If your business has Microsoft Office 365 then the question of whether to use SharePoint for the intranet may seem irrelevant. Additionally, there may be a strongly worded steer, likely from the IT department, that SharePoint must be used as the basis for a new intranet (especially with the potential of using the Viva Connections add-on). So, using SharePoint must be an automatic decision when considering an intranet then, right? Not necessarily…
You can still use SharePoint, whatever intranet platform you use
Independent intranets can integrate with SharePoint, which would allow you to surface SharePoint content within your intranet pages. For example, policy documents could be stored within SharePoint folders, whereas news articles could be created within the independent intranet’s CMS. Collaboration, project work, and document management would happen in private in SharePoint team sites, while the intranet acts as a window and navigation aid to relevant content.
It’s also worth noting that some independent intranets have ways to share content with frontline workers that would normally require each person to have a SharePoint license. Many independent intranets will also play nicely with Microsoft O365 tools beyond SharePoint, meaning you won’t miss out on the benefits of using Yammer, MS Teams, or Word in the browser.
The document repository isn’t the only requirement
There is more to an intranet than just document storage – your other functional requirements should influence which products to explore. As I’ve said, there’s nothing stopping you from storing documents in SharePoint and surfacing them within your intranet, whatever its platform.
It’s crucial to consider the search and browsing experience. A strong intranet product should be able to index content from across your digital landscape no matter the source; something we explore in detail as part of our independent intranets report, as the quality of search indexing varies a lot between products. The browsing experience should be seamless, so there’s no jarring jump from one system into SharePoint.
The implementations are basically the same
The implementation of an independent intranet is not actually that much different from the implementation of an intranet built on top of SharePoint (from an IT perspective), especially if you choose a vendor cloud-hosted product. The perception that SharePoint is somehow ‘easier’ can be misleading.
Considerations around data residency, product knowledge (i.e., understanding how to use the intranet product as an admin to get the most out of it), experience levels of vendors, security settings – much of this is also the same whether you implement a SharePoint in-a-box or independent intranet product.
SharePoint isn’t necessarily ‘free’
Many businesses use Microsoft licenses for other applications, such as Word, Outlook, MS Teams, or Yammer. When viewed in this way, SharePoint is ‘free’ and so additional an intranet product (whether for SharePoint or an independent system) add an expense. Very large organisations may also find building their own intranet cheaper than per-user licensing. However, there is still a cost (time and effort) associated with building a SharePoint Online intranet.
There are also many things that specialised intranet products offer that will make life easier and improve everyone’s digital experience (see our reports for more). Finally, the cost of working with a vendor includes other services, such as strategy consultation or governance guidance, that when needed would have to be paid for separately with a DIY SharePoint Online intranet.
The mobile experience can be hit-and-miss
Even with Viva Connections, standard Microsoft apps don’t always deliver the sort of experience that businesses would like. For example, often the structure and navigation is pre-determined and changes are limited, so there’s no possibility of tailoring the experience to your business’ needs. Employee mobile app products are designed from a mobile-first perspective, but many in-a-box products and independent intranet products offer good experiences too. So, while Microsoft is good, other dedicated products are arguably better.
How to make a final decision
You need to carefully think about which approach to take so that your intranet meets the needs of your business.
Have a look at our ‘how to choose intranet software’ guide to take you through our tried-and-tested method for selecting the right solution for your needs. Of course, please do get in touch if you need some help.