Office 365 Intranet: Deep dive in your cloud corporate portal

When Office 365 just stepped into the business world, it met lots of skepticism both from the professional IT community and potential adopters. Many companies worried that Office 365 was going to ruin traditional SharePoint intranets without offering anything instead.

Fortunately, turbulent times are over and organizations got used to the word combination “Office 365 intranet”. The latest report “10 Best Intranets of 2018” by Nielsen Norman Group proves that Office 365 is now a popular intranet platform helping companies build highly effective corporate networks.

In this article, we will help you explore a Microsoft Office 365 intranet in details, discover its peculiarities, as well as important aspects to consider if your company decides to implement one.

Office 365 intranet

What is an Office 365 intranet?

If you launch Office 365 on your computer, you won’t find an intranet tile there. You will access a set of collaboration and productivity apps that cover a wide array of activities, including content management, task and project management, communication and more. By combining various Office 365 apps, organizations can build their unique and multifunctional intranets.

SharePoint Online often serves as the core of an Office 365 intranet, as it offers strong and diverse content management and collaboration features. However, if your company isn’t a SharePoint adept, you can shift your intranet’s center to Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Planner and OneDrive. Office 365 also provides companies with an opportunity to create individual digital workplaces for their employees to privately manage their daily activities.

What are building blocks of an Office 365 intranet?

Office 365 apps can be divided into several functional groups depending on their key purpose. For example, you can manage your tasks in Planner, Outlook Tasks and To-Do or you can communicate with peers via groups in Yammer, channels in Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business. 

Office 365 intranet apps

Ideally, while creating an Office 365 intranet, organizations have to find the right balance between:

  • different groups of apps (collaboration, task management, content management, etc.);
  • different apps within the same functional group (for example, Tasks, Planner, Project Online, To-Do within task and project management group).

How does it really differs from a SharePoint intranet?

As SharePoint Online is a part of Office 365, you might think that Office 365 intranet is a standard SharePoint intranet that can be extended with other apps. In reality, there are several critical differences between a typical SharePoint on-premises intranet and an Office 365 intranet. Here are some of them.

MySites don’t exist in Office 365. An important component of on-premises intranets, MySites are responsible for employees’ profiles and help users manage their personal info and content. In Office 365, MySites’ duties are delegated to Delve. The app not only hosts users’ profiles but also puts together all the files a user works with and helps to find other employees by their names, documents or conversations. Delve also host Delve Blogs where users can create their personal blog-like content.

Office 365 intranet offers wider SharePoint capabilities. It can seem strange, but Office 365 really comes with richer SharePoint capabilities than SharePoint on-premises. Since Microsoft is laser-focused on the cloud suite, all new features come to the cloud first, which explains this functional disruption. Apart from traditional team sites, SharePoint Online offers communication sites and hub sites. Neither of these features is available in the on-premises versions of the platform. 

Office 365 Groups are yet another component absent in a typical SharePoint intranet. Groups aren’t a feature but rather a capability within the suite that enables users to create shared collaboration spaces. Although the concept of Office 365 Groups seems great, they are one of the biggest management pains because they entail uncontrollable propagation of shared SharePoint sites, Outlook email boxes, OneNote Notebooks and other group items.

Mobile Office 365 intranet. Creating a mobile-friendly SharePoint intranet was always a challenge for companies. Luckily, Office 365 comes with a number of default mobile apps for SharePoint Online, OneDrive, Office apps, etc. This way, employees can have their intranets at their fingertips at any place and use them at any moment.

User-enabled intranet management. Office 365 intranet is also more user-oriented in terms of management. For example, modern page layouts in SharePoint Online allows building nicely-looking and personalized team or communication sites without any coding in a few clicks.

What are possible Office 365 intranet challenges?

Although Office 365 was first released in 2011, companies started to adopt the suite actively only in 2015-2016. That’s why even today for many organizations Office 365 is rather a terra incognita than a lived-in collaboration island.  That’s why an Office 365 intranet implementation and management challenges are quite frequent.

Migrations and customizations. Implementing Office 365 from scratch can be less challenging than moving a deeply customized on-premises intranet to Office 365. The second scenario implies substantial migration effort and can bring various customization pitfalls. Limited with Microsoft rules, even experienced developers can be unable to migrate custom server solutions to the cloud and will have to develop them from scratch or find an alternative. Moreover, Microsoft doesn’t recommend to implement complex customizations in the suite, as Office 365 updates can affect them.

Simpler support vs tougher management. An intranet built on Office 365 won’t be a headache in terms of support. Since the suite belongs to Microsoft, the corporation is responsible for its performance, as well as functional and security updates. Your IT staff has some work to do, though, especially if you run a large Office 365 intranet. The solution will require substantial maintenance effort so that customizations work as intended, collaboration is secure on all types of devices and Office 365 Groups don’t go wild. If you feel like outsourcing Office 365 services, you can address to an Office 365 consulting agency to get further management, maintenance and support of your intranet.

Ineffective usage of Office 365 intranet. When an organization decides to implement an Office 365 intranet, a clear adoption is a must to avoid various collaboration problems in future. Those can be collaboration jumble, inappropriate or selective usage of Office 365 apps or Office 365 ignorance. In this context, user training is one of the most effective measures against an intranet rejection.

A ready-made or a custom Office 365 intranet?

While developing a SharePoint intranet, companies mostly choose a custom development path to get a tailored solution. Considering an Office 365-based intranet, organizations can go either with a custom solution or choose among ready-made intranets. Currently, vendors offer both turnkey Office 365 intranets and provide Intranet-as-a-Service. Among popular brands, there are Unily, Wisdom, Valo, Bonzai, Powell365 and more.

Ready-made solutions are usually packed with custom designs and pre-configured features, so this is a good option for companies that aim to avoid development from scratch. At the same time, the ownership cost of a turnkey cloud intranet can exceed the cost of Office 365 subscriptions substantially in a longer run. Moreover, you will still have to invest in implementing a turnkey intranet, customizing it in line with your requirements and integrating it with enterprise systems.

As for a custom intranet, it can be more costly at the development and customization stage, but more economically reasonable in the longer period. You will also be able to continue your intranet development with any Office 365 partner, instead of sticking to a turnkey intranet owner only.

Your adoption approach is the key

The era of Office 365 intranets has just started, so we can expect more successful solutions to appear in the coming years. Implementing an Office 365 intranet, companies can offer their staff a dynamic and engaging collaboration medium with diverse capabilities, exactly as this Office 365 intranet functioning in a healthcare organization. 

You should remember that while SharePoint intranets bring substantial development challenges to their owners, the success of your Office 365 intranet depends on your adoption strategy heavily. With no relevant approach to the suite and an appropriate training program, you risk staying with a bunch of scattered Office 365 applications that will never become a powerful intranet. On the contrary, a clear planning of your solution, balanced approach to Office 365 features can help you create a highly effective and popular solution.

Unleash the power of cloud collaboration in your organization. Our consultants will help you to make your Office 365 project a success!

About the Author: Sandra Lupanava

Sandra is SharePoint Evangelist at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. With her 6+ years in marketing, Sandra voices SharePoint’s strengths to contribute to the platform’s positive image as well as raise user adoption and loyalty. Today Sandra advocates harnessing SharePoint’s non-trivial capabilities to create business-centric, industry-specific innovation and knowledge management solutions.