Making sense of SharePoint with out-of-the-box intranets

It’s reckoned that 70% of intranets run on Microsoft SharePoint. It’s been the lead in the Gartner quadrants for enterprise content management and enterprise social for as long as either has been around. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that only once in my decade-long career as an intranet practitioner have I actually recommended to an organisation that they choose it.

That’s because while it’s packed with features and eternally popular with IT departments, it remains painfully difficult to deliver a simple, usable intranet with it. While it improves with every new edition – and 2016’s offering has made considerable steps forward in usability – the complexity and flexibility of this hydra of a product too often results in intranets that are over-complicated, ugly and hard to use.

The search continues to suck, the branding and customisation options limited, and the analytics it offers lags behind its rivals. Sure, it offers a lot of functionality – but much of it is stuff that few organisations want or need, merely making the intranet harder to use.

More often than not SharePoint intranets are an afterthought tacked on to any Office upgrade or rollout rather than actively chosen as a tool to deliver a best-in-class digital workplace and intranet. Where user research and planning does happen, and real investment is made in design, user experience and content, SharePoint can – and does – deliver truly great intranets.

Nine of the 10 intranets named as the world’s best in this year’s Neilsen Norman intranet design annual were SharePoint-based, as were around half of Intranet Innovation Awards winners. What sets these organisations apart is that they’ve invested planning and resources in really making a success of SharePoint – focusing on user needs, design and usability. But for everyone else this almost never happens.

So what do you do if you don’t have these resources and for whatever reason you’re stuck with SharePoint?

The last five years or so has seen the development of a wide range of products built on SharePoint that claim to quickly transform it into a useful, usable and fully-functioned intranet.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to look more closely at a number of these products, as one of the team of reviewers for the second edition of SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box, from Clearbox Consulting.

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The report looks at 26 of these products in all. They each had a slightly different focus and approach, but almost all delivered significant improvements in usability compared to a standard implementation. Some so much so that you hardly knew you were using SharePoint at all. Some products built on the SharePoint platform to deliver key transactional functionality for intranets, like HR or IT, while others had a heavier focus on enhancing and streamlining SharePoint for internal communications and engagement.

What they all had in common was the speed and ease of implementation. While the NNg award winners took an average of 1.3 years to deliver their intranets, out-of-the-box solutions can be up and running in days – or even hours. This makes it possible to deliver a decent intranet on top of SharePoint even with a limited budget and few development resources.

The SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box report is out now. It’s packed full of practical advice and honest reviews (bad as well as good), and gives a useful overview of the available options at-a-glance. Between the team we’ve done over 200 hours of research to help you choose the right product for your requirements and budget.

Confession: I’d probably still recommend organisations starting from scratch consider alternatives. But as a self-confessed SharePoint Skeptic I’m delighted to see vendors come to the rescue for those who are tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, doing the hard work to make SharePoint suck less, so you don’t have to.

If you’ve read this far, reward yourself with 10% off the purchase price using my discount code IIAB2CBOX10.

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