a sign that reads "why" out in nature
PHOTO: Ken Treloar

The days when businesses could install SharePoint, build an intranet on top of it and then spend the next few years not worrying about major upgrades will soon be gone (if they aren't already). While some businesses are still happily using their decade-old on premises intranets, organizations that have migrated to Office 365 are realizing that waiting to update their classic sites until the stars align is getting tougher by the day. The modern sites are here and aren’t going away any time soon. 

The question then becomes why, if Office 365 is constantly changing, do you need to start preparing and updating your intranet now? Another important question is how do you go about getting this update off the ground? Let's look at these two questions and explain why this change is important and how you can get started.

The Argument for Updating Your SharePoint Intranet

First things first: why should you switch out your perfectly functional intranet for a modern site? The bottom line is this is where SharePoint is going. 

SharePoint started off a little slow with its roll out of features, so a lot of people put making the switch on the back burner. One of the biggest things holding people back are the web parts available for modern pages. Some classic web parts just don't have a modern equivalent. In my experience, this tends to affect sites used for business solutions more than it affects intranet sites used for communication. Therefore, I advise companies to start by updating those intranet sites. The modern interface has pretty much perfected the news, events, links and other similar features and is certainly ready for these types of sites. Another selling point is many SharePoint developers have started building and releasing modern web parts that can be downloaded and used in your tenant to fill in some of the gaps.

intranet news

This is also an appropriate time (if you haven't already) to take a hard look at separating company communication tools from internal team collaboration tools. You may soon realize communication sites are great for your intranet, but your team collaboration may be better served through tools like Microsoft Teams.

Related Article: Hub Sites Raise SharePoint's Intranet Potential

Switching to Modern SharePoint Intranets Bring Benefits

intranet edit site

The argument for making the switch isn't only one of expediency, it also delivers real benefits. For example, the modern interface is an exponential improvement over the classic from a user experience perspective. You can hand over management of these sites to the teams helping you support the intranet and allow them to make their own updates and changes. Less technical teams will find it much easier to work with than previous versions. 

Another reason to jump on the modern intranet train is the recent release of Hub sites. These are going to be incredibly beneficial when architecting new intranets. I often see large intranets with an HR site collection which includes several sub-sites representing the various aspects of HR. You can now create one Hub site for HR and create several communication sites that connect to it and easily share navigation and design across all HR sites — no master’s degree in SharePoint required. 

The ability to roll up content with modern web parts from all HR sites to a main HR Hub is another benefit. We could do that in classic, but it was often a lot more difficult than a regular site admin would want or even had time to learn. 

The big picture here is Microsoft will continue to add new features to these new elements. We can't say the same for classic sites.

Related Article: Tackling SharePoint Intranet Requirements: Engaging Users

Make it Easier With Help and Buy-In

Unless you are part of an experienced SharePoint team, I would strongly suggest getting help with this process. At the very least, work with an expert to create your plan of attack. They can help you figure out what the best structure is for your intranet, including answering questions like: how many Hub sites? Are you switching to communication sites? Do you need to separate out internal team content from intranet content?

Also, as with any intranet project, be sure to involve those who will manage the individual sites. Sell them on the features of the modern site. Get their buy-in by showing them how much easier it will be to manage themselves. Show them the capabilities around rolling up content and communicating about their departments with gorgeous news articles — I promise if Corporate Communications owns a good portion of your intranet the news features will be an excellent selling point. Get them excited and get them prepared.

Preparation Is the Name of the Game

Office 365 is always changing, which makes change management a herculean task. So it's good to remember: just because it exists in Office 365 doesn't mean you need to roll it out to the whole company immediately. What you do need to do, however, is plan for it. 

Do what you can to start that plan now. Get the budget and support needed, identify the best architecture for your intranet, build out those Hub sites and communication sites, migrate content if necessary, and get your users ready.