Why buy a ready-to-use intranet when there is SharePoint?

May 9, 2019
David Schneider
CTO isolutions

In 2015 it was said that SharePoint is back and stronger than ever. In fact, it's amazing how SharePoint has found its way back onto the winning track and is now the central tool for collaboration and intranet as part of Microsoft 365 and Office 365. In recent years, Microsoft has renewed its complete UI and with SharePoint Modern, it offers a modern cloud first, mobile first user interface. With the SharePoint Communication Sites a powerful tool is available, which allows the creation of modern, user-centered intranets.

The SharePoint Ecosystem

At the same time, a rich ecosystem has formed around SharePoint Modern. On the one hand, there is a wealth of Open Source extensions such as the SharePoint Starter Kit, which can serve as the basis of an intranet project. On the other hand, there are also over 50 so-called Intranet-in-a-box products. Chargeable extensions, which are based on SharePoint Online. They offer a very rich feature catalogue, which leaves nothing to be desired.

SharePoint Online is comparable to a Lego building set: you can really let off steam and build all kinds of things with it. The temptation is therefore great to tackle the implementation of the new intranet yourself as internal IT. But there are some stumbling blocks that should not be ignored.

SharePoint's capabilities are also its biggest weakness

The decision when and how to use the building blocks Communication Sites, Office 365 Groups, SharePoint Hub Sites, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, etc. is anything but trivial. Without a clear information architecture that is tailored to the needs of the company, this usually ends in chaos. There is also the danger that individual site owners give free rein to their imagination and try to outdo each other with "fancy" pages. As a result, users get lost, cannot find the information they want and the intranet becomes stunted.

Do you have an intranet professional in your company?

Developing an information architecture is one thing, adhering to these rules is even more difficult. Either you only entrust a small, well-trained team with the task. In most cases, however, this is neither sensible nor possible. In practice, the maintenance of intranet content is distributed among many different people who keep the information relevant to their area up to date. In order to keep the information architecture in place, either one of the above-mentioned intranet-in-a-box products must be used or a separate solution must be programmed. But even this requires a competent team with experience, continuity and constant training.

Above a certain level of complexity, investments in DevOps must be made. Stage environments for development, integration and testing are necessary. Deployment and test processes must be automated. Office 365 and SharePoint Online is a Software-as-a-Service offering that is constantly changing. New functions are added continuously or existing functions are changed and improved. While this is generally positive, comprehensive enhancements require constant attention and readiness. One must always be prepared to react to changes from Microsoft and adapt one's own solution if necessary.

In today's "war for talents" it is a great challenge to build up and above all to maintain the know-how for the implementation and further development of an intranet within the company. Most customers therefore rely on implementation partners, be it Microsoft directly or a certified Microsoft partner such as isolutions AG. These implementation partners have the experience of previous projects and invest a lot of time and money in further training.

The solution: Intranet-as-a-Service

However, those who shy away from the effort and risks of an extensive project can choose an intranet-as-a-service offer, such as ahead. With minimal onboarding effort, an Intranet-as-a-Service offers the full functionality of an intranet. The provider takes care of the operation and further development of the solution. These products can be adapted, but they do not offer the same freedoms as SharePoint.

Lego vs Playmobil

While an intranet with SharePoint Online, as described above, is a Lego building set, in which one is mainly occupied with building, an intranet-as-a-service offer can be compared to a Playmobil toy. A Playmobil ship cannot be turned into a castle. But you can start playing immediately with games - nothing against Legos. I loved Legos as a child. But when it comes to an intranet, I am Team Playmobil. Which side do you choose?

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