The Intranet Is Dead. Long Live the Modern Workplace!

The Intranet Is Dead. Long Live the Modern Workplace!

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My first introduction to SharePoint must have been in 2008, when I started a new job as a consultant. The company I worked for just started selling Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to various customers.

To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight. I really had to find my way within this massive and broad platform. I remember studying for the IT Pro exams and learning about the Shared Service Provider and Multilingual support.

Oh boy. Don’t even get me started about learning SharePoint Designer and InfoPath.

Years, loads of grey hairs and many SharePoint versions later, I am still here and working with SharePoint on a daily basis.

The red line in my life with SharePoint has always been Intranet Portals. To be honest (I'm probably going to repeat this phrase a couple more times), I am over it. I can’t stand to look at another Intranet Portal anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. This has nothing to do with SharePoint. It has everything to do with the current role of an Intranet Portal, how it’s being positioned and used.

Where do I start?

Corporate Branding

Let’s kick off with the corporate branding within an Intranet.

I hate branding. It’s overrated and doesn’t add any value to the daily work life of an employee. Branding doesn’t make employees more efficient or faster and doesn't make their work easier or improve any sort of collaboration.

I have been in sales pitches where we presented screenshots of Intranet Portals with light branding and ones with extensive, heavy branding. The lightly branded Intranet Portals contain the same functionality, but people start to flip-out when they see the heavy branded Intranet Portals.

The branding insanity really starts to take over and becomes more important than the usability and features.

Again, I get it. We all love to look at beautiful things. That’s why I look in the mirror every day (bad joke, I know). This doesn’t justify the situation though.

The amount of time and money that goes into branding is insane. Especially these days where every customer, rightfully so, expects a responsive Intranet Portal for mobile devices. More time and money down the drain in design and integration.

SharePoint just isn’t the platform for heavy branding. You brand something here, something else breaks. You fix that, something else breaks.

I have seen the most talented, gifted, experienced and professional people getting hugely frustrated by this.

Stop! Just stop! Believe me, business users don’t care in the long run. They want a real business benefit in their busy work lives. Branding isn’t it. My advice? Stop with the heavy branding. It’s a waste of money, time and resources.

Microsoft released modern experiences in 2016, Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams. These don’t support heavy branding and I have the feeling they are never going to. Good.

This being said, I do realize, and fully support, the fact that we need some sort of corporate branding. There are tools already in place for this. For example, the Office 365 theme, which is always visible:

Office 365 theme example

We also need to be able to apply default font and font sizes within pages:

Intranet branding options

Unfortunately, that’s not currently possible, but it's only a matter of time. The company logo is already visible with the Group, Team Site or Microsoft Team. For example:

Office 365 logo option

That’s it folks. Just stick with this and focus on the more important things.

Intranet Isn’t Collaboration

The reason SharePoint became so hugely popular, and easy to sell, was due to the large feature set. We all remember the infamous SharePoint Feature Pie Chart:

SharePoint pie chart

What eventually happened? We (yes, that includes you!) started to cram all these features into one Intranet Portal.

The Portal had to be the center of our universe. We all started our work day visiting the home page and moving onwards from there. We know what happened over the years right?

SharePoint just wasn’t good enough in certain fields: Insights is now PowerBI, Communities turned into Yammer, Search got replaced by FAST, Forms with InfoPath died. Workflow with SharePoint Designer never really worked and building extensive workflows was provided by third parties such as Nintex or K2.

What did work? Collaboration.

At its core, an Intranet Portal is nothing more than a publishing portal, displaying push information to its business users. News, procedures and other formal content. Anything but collaboration.

Luckily enough, we received a gift from the Redmond gods: Office 365. The savior of SharePoint.

Office 365 provides us with a series of productivity tools to get our job done, outside of a central Intranet Portal. You can read Benjamin’s articles about Office 365 Groups or my previous Sharegate blog on the subject. All of this is leading up to the Modern Workplace.

The Intranet is being slowly pushed aside by the Modern Workplace empowered by Office 365.

The Modern Workplace

The average Intranet Portal has the following components:

  • Home page
  • Departments
  • Colleagues
  • Procedures & manuals
  • News

The home page often contains corporate news, birthdays, new employees and other fascinating components such as "My documents". These don’t matter for the business user. They really don’t.

Let’s look at news first. Of course, corporate news is important, but most people aren’t going to read it because it’s displayed on the home page. You should approach it from a different angle.

How do you read the news? Personally, I launch an App or I browse to the news site and look for the news that relates to my interests.

Bottom line: I decide when, where and what news to read. Provide your business users with an App and notification system. Push news per their needs and interests. A lot more efficient.

Next up: People. Please use Delve for birthdays, new employees and as overall people finder. Microsoft is continually improving Delve, making it the people portal within Office 365.

Microsoft announced in December an update for the Office 365 home page to provide an overview of your recently used documents and appointments. This information is also accessible through Office and OneDrive.

You don’t need a home page to view this information. Department sites are for collaboration and should be done in Microsoft Teams or Modern Team Sites.

This means that features that are normally used within an Intranet Portal, are moved into separate Office 365 services. The Intranet is being slowly pushed aside by the Modern Workplace empowered by Office 365.

You, the business user, can start your work day with the tools you want to work with. You shouldn't have to, nor want to, go to an Intranet (home page) and start working from there. You're the one in control.

Publishing Sites and Pages

What’s the future of publishing portals and pages? Microsoft did an excellent session at Ignite 2016 on that very subject. Click here to view the video. Here's a screenshot:

Out of box Office 365 publishing site

The modern publishing sites and pages are going to provide customers with out-of-the-box templates to provide their employees with published information.

The sites & pages are responsive, work with mobile devices and within Apps. Just think of it as a WordPress by Microsoft. We need to be able to quickly deploy these sites and pages to focus on what’s important: Productivity.

A very exciting development, I can’t wait to get my hands on the new and modern publishing sites.

Moving Forward

I am going to end this blog with a bold statement: Not this year, next year or the year after, but eventually, the Intranet is going to disappear.

What do business users want at the end of the day? Productivity tools to make their lives easier, efficient, fun and more productive.

What do companies want at the end of the day? To provide push information through publishing. Office 365 enables, or is going to, these scenarios with a wide selection of collaboration tools and modern publishing sites and pages.

The power of the Microsoft Graph is going to bind the information together and provide a seamless experience to the business users. All this is accessible throughout multiple Apps, services and sites.

We are all going to get our job done without the boundaries and restrictions of an Intranet Portal. I am really interested in your thoughts and feelings on this. Please share and be honest, I can deal with it!

Jasper Oosterveld
Jasper Oosterveld @jasoosterveld

Jasper Oosterveld is a frequently requested speaker, Microsoft MVP, blogger and a co-author of two SharePoint manuals. During the day Jasper is a Cloud Consultant at InSpark, he facilitates seamless implementations of SharePoint Online and Office 365.