Tips for building your intranet on modern SharePoint

If you’re considering building a new intranet on modern SharePoint, it is important to go into it with the right mindset and a full understanding of the capabilities set you are leveraging. You need to plan out the right combination of Microsoft building blocks to craft the best possible experience for your organization. It is also important to consider the inherent configuration boundaries of the platform and its propensity for continuous change in order to manage expectations effectively with your users and project stakeholders.

We’ve helped many organizations build great intranet experiences with modern SharePoint, and in doing so have learned some of the important considerations to take into account upfront. Here are our tips for what to consider when building your intranet in the modern experience:

1. Get creative with limited branding options.

Modern SharePoint solutions can be branded, but there are inherent boundaries on how far the user experience can be customized. The degree to which user experience customizations can be applied is currently less extensive than was the case in SharePoint classic publishing solutions. Modern SharePoint leverages Microsoft’s fluent UI design system, which encourages consistency across all Microsoft 365 applications. This benefits employees navigating throughout the suite of tools and ensures you’re well positioned for continuous updates. We highly recommend getting your brand stakeholders involved early and often in the process to manage brand expectations and work though styling and theme configuration options.

2. Recognize that content targeting is not mature.

We work with many larger enterprise organizations that have a real need for targeting content to specific groups, such as location or department, which is an important theme for intranets. Modern SharePoint’s current options don’t offer the most control over targeting content. This will surely mature over time, but right now, it’s not quite on par with what you can achieve with the classic experience.

3. Establish good governance for content authors.

In modern SharePoint, content owners generally have a lot more freedom to select different page layouts, add new web parts and configure features. This is by design and thanks to the non-technical and user-friendly authoring experience that empowers business users. For organizations with larger numbers of content authors, it is important to have good governance and guidelines in place to keep things consistent from site to site and page to page. This also requires intranet and communication teams have a certain comfort level with this more distributed model of control.

4. Leverage out-of-the-box features as much as possible.

With modern SharePoint, you're on a ship moving in a direction charted by Microsoft’s product roadmap. The out-of-the-box features can often meet a good portion of your requirements. There are always valid reasons to create custom features, applications and integrations with other systems. The more custom features you create, however, the more important it becomes to stay in tune with how they’ll be impacted by Microsoft’s continuous updates. It is also critical that those customizations are done in accordance with Microsoft’s best patterns and practices for SharePoint development.

5. Get aligned with the Microsoft roadmap.

Microsoft’s features come fast, so it's important to know about them in advance to anticipate how your intranet roadmap might square up against what's coming. We recently had a global customer that needed the ability to support multilingual content on their intranet, which was not an option at the start of the project. Thankfully, Microsoft has been publishing what they're working on, so we knew that it was in the works, and now, four months later, it is reaching general availability. By knowing this, we avoided the need for a customization or third-party product.

6. Evaluate your requirements to decide if you need to build, buy or wait.

Depending on the urgency, priorities and how well aligned you are with Microsoft’s product direction, you’ll want to carefully consider how you address requirements gaps and wish list items. When planning your project scope, think about whether you’ll need to custom-build to meet your requirements, buy a product add-in or wait until Microsoft addresses a feature ask.

For those specific areas where requirements or features might fall outside of the current set of native capabilities or planned roadmap, you can build your own feature or solution with the SharePoint Framework (SPfX) and patterns and practices development approaches. There's also a healthy third-party product ecosystem, so chances are there could be product options readily available that might fill certain voids.

Lastly, Microsoft is increasingly responsive to user requests and feedback via forums like UserVoice. Coupled with the rapid rate of innovation and updates being released into M365, the option to wait for common features to be addressed and made available by Microsoft is sometimes a good way to go.

7. Assign someone to stay on top of M365 changes.

Microsoft is innovating at a rapid pace, with regular releases of new capabilities. It’s critical to have someone accountable for keeping pace with what’s happening in SharePoint Online and other available tools like Teams, Yammer and Power Automate, all of which can influence your intranet journey.

8. Consider how your intranet can show up beyond the browser. 

These days, employees expect their intranet to be accessible outside of a traditional web browser, so it’s important to meet them where they're at. Mobile access to your intranet has shifted from nice-to-have to essential. Thankfully, modern SharePoint is fully responsive and supported by the SharePoint app, eliminating previous barriers.

In addition to mobile, employees spend a good chunk of their workdays immersed in tools like Microsoft Teams. With rapid Microsoft Teams adoption, it's important that the intranet, or at least a browser-based intranet, doesn't become irrelevant or face declining adoption. Thankfully, it is entirely possible to have your intranet content show up directly within the Microsoft Teams experience.

There are many points to consider as you plan your intranet experience on modern SharePoint to determine whether it's right for your organization. To learn more about modern SharePoint’s strengths and challenges, seen from different perspectives – strategy, design, development and project management – watch our recorded webinar: Building your intranet on SharePoint modern.

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