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How to start talking about transforming your SharePoint intranet

Two people walk and talk at work.

How to start talking about transforming your SharePoint intranet

You know your intranet could do more for people, could be more useful. You know your intranet could be an integral part of the digital workplace, rather than only a home page portal to department pages.

But your colleagues don’t, although many will be frustrated by how clunky it is.

As much as your colleagues wish SharePoint was easier to use, unless they’re truly interested in collaboration tech, or they’ve recently worked elsewhere, they’re not going to know what’s possible.

Start with a conversation

You might have colleagues, stakeholders even, that are happy with the intranet – they might love how they’ve got you to publish all their ‘front page news’ for them (rather than doing any departmental publishing themselves). Your colleagues might think that just because there are fresh news stories on the home page every day, that the intranet is earning its keep.

But if you know that your organisation could get more done with a modern intranet built for people and collaboration (not just news) how do you raise the idea of a revamp without it just being a re-occurring agenda item at a team meeting?

I suggest it isn’t yet about submitting a business case to the financial gods, I think it’s about building support through conversations.

Conversations are two-way; as you discuss the future intranet’s capabilities, you’re likely to learn of some short or long-term changes that are happening around the organisation – perhaps around org change or tech changes. Many organisations take over a year to move to Office 365 from a tech standpoint, but much longer from an adoption and usage standpoint. Where is your organisation on this journey? How will your intranet revamp plans integrate with the IT strategy, the digital workplace strategy, and the engagement strategy?

Avoid the very first ‘no’

What if your manager doesn’t believe that now is the right time to start an intranet revamp project? Even though you might be thinking about the end of the year, your manager might tell you that even conversations might spook your director, or IT. While I believe that conversations are normal and positive, I must accept that some organisations have a rigid hierarchy and a set process for raising ideas.

Your manager, aware of budget, might be content to ‘sweat the asset’ for another year (and another, and another) until IT come along with an enforced fresh solution sometime in the distant future.

One way to avoid a direct ‘no’ from your manager is to cultivate relationships with people in other departments. You probably get loads of emails or requests from people you don’t know around the organisation, so you should have an idea of the passionate people using your intranet.

Specifically, develop a relationship with someone within IT. Someone who can help you understand the layout of the land, know the right way of doing things, and keep you up-to-date with related projects.If you have this IT contact, at any level, then your manager will be more comfortable with them ‘talking to IT’ than you yourself. You’re spreading the responsibility so that your manager can say “oh these are just conversations, not plans” if they’re ever challenged.

When I was an intranet manager for a large regional company, my best IT contact came to me directly to mither (bother) me about moving to SharePoint. Back then, I felt busy enough just managing content and publishing internal communications, but she kept at me, showed me what Microsoft was offering, and frankly, educated me about the underlying technology that, as a power-user, I relied upon. She wrote something akin to a business case, which was way too technical for my manager, and roped me in to be the ambassador to the business. I never did understand what her manager thought of all this – she really was a self-starter, and within months there was an IT team in charge of deploying SharePoint which I sat with on a daily basis from then on.

I hope this doesn’t sound sneaky. This is just about having more relationships than the five people you sit near! This is just about recognising that no single person drives a project. This is just about respecting the hierarchy while using your network.

What to talk about

Maybe if you often have lunch with your contacts in other departments, you’ll naturally just chat about your work – including your passion for an improved digital workplace and intranet. (Don’t @ me! I defend my right to be happily geeky about work!)

But I think, beyond lunch chats, you can do well talking about capabilities and benefits.

This is different to requirements gathering, which I’m less and less satisfied by. Asking department leaders to list out requirement after requirement like some massive shopping list seems to create redundancy and needless administrative work. It may be necessary sooner or later, but I’d like to suggest for these informal conversations that you try capabilities and benefits.

Capabilities refers to just what modern software can do – it’s not about features per se, but about functionality.

Benefits refer directly to your organisation – so while an intranet vendor might try to explain the benefit of a capability in a certain way, you are in a better position to state the benefits for your organisation.

The best benefits are the ones that directly support your organisation’s (and departments’) objectives. This is why it’s so important that you understand intranet software capabilities and your business’ work.

Does this sound backwards? Looking at solutions before defining problems? Well, when your intranet revamp project gets the green light you will absolutely want to understand the problems your organisation faces, so that you can identify solutions. But I’m talking about months before you get to that stage. I’m talking about the very first, exploratory conversations you have with colleagues.

I won’t lecture you on how to understand your business’ objectives; I trust you know the business strategy and the priority objectives. Further, I trust you have a grasp of the many change initiatives that must be happening internally. If you’re developing relationships across the organisation you’ll come to learn the frustrations that departments face (such as overly long recruitment processes, difficulties in communicating with front-line staff, and collaborating with external partners).

To get an understanding of intranet software capabilities, and the potential ‘future of work’, you’ll want to consider what other organisations do, the functionalities offered by intranet software, and maybe the difference between what SharePoint accomplishes and what the in-a-box product delivers.

I suggest you don’t namedrop SharePoint too often; people have preconceived ideas about how clunky it used to be. I suggest you focus on the capabilities and benefits, perhaps explaining that SharePoint would only be the foundation platform, and that you’re thinking about a shortlist of five or six intranet products that sit atop SharePoint.

As an independent consultancy, we often help clients choose a software product that will transform SharePoint or Office 365 into an easier-to-use intranet. There’s a lot of choice, internationally, but if you’re looking for a more local vendor, you will still want to know all your options, considering strengths and budget.

To help everyone, we’ve published an annual report on the in-a-box market. Our massive report assesses 34 intranet products for SharePoint (and lists 17 more) to help you draw up your shortlist. It’s the ideal place to start to understand what the vendors are working on and what their software can do.

Most people find that the report pays for itself as it can save you weeks of research time.

It’s with this knowledge of capabilities and your understanding of your organisation’s objectives that will let you identify the benefits of revamping your SharePoint intranet with an in-a-box intranet product. You’ll easily see how the new capabilities that a new intranet will bring could support new ways of working that enhance communication and collaboration.

Map benefits against capabilities

One way to communicate your understanding of the capabilities and benefits might be to lay out a benefits map. Such a visual aid will naturally help you talk about revamping your intranet while focusing conversations on business benefits, rather than technology hurdles.

Benefits mapping.

Take a look at how we’ve mapped out intranet strategy, and see how you can focus on capabilities and benefits – just to make these initial conversations semi-structured and yet still light and bright. The hard work of building a business case and identifying true stakeholders may be months away, but will be a little bit easier if you’ve already prepared the ground with conversation.

Keeping up-to-date with Microsoft’s SharePoint / Office 365 roadmaps, and comms and collaboration practices, and your organisation’s internal changes, and the daily fire-fighting is a lot to ask of any digital team, never mind a sole intranet manager. I think intranet managers are a fantastic bridge between IT and ‘the business’, especially as IT might well roll out new technology on an unsuspecting workforce.

Having the capabilities and benefits in mind, and a map of them to hand, will enable you to have corridor and lift conversations any time you get talking with someone involved with engagement, communication, collaboration, change, and business success (surely, most people). Don’t call it a whispering campaign, call it normal business conversation.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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