GTAA makes the move to modern SharePoint

Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) migrates to modern SharePoint and enters the next phase of their digital evolution.

The challenge

Migrate GTAA’s employee portal to GO Intranet for modern SharePoint.

The outcome

A seamless, efficient transition to a next-generation portal that delivers ongoing innovation that supports the airport’s fast-paced, agile operations.

There’s no downtime at Toronto Pearson, Canada’s largest airport. It’s a global transportation hub that connected 50 million passengers to more than 155 cities around the world pre-pandemic.

This complex organization is powered by its people – employed either directly through GTAA or with their airport vendors and partners. In the face of rapidly changing conditions, they’ve been nimble, collaborative and resilient. Operations have pivoted quickly, but the organization is also focused on advancing their capabilities to prepare for a new era of air travel.

When GTAA launched their GO employee portal in late 2018, the site put employees at the centre and sparked new ways of thinking about the potential for continuous improvement. It represented a big leap forward, but their business needs have continued to evolve.

The pandemic sparked a shift to remote work for many employees and increased dependency on mobile for those in the field. In both cases, the use of Microsoft Teams soared as the need for employees across GTAA to connect with each other grew.

Two years later, they were ready to take the next step in their digital journey. They were looking for a next-generation intranet experience that would deliver preference-based content, integrate seamlessly with their digital workplace and support agile ways of working. They found all that – and more – in modern SharePoint and GO.

“Migrating to modern SharePoint just made sense,” says GTAA Senior Advisor – Digital Projects Brendan Harding. “Our classic portal was working well for us, and when we looked at modern – the capabilities, the user experience, how well it integrates with Microsoft 365 and other tools – it was a logical decision to make the move.”

A commitment to innovation

Modern SharePoint is a reimagining of the classic experience. It features a new user experience, development framework and architecture. Since its introduction a few years ago, it’s been steadily gaining momentum and now edges out classic SharePoint on Microsoft’s collaboration roadmap and innovation path.

By migrating to GO Intranet for SharePoint modern, GTAA is ensuring they’ll stay on the “innovation path,” as Microsoft advances the platform.

They're gaining access to a continuous release of new features and capabilities, as well as support for modern development technologies, including the SharePoint Framework (SPFx) and Microsoft Graph.

“Our team is passionate about making GO the absolutely best platform for organizations that want alignment with Microsoft's roadmap,” explains Ryan Bender, GO product manager at Habanero. “We build GO using Microsoft’s best practices for Microsoft 365 design and development including the Fluent UI design system, the SharePoint Framework (SPFx), the Microsoft Graph and SharePoint APIs and Microsoft’s PnP framework. In addition, GO is deployed into each client’s tenant and all content is stored within the client’s SharePoint Online instance, ensuring their data is safe and secure and under their control.”

As GO subscribers, GTAA’s digital and communications teams meet quarterly with Habanero to review and optimize their portal, analyze adoption trends and stay up to date on new capabilities coming from Microsoft and Habanero.

Support for migration

Since the modern SharePoint experience is fundamentally different from classic SharePoint, upgrading in place wasn’t an option. Instead, the GTAA team knew that they’d have to migrate their content to the new platform and modernize their classic pages.

Mark Bice Senior Front-end Solution Architect Habanero Consulting
Moving to modern is not a configuration change. You are replatforming, so organizations need to rethink their information architecture and content. It’s a chance to re-envision your intranet and reimagine how things are put together, while taking advantage of everything Microsoft has to offer.

For migration support and guidance, GTAA looked to Habanero. “An intranet is such a large part of our organization, so we knew migration could have very broad impacts,” says Brendan. “It was valuable for us to be able to tap into Habanero’s expertise, so we could fully understand the implications of the decisions we were making.”

We’ve helped clients migrate their intranets and collaborative environments to modern SharePoint, and we’ve learned a lot about the benefits, risks and challenges along the way,” says Ryan. “Every migration is unique, but we know what questions to ask and how to plan and resource a migration to make sure organizations can make the move easily and efficiently. We’ve also developed several enhancements to Microsoft’s page modernization scripts to automate as much of the heavy lifting as possible."

Modernizing SharePoint pages

Moving content from classic to modern SharePoint isn’t a straightforward process. Modern SharePoint web parts are fundamentally different from classic SharePoint web parts. In many cases, they don’t have like-for-like equivalents, so the way you handle certain content and functionality may need to evolve.

“Habanero were always very upfront about what was possible in modern, so we clearly understood our options,” Brendan recalls. “If it wasn’t possible to replicate something, they would offer another way to solve it to create the same user experiences, which was important to us.”

Because GTAA are already GO Intranet subscribers, they could draw on the robust analytics to assess and prioritize features for modernization, based on their current usage.

“Identifying whether a certain tool could be replicated on the modern platform gave us a discussion point,” explains Brendan. “We considered both analytics and business processes and took those discussions to a senior level to decide if a feature needed to be migrated.”

