Product development insights: Building a product on Microsoft 365

For organizations that are invested in Microsoft, it’s important to stay aligned with the roadmap. Our intranet clients often choose GO because it delivers richer intranet experience than SharePoint out of the box while still allowing them to adopt new capabilities such as Viva Topics or Copilot in conjunction with their intranet. It’s a deliberate strategy to help our clients keep pace with technology developments while knowing their employees are getting the best experience.

For this post, we sat down with three members of our GO product team to learn more about their approach to developing and evolving GO as an award-winning product on the Microsoft 365 platform. 

From left to right: Mark Bice, Ryan Bender and Hanah Lim.

Mark Bice, GO solution architect, utilizes his experience in all stages of application development, from planning to testing, to provide a valuable bridge between the design and development components of Habanero’s GO Intranet. 

Ryan Bender, GO product manager, drives the direction and implementation of Habanero’s GO Intranet. Through collaborating and understanding client needs, he builds out clear vision, strategy, and a product roadmap to tackle tough business problems. 

Hanah Lim, GO product designer, works closely with the rest of the GO team to understand user needs and translate them into intuitive and visually appealing designs that deliver a delightful user experience.

If an organization wants to stay aligned with the Microsoft roadmap, could they just use SharePoint out-of-the-box for their intranet?

Mark: Sure, it’s definitely an option, although it’s not ideal for everyone. Before we developed GO for modern SharePoint, we started designing and developing intranets using the out-of-the-box experience. This helped us understand where there were platform gaps and uncovered areas where we could add immense value to communicators.

Over time, we’ve seen many organizations aren’t satisfied with the out-of-the-box experience. SharePoint provides an incredible framework to build from but is missing many intranet capabilities and experiences that employees expect.

In 2020, you created a new version of GO for modern SharePoint. What were some considerations of moving from the classic to modern experience?

Mark: Deciding on the architectural philosophy and approach for the modern version was a massive decision. There were two major paths we could take – building the product on SharePoint or building something outside of SharePoint, but still finding a way to connect the solution with SharePoint.

We ultimately decided to go all-in on SharePoint and Microsoft 365, which meant that GO would need to be deployed into each client’s Microsoft 365 tenant individually. This had the added benefit of content remaining under each client’s control, providing an added sense of security and reducing vendor lock-in.

Hanah: For the visual design, we knew that we had to leverage Microsoft’s Fluent UI design system, which modern SharePoint is built on, but also provide design flexibility that would satisfy the requirements of an organization’s brand stakeholders and communicators.

Our design and development team spent a lot of time figuring out how we could build on top of Fluent UI to enable us to create rich, visually appealing intranet designs, while still being aligned with Fluent UI. This led us to build a collection of capabilities and components in GO that help create beautiful, branded intranets in modern SharePoint, which organizations aren’t able to achieve out of the box.

The top of a GO site with Lume branding.

How do you stay aligned with the Microsoft roadmap?

Mark: It can be challenging! We have a strong relationship with Microsoft, we participate in as many technology adoption and preview programs as we can, and attend many conferences and events. But there are many teams that contribute to feature development within the Microsoft 365 platform, and it’s almost impossible to stay connected with all of them. To mitigate this, we invest in a paid premium support agreement with Microsoft. The agreement provides architectural consultations, which have been invaluable in ensuring we stay aligned with the roadmap and potential shifts in direction.

Ryan: We are also adamant that we don’t do anything we shouldn’t or “hack” the platform. GO is built using the SharePoint Framework (SPFx). SPFx provides full support for client-side SharePoint development, easy integration with SharePoint data and can be used to extend Microsoft Teams. We also leverage native integration capabilities in Microsoft 365, including connectors, pre-built SharePoint web parts, Microsoft Graph and the SharePoint APIs.

How do you ensure GO’s capabilities don’t compete with future Microsoft features?

Ryan: It’s a concern for any organization that builds a product on top of another vendor’s platform. However, we know Microsoft can’t be all things to all people, and there are always great opportunities for partners to provide additional value and innovate on top of the solid foundation Microsoft provides within Microsoft 365.

What is your approach to evolving GO? How do you ensure it continues to meet organization’s needs?

Ryan: There are actually several areas that greatly influence what we do to evolve GO.

First, and arguably the most important, is our continued connection with our clients. After their production release, we meet with our client portal stakeholders twice a year to gauge how their portal is performing for them. It gives us an opportunity to hear what their needs are, what may be missing from the tool and what enhancements could be made. It also gives us a chance to get their feedback on new ideas we’re thinking of for GO, or even to gain beta testers for features that are further along in the development process. We also include an in-depth analytics review for our clients so they can see how their portal is performing.

Our clients can also contact our Customer Success Support team at any time with feature requests that come to mind, or they can fill out a “feature request” survey on our online GO support site.

The second area of influence would be industry trends – what we’re seeing people ask for when they’re looking to build an intranet. We stay close to the community through online webinars, websites and other sources to keep up with what is trending.

Lastly, we stay in touch with Microsoft’s roadmap. As mentioned previously, we’re not here to compete with Microsoft; we’re here to enhance and use features our clients already have through their Microsoft subscriptions.

What areas of innovation are you most excited about for internal communicators? 

Ryan: It’s likely we will see generative AI experiences in SharePoint, Viva Engage and Viva Amplify make content creation easier. I don’t believe this technology will replace the need for internal communicators, but rather will make it easier to create content and possibly get real-time feedback on how to create multiple versions of content for multi-channel distribution. Imagine recording a video with your CEO, uploading it, and having a draft article, video snippets and a draft email campaign automatically created with feedback on what will likely resonate and drive engagement and reach. 

Hanah: I’m excited to see the potential for Viva Engage and Amplify to shift the focus beyond intranet news to encourage communicators to consider their multi-channel communications strategy and embrace the idea of connecting with employees where they are working, rather than forcing them to go to the intranet to stay connected.  

Ryan: Related to both reach and engagement, I’m excited that we’ve just brought our latest product, called Helm Insights to market. Helm Insights helps communicators measure their content performance and better understand reach and engagement. Helm makes it easy for teams to compare their results across news articles and generate insights around the type of content that is succeeding (and content that is not). While there are a lot of analytics tools on the market, we don’t believe anyone is doing this well and communicators are craving this insight to take the mystery out of content performance. And although Helm will be available to anyone using modern SharePoint news, I’m excited that GO clients get Helm Analytics for free with their subscription.    

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