SharePoint is great, but not everyone knows how best to use this formidable platform to build the system that they want. Take the humble Intranet.
SharePoint is possibly the best tool for the job on the market. Yet you wouldn't believe the number of poor, deserted or frankly unusable SharePoint Intranets I’ve seen over the years. How to build a good one? Well that would take a very long article indeed, but here are my three tips to set you on the right path.
1. Use SharePoint 2010
SharePoint 2013 will soon be available to all. It is shiny, new, comes with all kinds of cloud goodness, and is in all honesty a very good product.
But don’t use it. Not right now. Build your Intranet with SharePoint 2010. This version was released in May 2010, and received a service pack in June 2011. It is a stable platform, has been tested in the wild for a long time, and works. Yes their are some kinks, some limitations. But these are known and workarounds exist.
I’d wager there is nothing you need to achieve with your Intranet that SharePoint 2010 can’t handle. Notice the word need. You might want SharePoint 2013 and the extra goodies it brings (yes, "Apps" will most likely be very good once they bed in).
But you don’t need it.
Let others test this latest version, or give it to your developers to play with for a year. Let the bugs get fixed, and give Microsoft a chance to round the edges off (e.g., add some proper Yammer integration).
Simply put, SharePoint 2010 is the best platform to start building your Intranet on. So use it.
2. Don’t Customize "Look and Feel"
I know, I know. You want your company logo in the top left of every page. And your company font is "Specially commissioned company font #949," which you want to use. I understand the links on your website are all pinky purple, so they should be the same on your Intranet. And the header should include a navigation that "communicates your brand."
You want your Intranet to be branded and pretty. I get it. But actually, none of that matters. Your Intranet is used by your own employees (that’s the "Intra" bit, folks). They know who they work for already. They have your logo on the pen they are holding, the mouse mat they are using or it is plastered on the walls above your "brand values words."
Your Intranet has a bigger job than reinforcing your brand. Your Intranet is a better way of storing document templates. It is a smarter way of presenting employee performance data. It is the workflow engine behind your company processes. This is the important stuff.
In fact, let’s go back a step. Brand is important. Your Intranet should look the part. It should. I agree. But this stuff is expensive and time consuming. And so is getting the functionality right. Even basic stuff is hard to get right sometimes.
Do you want document metadata? Have you thought about what metadata exactly? Have you thought how to strike a balance between the amount of data to collect, and the ease with which to add it? No? Hmm... even some of this "out of the box" or "free" functionality needs additional thought doesn’t it? More thought, time and money.
So sort the functionality first, then come back to brand. Make a functional, content rich Intranet, that employees understand and can use. Then brand it.
3. Don’t Ever Finish Your Intranet Project
If you disband the project team once your Intranet is built, your project will ultimately fail. If you ever even consider an Intranet finished, you might have well not have bothered in the first place.
Putting a new Intranet in place is only the start. Once that phase is complete, you have a heap of work to do. You need content, fresh content, little and often. Users need training and refresher courses. The Intranet needs to adapt and grow as your business changes, as new requirements present themselves.
SharePoint can help with all this. Don’t think SharePoint can just help build the "front-end" of your Intranet. Use it as the "back-end" as well. Create an "Intranet project team" site and use it to run the Intranet as well. A mission control if you will.
SharePoint comes with calendars, tasks lists, email alerts, special project site templates. You know all this because you tell your end users about these features all the time. So start using them yourself. Practice what you preach.
Go further and make this "mission control" a public site, or the content visible, as a kind of "best practice" for other people. The more users see what is possible, the more they will put their own efforts in, helping you to keep things going in the long term.
And long term is exactly how you should be viewing any Intranet project.
Editor's Note: Chris spends a lot of time thinking about SharePoint. To read more of his musings, check out 5 Things Not to Do with Your New SharePoint Intranet