SharePoint, launched two decades ago, is an innovative collaboration platform that has changed how information workers share information. Out-of-the-box tools such as team sites, document libraries, and lists have enabled companies to improve day-to-day business operations. Intranet portals, also part of this ecosystem, have been used to publish events, news, and resources to internal audiences over that span. 

While improvements to site experiences gradually improved over time, branding, site navigations options, device responsiveness limitations, amongst others, surrounding On-Premise SharePoint versions required custom solutions to extend user interface capabilities. The online version has resoundingly resolved these issues but has evolved into a full-fledged communication platform that intelligently showcases content as defined by the business.  

SharePoint Lookbook, an exciting collection of device-responsive Intranet templates, offers a glimpse into what can be achieved online as part of Microsoft 365 subscriptions. Inherently, the purpose of this article is to provide a strategic overview by outlining considerations, best practices, and insights to modernize any given Intranet experience as described in the following sections.  

Content Strategy 

The ability to roll up news articles, events and documents using metadata has received a massive upgrade in SharePoint Online. Configuring content using filterskeywords and target audience makes it easier for organizations to segment information accordingly. In addition, maintaining brand identity is easier to achieve with built-in icons, images, or by uploading custom graphics. Digital media capabilities such as displaying videos have also improved, as the ability to access content regardless of device.  

However, it is critical to outline roles and responsibilities to sustain site publishing activities as required by marketing and departmental stakeholders.  A publishing schedule can help determine when information becomes available to audiences while identifying potential categories such as audience-specific content to improve filtering capabilities using metadata. In the next step, we will discuss the Intranet information architecture and the role that it plays within the development lifecycle.
 

Site Architecture, Metadata and Sensitivity Labels

Implementing a sound information architecture is the foundational element that establishes SharePoint as an intelligent Intranet. The metadata attributes that describe content may include creation date, author, or user-defined details such as department or custom categories. Content Types may also be utilized as a part of the IA as they represent structured groupings of metadata to standardize artifacts within SharePoint. Company announcements, to exemplify, can be defined as a content type that includes categories, departments, approvers, stats, and keywords, amongst other attributes.  

The benefit of applying metadata includes but is not limited to

  • Improving audience targeting capability by aggregating relevant content based on metadata filters. 
  • Indexing metadata fields to improve search results. 
  • Leverage workflow capabilities using metadata to identify and automate business processes. 
  • SharePoint Syntex is an AI component that uses metadata to build information tprocess content as defined.  

Sensitivity Labels

A recent addition to Microsoft’s compliance toolset includes sensitivity labels offer the ability to designate portals as containers that add a layer of security to information by defining global access policies across individual Microsoft 365 tenanciesThus, allowing Administrators to manage access by privacy level, department, project or any given scenario that supports business requirements. 

  • Public: Accessible by all staff members and external users when provided access 
  • Internal: Specific to staff, may include contractors but no external stakeholders
  • Confidential: Applies to individuals who have been provided access to sensitive information
  • Departmental: Inclusive access to individuals that belong to groupings within the org chart
  • Project: Provides access to stakeholders assigned to a related project group 
  • Custom:  Where sensitivity labels are defined to support specific business use cases 

Sensitivity label configurations within SharePoint provide the ability to limit access to registered devices, content expiry, offline availability, or level. Permissions using domain extensions, groups, email addresses, and individual users are directly applicable through the Microsoft 365 compliance center. 

Development Approach

This phase should involve business stakeholders and champions to best identify and align needs to platform opportunities. Listed is a high-level overview of recommended steps within an agile framework. In-depth knowledge of Microsoft 365 environments and Modern SharePoint Sites helps streamline the overall design process through best practices. Below is a comprehensive high-level overview of the recommended steps 

Requirements gathering workshops

Scheduling several workshops to engage core business areas in conjunction with communication and tech stakeholders is an effective method of gathering content publishing requirements specific to target audiences. 

Wireframes and Prototypes

Mock-ups of the proposed SharePoint Intranet solutions help identify both opportunities and shortcomings to finalize the final design. This step should include contingencies for mobile device interface requirements, especially given the responsive nature of modern SharePoint site designs. 

Implementation

This component involves project managers who work with developers and coordinate reviews with business stakeholders at predetermined intervals until completion. 

Change Management

Preparing audiences for change to the new platform is paramount to the successful deployment of SharePoint Online Intranets. Visitors will experience a vastly enhanced interface, while content publishers must learn best practices with creating pages that continuously maintain brand standards 

Conclusion

Regardless of how organizations manage change, preparing stakeholders to leverage newly available features as part of the SharePoint Intranet launch is critical to success. The possibilities to engage audiences are endless and can be expanded upon, over time, to include access to self-service modules that streamline operations and open the door to automation processes. 

As previously mentioned, cloud hosting on Microsoft 365 tenant environments provides access to platform updates as they are released to add new capabilities to SharePoint Intranets. Hence the importance of maintaining an out-of-the-box approach, thus ensuring operability across the deployment. Especially as the demand to consume content across various devices continues to evolve. 

Our goal at Softlanding is to help organizations to cost-effectively design, implement, and maintain SharePoint Intelligent Intranets in a way that promotes a structured approach to long-term sustainability.  

Contact us directly for more information or to learn about how SharePoint Intelligent Intranets improve your ability to communicate at large. 

Thierry Aime
Written By:

Thierry Aime

Thierry is a Microsoft 365 Business Analyst / Developer with extensive experience in all SharePoint Platforms including 2007, 2010, 2013, and Office 365 cloud environments with the ability to translate out-of-the-box features into cost savings with expedited turn around times using agile project management methodologies.

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