoint has the widest compatibility with third-party CRM, ERP, BI, and ITSM systems. This can be a critical requirement, as it allows you to use the best systems for your business while ensuring you can integrate your data into the intranet.
Where to begin
- Understanding the purpose of your intranet and defining your organisational business objectives are the initial steps to determine if an intranet will benefit. Consider what you are looking to achieve, what is currently time consuming or painful in terms of accessing information or data and how accessible information is outside the organisation.
- Put together a group of key stakeholders to define the scope of the intranet project. People you will want to include in this group are those across the business who are users of the information and data that will be integrated, or managers of people who use it as well.
- Begin defining different user types that share commonalities in the information and data they require. Examples of this could be users who have unique requirements due to their team, position or physical location. This is an essential step in determining how to maximise productivity benefits from the intranet for each employee.
- Identify how communication between stakeholders can be more effective across your business. Are there opportunities to reduce emails, collaborate on documents, identify when people are available or support instant messaging between people?
Budget for a SharePoint intranet
- SharePoint used to be provided as a hosted solution where businesses managed the infrastructure themselves, however in 2020 nearly all installations are in the cloud and require no infrastructure costs. For businesses that don’t have a Microsoft 365 subscription, the cost for SharePoint is based on a per user cost.
- As SharePoint is included as part of Microsoft 365 subscriptions, businesses are often deceived that it is a low cost option where all costs are included as part of the subscription fees. However due to the customisation available and technical skills required to develop a good user experience, as well as integrate information and data sources, the benefits are not often achieved without great planning and some serious web development skills.
- Plan on committing most of your budget to initial development. It is important to complete 60% to 80% of the project early on, to ensure the platform is built out with enough content for your workforce to see value. Remaining budget can be spent delivering incremental updates and improvements over time.
- With the degree of customisation and flexibility offered by SharePoint, development costs can vary. Based on the scope of your project, the number of data and information sources and your user stories, Bright Labs can give you a free estimation of what your project would cost.
An intranet has the potential to dramatically increase the flexibility of your business and productivity of your workforce, however it’s not a decision to make lightly. Spending your time and money to build out a poorly planned platform will lead to low productivity gains and poor adoption from your workforce.
When developing your Intranet it is critical to focus on building a great user experience, thoughtfully considered to provide key business information and data that is personalised to each user’s role. The goal is not only to make information more accessible but present it in a way that enables your workforce to make better business decisions.
If you don't have user experience, web design and programming skills in house at your business, it is essential to partner with a digital agency to develop a solution that achieves your goals. As an example of what a professional intranet solution looks like, review our case study of 'The Hive', a SharePoint intranet we designed and built for TAFE NSW.
If you'd like more information about what a SharePoint intranet could look like for your business, check out the Microsoft's starter guide, take a look at our SharePoint services or give us a call today.