The titular question was posed by a connection of mine on LinkedIn in July 2023 and I was intrigued to see that the mayonnaise came out on top at 59%.
For some this will be a shock, while others will look at those results with a wry smile. Needless to say, there are strong feelings on both sides!
The question of the question
Someone in the comments said, “there is no such thing as ‘using SharePoint’… that extinct software has been consumed by the tangled web of M365.” With the emergence of the Viva brand, this is certainly partly true, however for many people ‘SharePoint’ will mean their day-in day-out intranet and / or document management system.
So, what does the question really mean or refer to?
In my eyes, for the people who responded “using SharePoint” could refer to any or all of:
- End users, viewing the content
- Experienced or inexperienced publishers maintaining content
- Admins managing the strategy and philosophy of the site
- Expert admins managing the technical aspects.
These mixed perspectives explain why the mayo won, but also indicate why it was a close-run race (because there are a lot of helpful features in SharePoint and across the suite).
Why ‘SharePoint’ deserved to do better
SharePoint Online is positioned by Microsoft as ‘the intelligent intranet’. It offers a modern, highly flexible approach to employee communications, as well as powering many elements of Microsoft 365 behind the scenes. It’s also easy to consider it as ‘free’, as the majority of organisations already have M365 licenses that include SharePoint. The main advantage of staying within the Microsoft 365 world is the integration of search and profiles, plus the range of features and ease of use of SharePoint if your site needs are straightforward.
Out of the box, standard SharePoint Online is attractive and the basics are relatively easy to use for small-company set-ups, making it simple to get going. To create a basic intranet, communication and hub sites offer a friendly editing environment that makes it straightforward for site owners to change layouts. Viva Connections extends this ability with a dashboard for tools, a targeted news feed and the ability to integrate a SharePoint intranet into Teams.
Ultimately, SharePoint is also best considered an intranet and content platform within a much broader digital workplace offering that includes MS Teams, Lists, Power Apps, Stream and Viva. When viewed from this perspective, the comprehensiveness of what is on offer can often override reservations about SharePoint from a pure intranet point of view. In addition, Microsoft’s roadmap is ambitious and fast-moving, so many companies make a legitimate decision to deploy on Microsoft 365 and put faith in any gaps being filled over time.
Page layouts are versatile, enabling modern, appealing designs.
Why the mayo won
Although SharePoint, Viva Connections and Viva Engage have many strengths, there are also some gaps from an intranet point of view. Often the starting assumption is that if you already have Microsoft 365, then SharePoint is ‘free’. However, SharePoint is not a ready-to-run intranet, it is a platform on which an intranet can be configured and there will be costs involved. Before defaulting to using SharePoint, companies need to carefully consider their objectives and the costs, not just of setting up but of running the intranet well over many years. Even medium-size enterprises can get into trouble because the first steps are easy, but the scaling up is not. For example, the global menu approach is unintuitive, and the combination of site-level and hub-level menus is confusing.
As another example, analytics are found in several places in SharePoint and Azure, but they will appeal more to IT than intranet managers. Governance analytics to detect old content and dead sites may particularly need a third-party tool or PowerBI configuration for a complete picture. Additionally, social features are good if Engage is deployed, but still fall short of competition outside the Microsoft world, where user activity across comments, likes, discussions and profiles are well integrated and not just part of a social networking component.
Overall, there remains complexity within SharePoint and other M365 applications that non-technical administrators and publishers will find frustrating to overcome. While it’s powerful, one client recently said that they didn’t want to have to “make” their intranet do anything, they simply wanted functionality that worked out of the box. So, while it’s arguable that those who manage intranets should understand SharePoint’s potential, it’s understandable why this is off-putting (and mayo more appealing).
News web parts can aggregate news from other sites, such as all those associated with a hub site, although this can feel fiddly to set up.
Where to find out more on both sides of the mayo argument
As simple as it sounds, the mayo question is complicated with a lot of aspects to consider, particularly an individual’s experience with using SharePoint. Sometimes this experience can be over many years, so will be hard to bypass as the knee-jerk reaction is that “SharePoint is too complicated”.
To help navigate this argument and to reposition it as “would you rather use SharePoint or another intranet tool”, you can download our free report to find out more about the leading products on the market. Some rely on SharePoint, but simplify it, others don’t require SharePoint at all, and we’ve even got a review of SharePoint plus Viva (in fact, much of this post was copied from that review).
So, download for free now and re-evaluate how you would answer the mayo vs SharePoint question!