With the release of this year's Intranet Design Annual report by the Norman Neilsen Group, it’s always interesting to see what organizations are doing with respect to Intranets-- whether they’re using SharePoint and if so, how they are leveraging it. This year, seven of the ten winning Intranets used SharePoint in some fashion, which provides great food for thought for organizations looking to create an award winning Intranet experience.
Custom User Experience
Many winners of this year's awards created a completely custom experience that look nothing like SharePoint. Other organizations applied a more traditional SharePoint experience (you can still tell it is SharePoint) but incorporated pretty significant branding and design. It’s great that the SharePoint platform offers these capabilities and flexibility, but it also shows that an "out of the box" Intranet on SharePoint is very unlikely to win awards. If your organization wants to create a award-winning Intranet that employees love, be prepared to invest some serious time and money in both UX research, information architecture and implementation costs.
The integration of social tools was more prevalent than ever in the winning designs. From a SharePoint perspective, I didn't see any integration with Yammer in the ten winners, and the social capabilities presented seemed highly customized (making it difficult to tell if native SharePoint social tools were actually leveraged).
There are plenty of choices around social capabilities in SharePoint but all winning entries had to customize them to some point. This highlights a couple of issues with the current state of social in SharePoint 2013 -- Microsoft announced publicly that they won’t invest further in SharePoint native social tools, yet the Yammer integration story, particularly in the on-premises version of SharePoint 2013, is sorely lacking.
No mention of Office 365
As much as Microsoft is pushing Office 365, none of the award winning Intranets were on Office 365. With many organizations looking to move into the cloud, you have to ask what are the options in terms of creating a custom user experience and providing core Intranet capabilities in the cloud?
Although limited, there are companies who are now starting to create Intranet products that sit on Office 365 and provide the same core Intranet capabilities found on SharePoint 2013. With most organizations having a fairly low maturity around their Intranet needs, these turn-key approaches could provide amazing value. For larger organizations, the Microsoft message around how much customization on O365 is recommended is still mixed. However one thing is for sure -- an out-of-the-box Intranet, built on Office 365 without any customizations, isn't likely to win any awards soon. Some level of customization will be necessary for some time yet.
When looking at this year’s 10 Best Intranet Design winners, it’s quite obvious that the organizations who created these award winning Intranets generally applied a ton of customizations at a considerable cost. Here’s a message that is rarely communicated to organizations -- whilst SharePoint is a great Intranet platform to build on, it is lacking as a complete Intranet solution out-of-the-box. For many organizations, building their intranet on SharePoint involves considerable effort and cost. For companies who’s pockets are quite as deep, luckily there are also a number of SharePoint Intranet products on the market that provide great Intranet capabilities on day one.