How intranets make use of your Microsoft investment
Our free 710-page report reviews 33 of the best intranet and employee experience platforms on the market. Each of our full reviews assesses against ten business scenarios, which we’ve formed from our experiences working with clients and as practitioners ourselves. I’ve collated some of the results and best examples from Scenario 9: Microsoft 365 integration.
We have assessed each intranet via a bespoke demo with the vendor, in-dept conversations, robust scoring criteria, and rigorous fact-checking. Our scenarios are recognisable real-world business priorities, and you will want to consider which are the most important to your organisation before making a decision about your technology options.
What ‘Scenario 9: Microsoft 365 integration’ covers
The Microsoft suite is pervasive, and many companies want their intranet to work well alongside their M365 investment, even if they have chosen not to use SharePoint as a publishing platform. In this scenario we asked vendors to show what capabilities were on offer to bring Microsoft features inside their products, or how (parts of) their intranet could be accessed via Microsoft applications. We were particularly interested in features around SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and Viva.
We have reviewed SharePoint and Viva Connections
One of the 33 products we’ve reviewed is SharePoint (plus Viva Connections). For many companies, integration with other parts of Microsoft 365 is a compelling reason to use SharePoint for an intranet, so you’d expect this scenario to be a straight flush. However, the story is not so straightforward. You can read more in our free report and see why it doesn’t score a perfect 5 in this scenario.
Integrating with… SharePoint
All of the SharePoint intranet in-a-box products rely on SharePoint in order to work, so understandably manage SharePoint integrations well. There are a couple of unusual approaches that I want to highlight though.
In Interact, SharePoint can serve as the source of a document library, although usefully there’s no need for users to have a SharePoint license in order to view the content. Admins can select the relevant folder of contents to then be displayed as a document library within the intranet structure. When a user views a file from SharePoint they see a document embedded in a page, with all relevant Interact page features around the outside. Users can like, share and comment, and any changes to the original document will be reflected on the intranet after a short delay.
In Omnia, document libraries and ‘Controlled documents’ are stored in SharePoint, but Omnia facilitates permissions, lifecycle, workflows, user feedback and more to keep them up-to-date. This means users can create documents using company templates from Omnia’s top menu, which may then be stored in SharePoint or OneDrive. This means the company PowerPoint template or standard supplier paperwork is easy to find, complete, and save, which can often be hard for users to do smoothly.
SharePoint lists have the potential to be powerful if you invest time in them. Unfortunately, it’s this need for time that means that lists are often underused. However, Involv offers some SharePoint list configurations straight out-of-the-box that are simple but really beneficial. For example, ‘Incidents’ are created in a SharePoint list and are configured to appear in a dedicated component or in a pop-up that users can’t miss.
A newer ‘glossary’ feature stores terms, definitions and associated linked pages in a SharePoint list. When a publisher types the associated term, the word is replaced by a hyperlinked word either to the information page or hover-over definition. This is similar functionality to Viva Topics but is included in the Involv license costs and involves more manual administration.
Usage of Microsoft Teams has exploded over the past few years and vendors have been racing to develop integrations with the variety of features it has on offer. Some of them are simple and straightforward, such as starting a Teams chat session from a people card or from a person’s full profile which many of the products now do. Others are more unusual, and I’ve explored some examples below.
Conversations don’t just take place in chat, but also within channels. In some cases, people may not want to leave the intranet to open MS Teams and so being able to access channel conversations within dedicated intranet spaces is helpful. In this example from Colibo, MS Teams has been integrated within ‘Workgroups’ functionality. It is possible to link a Workgroup to a corresponding MS Teams group, and then post and receive messages from MS Teams channels while staying within Colibo.
When creating content on the intranet, publishers don’t want to have to manually recreate the same information in multiple places. We’ve seen more products offer simple functionality to post the same content in multiple locations, including into Teams channels. Often these posts include a heading and summary, encouraging people to click through to read more on the intranet. In other examples the entire post is shared from the intranet into a channel.
With the introduction of Viva Connections (see below), we’ve seen more vendors make use of its associated functionality to position their product in the left-hand Teams menu. Teams becomes a glorified browser in this case, but means people have full access to the intranet without leaving Teams.
A handful of intranet platforms, such as LiveTiles and Omnia, include Teams (and other Microsoft) provisioning engines. In these examples, a wizard takes users through simple steps to request a site, which can include the type of Team, business unit, location, and owner. This provides configurable metadata inherited by content, which is useful in future searches. It also keeps the creation of new teams consistent, following standardised naming conventions for example, to help manage the inevitable sprawl.
Finally, for something completely different, Ichicraft Boards offers users a single landing point to start their day. This could be as part of SharePoint, or works very well from within Teams as a left-hand menu option. The widgets within Ichicraft are configurable by users and admins, and display content from integrated tools (including news from SharePoint) or links out to other systems.
Much of the MS Teams functionality has roots in the ways vendors handled Yammer integrations, most of which is fairly standard now. Integrating Yammer feeds into web parts or widgets is very common, either showing the ‘all company’ feed or specified communities on home pages, ‘my page’, or other relevant spaces.
Often Yammer can be presented within a widget, news can be posted directly into a community feed, or Yammer can be used instead of an intranet’s social features. In some cases, Yammer is so well integrated that users don’t realise that’s what they’re using. This can be helpful if you’ve launched Yammer without success in the past and need to strip the brand away. Unily, Valo, Powell, and Akumina are among the products with good Yammer integrations.
Vendors have done a good job of integrating with or preparing to integrate with Viva. For example, in Beezy, Viva Insights is integrated as one of the widgets in the hero web part on the home page, encouraging employees to discover the content of Insights. Another example is Fresh, which doesn’t have a dedicated app but works well with Viva Connections as a good alternative. Fresh can be accessed in its entirety via the Viva Connections app in MS Teams, while the Viva Connections dashboard will show a Fresh news carousel alongside integrated tools, such as upcoming Outlook events.
Microsoft Viva is still a bit of an unknown quantity that still causes some confusion among people running digital workplaces. Some APIs are still closed, and some functionality not fully released, so this is an area we expect to see evolve over the coming years.
Stream, Outlook, Planner etc.
Other Microsoft applications tend to be well served on the whole, although sometimes only by displaying information rather than any two-way interaction. ‘Launchers’ are a simple approach to integrations, giving people a quick method to open an application – particularly when the M365 waffle menu is hidden. Alternatively, widgets can be bi-directional allowing task lists, emails, calendars, Stream videos etc to be fully interacted with. Often this is via a ‘my page’ approach, where information and tasks that are relevant to the logged-in user are displayed.
Whether you choose a SharePoint intranet in-a-box product or not, you need to ensure that the content of your intranet is returned within its search results. This also means returning results from integrated systems, such as the Microsoft ecosystem. Products like Unily will work with the Microsoft Graph to improve the results and experience. This means that search can return results from Outlook email and calendar as well as SharePoint.
Overview of scores for scenario 9
Overall, SharePoint intranet in-a-box products generally have scored highest in this scenario but with a few exceptions. Ultimately, your intrant should support the level of investment you’ve made in Microsoft applications as you feel is appropriate. This could be a total intertwining of all Microsoft applications, or a lighter touch where you’re only concerned about MS Teams.
There is no, single, best product – there is only the product that best meets your needs, and it may end up being one of the lower scoring ones in this scenario if it performs well in a priority scenario. Please download our free report for more information about everything I’ve shared here.
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See more screenshots in Scenario 3, Internal Communications.