The intranet has been the portal for most company’s employees the last few decades. People keep asking what’s next, but the concept of the intranet has continued to evolve. The basic infrastructure and definition of the intranet haven’t changed.
An intranet is a private network accessible only to an organization’s staff. Generally a wide range of information and services from the organization’s internal IT systems are available that would not be available to the public from the internet. A company-wide intranet can constitute an important focal point of internal communication and collaboration, and provide a single starting point to search access internal and external resources.
Intranets are increasingly being used to deliver tools, e.g. collaboration (to facilitate working in groups and teleconferencing) or sophisticated corporate directories, sales and customer relationship management tools, project management, etc., to advance productivity. Intranets are also being used as social networks and forums for corporate culture-change platforms.
Let’s break down the components of the intranet so one can evaluate if SharePoint is a good intranet.
Privacy and Security – Private to organization’s staff. SharePoint has a very robust security and permissions system that is built on Active Directory, supports Forms Based Authentication, various mechanisms that can do single sign on, and with Office 365 support, Microsoft’s cloud based directory services Azure AD.
For companies that have invested in AD, SharePoint very likely leads that pack on a secure foundation to build a security trimmed intranet, with supporting AD groups and users, with your ability to add users with granular permissions, and simple content audience targeting. While the auditing in SharePoint isn’t the easiest to work with, it is also more robust than most of what I’ve seen out there. The usage reporting is very poor, but most will opt to utilize a third party tool or simply integrate with Google Analytics (still waiting for Microsoft’s answer to this one).
Communication – News and announcements, and even blogs, have been part of SharePoint since the early days and an integral part of any intranet with HR and marketing teams trying to get their messages and training out to employees.
I’d suggest this component is one of the most often custom developed component as teams look to do workflows, forms, and validation prior to release. Third party tools provide drag and drop images with resizing, as well as a variety of simplified targeting to role, department, region, etc. The new communication sites in Office 365 go far to add more of the features customers are looking for without having to customize the look and feel. There’s dozens of intranet-in-a-box solutions for SharePoint where this component is a main feature that makes it easier to push news across sites, site collections, and the hierarchy of the intranet.
Search – SharePoint has a robust search engine for an intranet, but it needs some help if it’s going to be used as the primary search in the enterprise. Microsoft has done a good job of building a general purpose search, but they don’t know your data. Investments in metadata, terms, and configuring search is important.
Analyzing what people are searching for and optimizing the results to answer those questions is expected, but many don’t realize that. Building out good results and best bets as an example is worthwhile. Many intranet products you’d buy off the shelf don’t support enterprise search for indexing other systems like file shares, other websites, and data in line of business systems or XRM databases. Microsoft’s incorporation of FAST into SharePoint was a game changer, but don’t imagine it will just work, it still needs care and feeding as it grows.
Collaboration – It’s the collaboration features that set SharePoint apart from other intranet software. Most intranet’s idea of collaboration is responding to news articles through comments, or responding to a form. Collaboration in the many social groups, forums, and contributing through sharing documents and ideas is an area that’s been evolving in the SharePoint world.
SharePoint team sites have existed for nearly two decades. A collaboration space that supports adding documents with check in and check out and more recent multi-user editing is often what users are asking for. They want a simple way to share information with their group or even the enterprise. From team sites and My Sites to Yammer, and most recently Microsoft Teams, there are a number of SharePoint integrated collaboration systems that support rich enterprise collaboration.
We’ve seen figures in the past about nine out of 10 Fortune 500 companies using SharePoint for their intranet sites. Here’s the highly respected Norman Nielsen Report listing of the Top 10 intranets and six of them are based on SharePoint. That’s some serious validation.
We can explore more intranet considerations in an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, learn more about Fpweb’s SharePoint services at fpweb.net/sharepoint and contact us at [email protected] or 866-780-4678 to discuss your unique intranet needs.