A lot of organisations are currently deploying SharePoint for their corporate intranet. And rightly so, as it’s a viable and potentially powerful solution for intranet needs.
Like any technology, however, it has strengths and weaknesses. And while SharePoint-based intranets are still intranets in the classic sense, there are some particular considerations for intranet teams.
The key thing is for intranet teams to understand the key strength and weakness of SharePoint:
- Strength: breadth and flexibility. SharePoint provides a remarkable range of functionality, and is supported by an active industry of specialists and a rich ecosystem of third-party components. This can greatly help intranet teams to deliver a “next generation” intranet.
- Weakness: breadth and flexibility. The sheer range of capabilities, only some of which are relevant for intranets, can be overwhelming. SharePoint is also relatively heavy on customisation and development, which can either deliver big business benefits, or waste a lot of money.
To ensure success at the outset of a SharePoint intranet project, intranet teams need to do two things: understand the platform, and have a clear vision and direction.
Understand the platform
Like any technology offering, SharePoint has huge strengths and equally huge weaknesses. The goal, as always, is to maximise the benefits from the strengths, and to avoid the weaknesses like the plague. You also want to “go with the grain” of the solution, deploying an intranet that is a natural fit for SharePoint’s underlying architecture and philosophy.
Thankfully there is a lot of good product and technical information available for SharePoint, much more so than even two years ago. This includes books, websites, articles and blogs (all too numerous to list here).
Now I’m not saying that business or comms folks should aim to become honorary geeks and start buying t-shirts from Threadless or desk ornaments from ThinkGeek. Instead, the goal should be to:
Have enough product knowledge to have meaningful discussions with IT, and to make business decisions informed by technology considerations.
Don’t wait until the developers start coding to realise that what you want to do will require $100k of development, or that you entirely overlooked a great out-of-the-box opportunity!
Have a crystal clear vision and direction
The flexibility of SharePoint means that deployments can easily lose their way. In far too many cases, we’ve seen organisations 2-3 years on from deploying SharePoint end up with a spaghetti mess of “stuff”, with no clear successes. This is not a technology or product failure, it’s a failure of planning.
Just because the SharePoint project started in IT, it doesn’t mean that all the standard (and vitally important) planning and design steps can be skipped.
Before jumping into development and deployment:
- understand business and staff needs
- develop an overall strategy and direction
- choose the functionality required
- create a clear project plan
- develop new page layouts and navigation, using user-centred design techniques
Make sure that you’re going into the project with a completely clear idea of what you want delivered, and then shape the technology to fit the business and user needs.
Intranet teams should be excited by the opportunities presented by SharePoint, and there’s no question that intranets will be transformed as a result of this new technology. Let’s just make sure they’re transformed for the better, and not for the worse.