Custom scripts for easy migration

Microsoft’s Patterns and Practices (PnP) is a suite of tools that includes scripts that convert classic SharePoint pages to modern SharePoint pages. These scripts work well in the out-of-the-box (OOTB) SharePoint environment, but when pages contain complex content, it can present a migration challenge.

For GTAA, the team used a tool developed by Habanero that has the capability to modernize pages beyond the OOTB capabilities.

“Our ethos is to complement, not compete,” says Mark. “We’re not trying to rebuild the wheel; instead, we use all the tools supported by Microsoft and build on them. Our deep knowledge and expertise with Microsoft’s PnP tools empowers us to extend PnP to other solutions, even outside our GO ecosystem.”

The Hab team created page templates and configured scripts to automatically populate modern pages with web parts based on the design. They were able to modernize content in bulk to a state that was almost production ready.

Brendan Harding Senior Advisor – Digital Projects GTAA
Once everything was migrated over, all we had to do was look at the page to make sure there were no issues with it. Everything was fantastic. The way Habanero set it up for us made cleanup super easy to do.

Creating a better employee experience

Moving to modern SharePoint offered GTAA a chance to assess their intranet features and iterate to further improve their employee experience. Here are some of the enhancements they were able to make thanks to modern SharePoint and GO:

Modern design

The team were looking for a clean, modern design that would align well with the organization’s brand. As we’ve shared in our series of insight posts, designing in modern presents some limitations, but our Habanero designers take a creative approach to bring a brand to life on the platform while staying consistent with Microsoft’s FluentUI design system.

Screenshot from GTAA's intranet, built on GO.
Screenshot from GTAA's intranet, built on GO.

Preference-based content

In GTAA’s fast-paced work environment, employees don’t have time to sift through company updates to find what’s relevant to them. The personalization capabilities of GO cut through the noise, so they can stay up to date on important news and announcements without a lot of effort.

Airport bulletins

It’s important for employees to get timely updates on what’s happening at the airport. Previously, they could read announcements on the homepage. For the new intranet, the team created Airport bulletins, available from anywhere in the site through GO’s Springboard, where employees also see an indicator that alerts them when something new has been posted.

Screenshot of GTAA's intranet airport bulletins web part, built on GO.
Screenshot of GTAA's intranet airport bulletins web part, built on GO.

Enhanced engagement

For their new intranet, the team wanted to lean into some of their site’s most popular engagement features, like photo galleries, Yammer integration and “Reach for the stars” (employee recognition). GO Intranet’s capabilities and design solutions allowed them to take these features to the next level. The recognition web part was redesigned to be more prominent and visually engaging, and it can now be featured throughout the site.

Screenshot of GTAA's intranet reach for the stars web part, built on GO.
Screenshot of GTAA's intranet reach for the stars web part, built on GO.

Improved navigation and usability

While their previous intranet was easy to navigate and use, GTAA were excited to leverage GO’s Springboard to help employees find what they need even faster. This toolbar, accessible from every page of the intranet, gives people quick access to common actions, plus their most-used apps, links and preferences.

Screenshot of GTAA's intranet with the springboard open, built on GO.

Built for any screen

Supporting employees no matter where they're working is an increasing need for most organizations, and GTAA is no exception. While their classic intranet was responsive, modern SharePoint is built from the ground up for small screens, including mobile devices, with the responsive FluentUI design system. They've also introduced two new mobile app publishing models for news and intranet content either through the Microsoft Teams app or Viva Connections app.

Easy authoring

GO features several enhancements that make it easier for content authors to publish content from a modern template, create new rich and engaging content pages.

It’s all about connection

The migration means that GTAA’s intranet is now more than ever a part of their Microsoft 365 ecosystem. It’s accessible from the app bar in Microsoft Teams, so it’s easier for employees to share, collaborate, and chat.

“The fact that modern SharePoint fits so well within Microsoft 365 creates a sense of coherence and unity,” says Brendan Harding. “Keeping everyone within the same user experience is valuable.”

Enjoying the benefits of modern

Since the launch, Brendan has received nothing but positive feedback from his colleagues who work with the platform. “They’re so happy with the new features, and it’s much easier to use – no more checking content in and out to edit and publish! Authoring within the modern platform is streamlined in a way that has saved our team so much time.”

They’re also excited about the potential for continuous improvement offered through Microsoft roadmap and GO’s constant evolution – and Habanero’s support to make sense of it all.

Brendan Harding Senior Advisor – Digital Projects GTAA
Habanero has a deep knowledge of Microsoft 365 and how it integrates with many of our internal tools. Moving to modern was an important milestone for us, but it also had broader impacts on the business. Habanero understands the implications of the choices we need to make and have proven they can help us successfully implement important changes within our organization.

Stories say it best.

Are you ready to make your workplace awesome? We're keen to hear what you have in mind.

Interested in learning more about the work we do?

Explore our culture and transformation services.

Our commitment to reconciliation

Learn how Habanero is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action as a settler-owned company operating on Indigenous territories across what is now called Canada.

Read about our commitment