Help! I need an intranet but IT want SharePoint!

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be sent a link to an Interact Intranet webinar recording about SharePoint as an intranet.

The webinar was designed to be for communication specialists who are faced with an increasing "problem" within organisations. They would like an intranet but IT want to develop SharePoint. Whilst SharePoint can be an excellent tool.SharePoint isn't necessarily the best solution to meet all business objectives.

The first thing the webinar presenters said (and this is something I agree with very strongly) is that it's important to have a strong and productive relationship with your IT department. They're likely to be involved in any intranet project you undertake so it's good to keep them on-side and whilst they are important at the end of the day "there role is to keep the lights on" rather then understand what the requirements of an intranet project are. Which is why the presenters described SharePoint as an IT Project and intranets as communications projects, which are run by internal communications teams, Marketing teams, HR or Knowledge teams.

The presenters then explained briefly the three challenges that many organisations are looking to resolve when rolling out an intranet, they are:

  • To shorten communication channels
  • To foster collaboration between teams
  • To provide rapid access to content

The presenters then outlined some of the key problems for organisations thinking about using SharePoint as there intranet. They are;

Branding & Design issues - this is really important given that a positive initial experience is important for adoption. Whilst SharePoint can look amazing if you have tons of money for the average organisation SharePoint out of the box leaves users wanting more. In addition to this SharePoint doesn't provide the tools to modify the user interface out of the box. Users can change the look and feel of a SharePoint site via pallettes, for most organisations this isn't going to cut it. Another issue with the most recent version of SharePoint (SharePoint 2013) is that the SharePoint designer now doesn't allow you to create apps on the fly. This essentially scales down extensibility.

The next issue discussed by the presenters was around usability and for this they asked a guest speaker from Cross Country Trains to talk about their experiences with SharePoint. These were mostly negative with the speaker explaining that most people weren't trained, there was poor navigation and there was very little interest or engagement with the intranet. They also explained that there was no user manual so when it came to training it had to be delivered by expensive external organisations. This was followed up with their requirements for their next intranet, these included being interactive and collaborative, a two way communication tool and a tool that people want to use rather then tool of last resort.

The next issue the presenters looked at was the long release cycle associated with SharePoint. Whilst there have been a huge number of social media tools released since 2009, there has only been one release of SharePoint and this release didn't include much in the way of collaborative or social features. SharePoint 2013 is being lauded as the version of SharePoint that is really collaborative, especially with their recent acquisition of Yammer, but I guess we'll have to wait an see on this front.

The next issue discussed was around the difficult upgrade path. This as the presenters explained is a complicated workflow that needs to be undertaken for each instance (SharePoint site). The presenters also reported on the results of some research undertaken recently, which showed that 78% of organisations using SharePoint would wait at least 12 months before upgrading to SharePoint 2013.

The penultimate area of discussion was around the use of 3rd Party tools within SharePoint. There are a significant number of 3rd party tools used within SharePoint to support functionality that isn't available within SharePoint. 3rd party applications include those provided by Yammer, Socialcast, Newsgator, Bamboo and FAST. These tools are often used as social layers as up until the most recent version of SharePoint, collaborative features have been somewhat lacking. The last area was discussed was the hidden cost associated with SharePoint, these include using external consultants, the costs associated with updates and migration, design costs, user training costs and the cost associated with maintenance and adminstration.

To conclude the webinar the authors then outlined what SharePoint is and isn't.

SharePoint is:

  • A platform
  • Powerful
  • Flexible
  • Good at document management
  • Extendable

SharePoint is not:

  • An intranet
  • Easy to configure
  • Easy to update
  • Social (yet)
  • An out of the box product

This was an excellent webinar from the team at Interact and has certainly highlighted some areas of concern around SharePoint.