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Should you be building an intranet with SharePoint?

Posted by Corey Moseley | 4 min read

Should you be building an intranet with SharePoint?

If you’re looking for a definitive answer to whether or not you should be using SharePoint to build your company’s intranet, unfortunately you’ve come to the wrong place.

The truth is, that'll depend on what you’re looking to achieve with your intranet, and we can’t make assumptions about that. What I will 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.

SharePoint, if you’re unaware, is Microsoft’s web-based intranet platform. Its primary role is document management and storage. But because SharePoint is highly configurable, its usage varies between organizations.

Pros

1. Customizable

A SharePoint intranet can be configured for specific use cases via its development toolkit. This allows qualified administrators to manipulate content, manage site structure, create or delete pages, and alter security and navigation settings.

If your organization has a dedicated IT team, a user experience designer, and an information architect available to develop and maintain your SharePoint intranet, you can configure (and reconfigure) to create an intranet that is uniquely suited to your business needs.

Larger organizations (about 3,000+ employees) with the resources to keep their intranet patched, upgraded, and secure tend to favor SharePoint precisely for this reason.

2. System integration options

SharePoint integrates with Microsoft Office of course, but it can also be configured to integrate with many other enterprise systems. For instance, your in-house SharePoint team can set up integrations with CRM and ERP systems to assimilate data like customer, production, and financial information into your intranet.

Pretty cool, right?

3. Strong widgets for power users

Out of the box, SharePoint comes with a set of components for document storage and management, workflow and content management, and more. For those medium-to-large companies with a dedicated SharePoint administrator, tinkering in SharePoint’s customizable set of features gives users even more opportunities to modify their experience and create a uniquely customized intranet for your company.

Cons

A quick Google search for “SharePoint horror stories” brings up about 360,000 results, and it’s not surprising that these stories have soured the reputation of Microsoft’s signature intranet platform. A widely-held opinion, especially for smaller organizations without the necessary resources to run it, is that it doesn’t take into account people.

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

1. Heavy cost

Because of the way Microsoft bundles it in, particularly at the entry level, many people are under the impression that SharePoint is free. It’s not.

Building and maintaining a SharePoint intranet is expensive.

There’s the initial investment required, which includes server costs, the cost to develop and customize the intranet, and the software costs. And there’s also the ongoing costs: monthly license fees, and salaries for an IT team, an information architect, and an experience designer—which are permanent, can be quite high, and are often overlooked. Because your intranet is ever-evolving, you’ll need these experts on-hand to continually perform updates to improve the navigation and usability of your intranet.

For a premium, customized intranet experience a company of 500 employees would expect to pay in the high six-figures each year.

Besides the dollar commitment, your company will also need to factor in the time commitment necessary to set up your SharePoint intranet. Unlike a turnkey intranet that comes out of the box ready to go, creating a new intranet with SharePoint can take over a year to get up and running. According to one study, “speedy development” for a SharePoint intranet averages about 14 months.

Moreover, any changes or updates you want implemented will need to go through your SharePoint IT team, which can be frustrating and 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 create a new SharePoint page first.

If your company is small to medium-sized, you likely won’t have the time, budget, and manpower to create a fully customized intranet from scratch, and you may want to consider more affordable turnkey alternatives.

2. Collaboration can be a challenge

SharePoint’s reliance on department-and team-specific pages can create obstacles for collaboration, which can lead to disconnects between teams. Teams tend to operate in silos on a SharePoint intranet, which might not be a con depending on what your company needs for its intranet.

The page-based approach of SharePoint means that your people will need to proactively navigate to a buried page to learn about something new that’s happened at your company. But often there’s little reason or motivation to do that.

There are also ways to mitigate this through customization, but as I mentioned above, that will generally be quite labor-intensive and costly.

3. Mobile isn’t up to snuff

For mobile applications, which are increasingly more common and practically a requirement on most modern intranets, SharePoint is probably not the best choice. SharePoint’s architecture and approach make it a challenge to navigate pages to find relevant information. It’s simply too unwieldy for mobile users.

Conclusion

It’s helpful to think of SharePoint as a big box of parts which, if you can afford it, you can use to build a platform very customized to your specific business needs. But often you’ll still need to add a communication layer on top of this (via Slack, or Facebook, or Jostle) to create that people-focused element which many think is lacking with SharePoint.

But an intranet ought to be about engaging your people and growing your company culture too.

For medium-sized companies who don’t necessarily need (or have the budget for) all the bells and whistles of a customized intranet, there are cloud-based turnkey alternatives that your employees will love a whole lot more.


Looking for alternatives to SharePoint?

Check out the Jostle intranet


Let us know what you think!


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