SharePoint consultants spend a lot of time listening to intranet and collaboration portal requirements. 

Companies big and small want to create content and collaboration solutions that their staff will actually use. And while each industry or business will always have specific requirements, a few core requirements apply across the board. 

This article is the first in a series that will address these requirements, as well as some considerations to keep in mind if your company is looking to make that big SharePoint on premises versus SharePoint online decision.

'Our home page should be attractive, simple and helpful …'

Let me start with a warning: surveys will come up a lot in this series. I use and abuse surveys during intranet planning. 

Clients with existing intranets should list likes and dislikes of their current home page during the planning meeting or through an email survey, then vote on the most important of these items. Use this data to formulate a few goals for the new home page (e.g., must be simple, helpful, fit company branding, etc.). This is a good point to bring up options for web parts and/or features — I show intranets I've built to give them something visual to chew on. This helps those with less SharePoint experience. 

On a few occasions I have cut out images of the web parts to have the team work together to “pin the feature on the page.” This not only drives discussion on what is worth featuring on the home page, but also fuels discussions about look and feel.

A recent trend is the use of Metro icons, which replace listing text links all over the page. These not only help reduce clutter but add to the much desired clean and modern design. They are also relatively inexpensive to create in SharePoint, either with some easy styling or a third party web part. I highly recommend Metro Studio by Syncfusion if you plan to design these internally.

Metro Icons

Some companies have turned to tag clouds — visual representation of the metadata being used across the intranet —  to help users to get an idea of what is “trending.” The font size and color connote the importance of topics and make finding documents related to the popular tags much easier. SharePoint's out of the box tag cloud works well, but third party options with a little more flash are available in the SharePoint App store.

Add a Little Razzle-Dazzle

And without fail, the topic of branding the intranet will rear its head during the home page conversation. As with any other part of this process, it will require special planning and budget considerations. Branding SharePoint involves many considerations (and there are people more qualified than I to help with them), but I want to mention the difference between SharePoint on premises and online in this context. 

creating a customized masterpage

As you could probably guess, with SharePoint on premises, the sky's the limit on branding, provided the right budget and resources. If your marketing team can dream it, it can probably be done. 

While the same may technically go for SharePoint online, any branding expert worth their salt will probably advise against investing in the creation of a highly customized masterpage for SharePoint Online. The reason? Change. 

The frequency and unpredictability of SharePoint online changes means your highly customized Mercedes Benz of a masterpage may break and be a rather expensive fix. This doesn’t mean you can’t make SharePoint look less like SharePoint. Plenty of options are available to update colors, themes and light styling in a way that is not only more affordable, but gives you that extra level of comfort. 

This may sound like a detraction, but keep in mind you are getting the latest and greatest features with SharePoint online. Those with on premises installations may have to wait months or for the release of a new version before receiving these features. 

Still to Come

Your intranet home page is only one thing to consider as you begin the process of rolling out a new intranet. The remaining articles in this series will cover some of the other common requirements, such as:

  • “We need to be able to easily find content” 
  • “More collaboration but less email”
  • “We need integration with the other tools we use”
  • “I need people to be engaged and actually use the intranet” 

So check back in the spring for updates.

Title image "Tackle" (CC BY 2.0) by  Manatari