8 min read
Wondering if a SharePoint intranet is right for your company? Here's a list of pros and cons to help you decide.
If you’re looking for a definitive answer to whether or not you should be using SharePoint to build your company’s intranet, there’s no straightforward answer.
Truthfully, that'll depend on what you’re looking to achieve with your intranet, and we can’t make assumptions about that. What we’ll do, however, is offer a rundown of some of the pros and cons of a SharePoint-built intranet.
Let’s take a look at what this commonly-used intranet has to offer.
Initially released in 2001, SharePoint is Microsoft’s web-based intranet solution offered as part of select Microsoft 365 business plans.
SharePoint intranets allow you to put together pages and pages of content and information to share within your organization, essentially becoming internal websites as they grow. Many businesses use Sharepoint to create team sites or as a way to manage, store, and share documents within their networks. However, as SharePoint is highly configurable, its usage can also vary greatly depending on the organization.
The SharePoint intranet portal aims to make teamwork more accessible and to help share information from top-down within an organization. Let’s take a look at its benefits.
If you’re a strictly Microsoft organization, SharePoint is part of their umbrella of services. This makes it easier to work with products such as Enterprise Office 365 and Microsoft Teams, so you can reduce the number of vendors and integrate your workflows. For example, you can sync the intranet with your organization’s OneDrive storage account and work with any cloud-based tools in the Microsoft 365 suite.
Since SharePoint intranets are essentially internal websites, there are endless customization options to suit your needs. You can even design it entirely from scratch.
With that being the case, SharePoint is very configurable for specific use cases and requirements. Its development toolkit is vast and enables qualified administrators to determine the site structure, create custom pages, and manipulate content. This is useful to any organization that has specific security requirements, navigation settings, or other needs that they need to satisfy.
Suppose your organization has a dedicated IT team, a user experience designer, and an information architect available to develop and maintain your SharePoint intranet. In that case, you can configure (and reconfigure) an intranet site uniquely suited to your business needs.
Enterprise organizations and large corporations (about 3,000+ employees) with the resources to keep their intranet patched, upgraded, and secure tend to favor SharePoint.
If those resources aren’t available internally, there’s a massive set of templates referred to as “intranet in a box”, aimed to help enhance your intranet experience. On top of that, many third-party consultants can help design your intranet to any of your desired specifications.
3. System integration options
Of course, SharePoint integrates with Microsoft 365, but it can also integrate with many other enterprise systems. For instance, your in-house intranet project team can set up integrations with CRM and ERP systems. That way, you’re able to assimilate data like customer, production, and financial information into your intranet.
Out of the box, SharePoint comes with some components for document storage and management, workflow, and content management.
For organizations who’d like to improve the standard functionality of the SharePoint intranet, there's an online set of customizable widget features (called web parts). Widgets give users the opportunity to modify their experience and add additional features.
A quick Google search for “SharePoint horror stories” brings up about 1,330,000 results! These horror stories have soured the reputation of Microsoft’s signature intranet platform. A widely-held opinion is that SharePoint isn't a great product for users and their experience, especially for smaller organizations without the necessary resources to run it.
Let’s get to the bottom of this.
Because of the way Microsoft bundles it in (particularly at the entry level), many people are under the impression that SharePoint online sites are free. They’re not.
Building and maintaining a SharePoint intranet is an expensive ordeal.
The initial investment required includes developing and customizing the intranet and upfront software costs. And there are also the ongoing costs: monthly license fees and salaries for an IT team, an information architect, and a user experience designer—which are permanent roles— can be pretty high and are often overlooked.
Not to mention that people often struggle with building a platform like SharePoint because the knowledge and know-how are complex. Just like how developing a new website is specialized, so is building a SharePoint site. To create a consistent, functional, and relevant platform, the process almost always includes consultant fees. Because your intranet is ever-evolving, you’ll need experts on hand to continually perform real-time updates to improve the navigation and usability of your intranet.
Total that all together, for the customized intranet experience for a company of 500 employees, you would be expected to pay in the high six-figures each year. Besides the dollar commitment, your company will also need to factor in hidden costs—like the time commitment necessary to set everything up.
If your company is small to medium-sized, you likely won’t have the time, budget, and workforce to create a fully customized intranet from scratch. You may want to consider more affordable and optimized solutions.
SharePoint’s reliance on department-specific team sites can create obstacles for collaboration, leading to disconnects between working groups. Teams tend to operate in silos on a SharePoint intranet, which is generally not what you want when implementing a platform to foster company-wide communication. It sucks that the exact solution you introduce to align people ends up creating misalignment to the company goals.
The page-based approach of SharePoint sites means that your intranet content will expand infinitely. That means your people will need to proactively navigate to a buried page (a few hundred clicks later) to learn about something new at your company. There’s little reason or motivation to do that.
There are also ways to mitigate this through customization, but as mentioned above, that will generally be quite labor-intensive and costly.
Want to implement SharePoint at your organization? Chances are, you’ll probably have to wait.
Unlike an easily configurable platform, creating a new intranet with SharePoint can take over a year to get up and running. According to one article, you could invest $100,000 and wait ten months, only to have an incomplete SharePoint site.
Moreover, any changes or updates site owners want to implement will need to go through a SharePoint IT team, as configurations are entangled with Microsoft 365 settings. This can be frustrating if you’re looking for a quick and intelligent intranet, as many elements and dependencies can further slow down the process. For example, if you want to roll out your new HR program, you’ll have to wait for IT to design a new SharePoint page first.
While it has evolved over time, SharePoint's functionality can still be problematic, since it originated as a server application (instead of intending to be hosted on the cloud). Here are some other ways where users can find the SharePoint experience frustrating:
Information overwhelm: The ongoing notifications delivered on the “modern” SharePoint interface can disrupt people’s flow and concentration. This annoys them with irrelevant information—hindering employee engagement and internal communication efforts. The result? You’ll find that people aren’t paying attention to what they need to get things done.
Navigation is tricky: Small to medium businesses often find SharePoint too complex for their needs; it’s simply too unwieldy and tricky for any user to navigate. This approach to architecture can make it a challenge to locate timely, relevant information, especially if you have to navigate through many outdated pages first.
Poor search functionality: The SharePoint search function for locating files isn’t very useful. Users often report running into permission issues, too many search results, or failed searches altogether. Talk about frustrating.
Clunky mobile app: Want to include your deskless workers in your company announcements and communication? SharePoint is probably not the best choice for a great mobile experience, which is practically a requirement for our increasingly digital working environments.
It’s helpful to think of SharePoint as a big box of parts that you can use to build a collection of department sites (hub sites). If you can afford it, it’s also very customizable to your specific business needs.
But communication professionals and champions will often conclude that SharePoint is a high training, low adoption intranet. You’d still need to add a communication layer on top (instant messaging via Slack or Jostle) to create that people-focused element that many think is lacking with the SharePoint intranet.
The bottom line is that an employee platform ought to be about engaging your people and growing your company culture, not bogging them down with clutter and confusion.
There are cloud-based, configurable alternatives for medium-sized companies who don’t need (or have the budget for) all the bells and whistles of a customized intranet, and want something that will better support their employees’ success.
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