Last week Microsoft held its SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, kicking it off once again with a live-streamed keynote for those (like me) who could not be in attendance. Between the keynote, the official Microsoft blog posts and the flood of tweets, it was easy to keep up with the announcements. And while this year's event didn't produce any earth-shattering announcements, the company did make a couple of reasonably big ones, including SharePoint home sites.

Introducing Microsoft SharePoint Home Sites

Microsoft pitched the home site as the landing page for your "intelligent intranet" — it is, in effect, a site template for an enterprise portal — a personalized landing page and way into your corporate intranet. Its features and functionality let you quickly and easily build a communications-centric intranet home page experience. In this respect it goes beyond SharePoint, as it includes new integrations for Microsoft Stream for streaming video and Yammer for bi-directional, conversational communication. Ease of setup (as well as ease of use) is a main element of the marketing message. To quote corporate VP, Microsoft Office Jeff Teper's blog post:

"Where intranet portal projects of the past were often measured in months, you can now deploy a home site in minutes and then — with no code — customize and brand the out-of-box web parts, navigation, and site design to reflect the voice and priorities of your organization."

I am sure Teper is correct that you could "deploy in minutes," but you probably should take a little longer to design your new intranet home and the holistic user experience before just deploying with out of the box web parts! 

Teper's blog post provides further details of the SharePoint conference announcements and is worth a read.

The new home site joins the modern communication site, the hub site and modern team site as the major SharePoint Online constructs, allowing you to build a highly functional intranet as part of your wider digital workplace.  This is my quick interpretation of where the site types (or site templates) may sit within an enterprise intranet structure:

break down of how the new SharePoint home sites can work

You could of course use these types of sites pretty much any way you want, the only real constraint seems to be how you hang sites together using the hub site (you cannot daisy chain hubs together).

Microsoft had announced its plans to further integrate Yammer and Teams with SharePoint over a year ago at the Future of SharePoint event, and the announcements last week on how SharePoint lists can be worked with from within Team's tabs was just one element of this coming to fruition.

Related Article: The Dirty Secret About Enterprise Search: It's All About Good Content

Metadata in Action: Sensitivity Labels

My last few articles focused on metadata and its importance in managing, curating and of course, improving the findability of content. Microsoft has also been turning to metadata to enable specific features and functionality. All of the Office 365 suite will soon have sensitivity labels, which allow you to create labels that indicate the sensitivity of the information within a document. The big icon-based buttons in the Office apps makes it is easy for users to click and pick a rating from a drop down list. You could also use Microsoft AI to automatically classify the documents with suitable training of the machine learning. 

Learning Opportunities

Sensitivity labels are a good example of Microsoft taking metadata and making it highly actionable. It can be used with PowerApps and Flow to drive a workflow, for example. Let's say when you choose "Top Secret" from the drop down, the document is routed to a particular library. The labels can also be used to drive the built-in Data Loss Prevention functionalities, when configured to do so. This includes whether or not a document can be shared outside of the organization, and if it is, then it can be encrypted and set for a specific time-bounded period.

This is a very specific use of metadata for sure, but the Managed Metadata Service found in SharePoint since 2013 does a pretty good job of helping organizations flexibly apply metadata schemas and taxonomies to the content in SharePoint sites, libraries and lists.

There was also a mention of search at the SharePoint conference, although mostly to note a name change: what was SharePoint Search is now called Microsoft Search, which is available across the Office365 landscape, and integrated with the knowledge graph. The presence of these metadata management capabilities in SharePoint, although not that sexy or visible to the average user, is a good thing. They are there for you to improve the findability of your information and knowledge assets.

Related Article: Your Intranet Is Only as Good as Your Metadata

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

In closing, let's return to Teper's comment about how quick and easy it would be to deploy a home site. I am sure it is similarly easy to deploy a bunch of modern communications sites and team sites, and connect them all via hub sites. It is not the pure technology aspect to building out an intranet that is difficult. 

What is the focus, what do you want employees to be able to do? You better have spent some months thinking about the user experience, the information architecture, navigation, metadata (for all sorts of purposes) and many other factors before you start cranking out those sites. Just because you can do something easily, does not necessarily mean that you should!

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