jumping into fall leaves
Tackling the core requirements every SharePoint intranet needs PHOTO: Russ

Intranet requirements will change from business to business and industry to industry.

But when building an intranet on SharePoint, several core requirements come up repeatedly. Identifying these common requirements and exploring how to make them happen is key to starting any intranet project off on the right foot. 

In this series we have already explored current trends for home pages, looked at planning the branding, considered ways to improve the process of finding content, explored modernizing collaboration, and integrating with all of the other tools we use on a daily basis. 

In the final installment we will focus on one of the things I hear the most when building an intranet — “I need our users to actually use the tool.” 

What Do Your Intranet Users Need?

Want to build an engaging intranet? Find out what your user base needs in order to feel engaged. 

While this might seem obvious, it's amazing how many businesses skip this step.

Often times businesses put together a small project team and then allow that team to make all the decisions for the larger organization. This tactic leads to a run of the mill intranet that no one wants to use. 

As rudimentary as it may seem, gathering feedback and surveying users is extremely important. Select several individuals from each department or business unit and ask them to respond to several interview questions. 

What tools do they use every day? Is there a need for improved task management? How are they communicating with remote teams (e.g., Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts)? What would their top five requirements for a new intranet be? What popular technology do they find engaging? 

With their responses as a basis, you can create a survey to send out to all intended users of the new intranet. 

Someone on the project team should also be tasked with creating user stories and personas from the information you gather. As a project moves from requirements into design these can become extremely useful references and can answer the question, “What do our users really need?” 

Moving Beyond a Glorified File Share

Over and over we hear companies say that their intranets basically act as glorified file shares. 

Intranets have been around in some form or another for well over 20 years — so why do we still struggle to get them right? 

We know they serve a need: all companies and the departments within them have to provide important information to their employees on a regular basis. 

So how can we make people want to come back to them over and over again? The root of this problem is engagement. Employees use the intranet for their documents because they use those documents on a regular basis to get their work done. For intranets to move beyond the file share status, we have to figure out how to engage users all the way through. We have to make it personalized and easy to use. 

Goal: A More Engaging Intranet

Companies can do quite a few things to make their intranet more engaging, including upgrading to a more modern design, providing personalization and making the news delivery more interactive by allowing users to comment, like or rate items. 

Unfortunately SharePoint out of the box doesn’t make features like this, that could engage users, very prominent. You will most likely need to rely on some custom development, branding or third party tools to truly meet the requirements of the organization. 

Something as simple as an interface for users to read, comment or like a news article is a huge improvement over adding a news item to an announcement list that no one will ever pay attention to. 

Microsoft is starting to focus on engagement throughout Office 365. You can see this most prominently with Delve and the new Team sites. 

Both have a vastly improved interface and features that make it incredibly simple for a user to engage with an item. Delve learns about users and presents them with relevant information in a clean and simple interface. 

During the recent Microsoft Ignite conference in Atlanta a new Team News web part was introduced that really showcases the power of a design focused on engagement. Click here to read more about these new features.

Measure and Adjust: Your Intranet is Never 'Done'

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to launch your new intranet and think your work is done. Intranet usage must be reviewed on a regular basis. 

No one gets an intranet launch 100 percent right the first time. Watch the analytics around how people use the intranet and then adjust based on that information. 

SharePoint's out of the box analytics can help with analyzing search usage and item popularity, but doesn't provide the robust usage analytics that most companies need. 

A lot of companies turn to Google Analytics to fill in the blanks in this analytics gap. Google Analytics works well here as it is relatively easy to install and configure and offers the option to customize the analytics to pull data beyond page views (e.g. comments on a news article). Quite a few third party tools have also been built with SharePoint analytics in mind. 

Microsoft has started to put thought and design around building this type of data directly into Office 365 and SharePoint Online. For example, I can see how many views the site has had in the past few days directly from the Site Contents page. I can then easily click to drill down and see additional information about changes in the amount of views, new items and trending content.

intranet analytics in Office 365 Site Contents page
Intranet analytics in Office 365 Site Contents pagePHOTO: Microsoft
  

As the focus on gathering, analyzing and acting on this data grows, we will finally see intranet portals with truly engaged users.

Editor's Note: Read all of the articles in Joelle's SharePoint intranet series here