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2018-12-11

Organizations have been using SharePoint intranets for almost two decades. Obviously, the SharePoint intranet of the early 2000s differs substantially from that in 2018 not only by its design but also by its functional scope. Owing to the continually expanding feature set, modern SharePoint intranets can take up a whole array of business processes, including:

• Content management
• Document management
• Workflow management
• Project management
• Enterprise search
• Team and enterprise collaboration
• Learning and knowledge management

Moreover, companies now can adapt their intranets either to industry-specific needs or to particular organizational processes, such as HR management, quality management, helpdesk, and more.
You might think that such a functional load is already too big for a single platform. However, this is not where the SharePoint intranet ends. During the last few years, SharePoint has been absorbing new features that will enable companies to make their corporate intranet more personalized and thus human-centric. 

Now, let’s take a look at some of these features and see how they change the image of a traditional SharePoint intranet. 

3 directions of SharePoint intranet humanization

Both the SharePoint Summit 2018 in May 2018 and the Microsoft Ignite in September 2018 were full of important announcements. The Microsoft team presented a bunch of features that shape the new SharePoint image. Some functionality is already available for SharePoint users; the rest will be released in the coming months. 

All in all, there are at least three significant directions that determine the overall humanization of the SharePoint intranet:

• Content personalization on SharePoint sites
• Mobile-centric personalization via the SharePoint mobile app
• Personalization through mixed reality on SharePoint spaces 

Employee-centric content on SharePoint sites 

SharePoint sites represent the essential functional unit of the platform, so sites personalization is the key to making the entire deployment employee-oriented. Companies can work on their corporate content personalization through such features as: 

Personalized web parts to display the content adapted to a particular user. With this feature implemented on a site, employees will see SharePoint sites, documents, and news aggregated according to their tastes. A web part detects signed-in users and tunes the content and information from the entire intranet according to their preset preferences.
Highlighted content web parts to deliver filtered content. These web parts allow site admins to apply filters and sort out the intranet content based on its properties (for example, words in the title, publication date, author, etc.). Although this feature has its limitations, it is a feasible way to add solutions using metadata on SharePoint sites.
Audience targeting to preconfigure the content in the news and highlighted content web parts to a specific user group. Targeting will eliminate the need for launching a multitude of separate audience-specific sites. Instead, site admins will be able to set up content targeting within the same site page that will automatically adjust to the readers’ choice. 

Personalization via SharePoint mobile app

All of the latest updates within the SharePoint mobile app expand the capabilities of employees who use their intranets on the go. 

On the one hand, the mobile app takes some flavors of social networks (for example, Me Tab, @mentions), which makes user activities on the mobile intranet similar to informal everyday activities on social media. On the other hand, the mobile app gets new features, which makes it closer to the fully functional web portal, thus enabling employees to do more work on their mobile devices. Extended document libraries experience, wider search capabilities, and easier sharing of external links are just a few examples of mobile improvements. 

Owing to these updates, the SharePoint mobile app looks like a personal working app rather than a simplified mobile reflection of the corporate intranet. 

Personalization through mixed reality on SharePoint spaces

SharePoint spaces are to become the new page in the history of the platform because they finally bring the power of virtual and augmented reality to corporate portals. SharePoint spaces are to cover numerous corporate activities by making them more user-centric and engaging. Potentially, SharePoint spaces can bring the maximum advantage to the following domains: 

HRM activities. From the first-day guided tours across offices to regularly updated discount offerings and corporate catalogs, events, and awards, SharePoint spaces can become the hub of immersive enterprise-to-employee communication.
Enterprise learning. SharePoint spaces are the gates to interactive learning activities. Lifelike training with a detailed study of working processes and equipment, trial-and-error practice in a virtual environment, and a realistic modeling of complex working challenges enable employees to boost their knowledge and skills right on the SharePoint intranet.
Sales and marketing activities. SharePoint intranet personalization can become an advantage not only for employees but also for customers. SharePoint spaces can help organizations present their brands, products, and services, build teams according to customers’ requirements, and form interactive reports. 

Advantages of a personalized SharePoint intranet 

All the above-mentioned features prove that SharePoint intranets are becoming more human-centric than ever before. Such a positive change can bring several advantages to employees and companies.

Improved enterprise-to-employee relationship. When SharePoint intranets transform from simple content containers into smart assistants, they can guide employees throughout their working processes along with adapting to their preferences. A corporate intranet can become an optimal channel for enterprises to establish a reliable relationship with their employees by covering the needs of each individual.

Shorter adaptation periods, higher productivity. Being more human-centric, a SharePoint intranet can help companies hit two important goals. First, consistent HR-to-employee communication and team collaboration can shorten the time of newcomers’ adaptation. Second, through personalized functionality, regular employees access the content tuned to their interests, which reduces the time spent on information and knowledge discovery.

Better user adoption of SharePoint intranets. User adoption is a permanent headache for SharePoint owners. However, it isn’t SharePoint weaknesses that are to blame for adoption issues, but the role of auxiliary software that organizations attribute to their intranets. Now, provided with personalization capabilities and packed with mixed reality solutions, SharePoint intranets have bigger chances to become an integral part of employees’ working process and to come out of the shadow.

Smart working process. Thanks to the latest technologies that now make part of SharePoint, companies can avoid additional investments into stand-alone AI-powered apps to build an intelligent workplace. At the same time, intranets’ new capabilities can attract more users and make standard working duties more fascinating.

How to get closer to the human-centric SharePoint intranet?

These bright opportunities look good but still can seem to be beyond the reach, especially for companies that struggle with their current solutions. However, every organization running SharePoint can get closer to an ideal intranet if they take relevant steps. 

Migrate to the latest SharePoint versions. Let’s be honest, even very popular SharePoint 2013 fades if you compare its capabilities with the ones of SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2019. That’s why the concept of a modern personalized intranet is hardly applicable to the old SharePoint versions. Thus, organizations running SharePoint 2013 and lower have to put SharePoint migration in their to-do list to get access to the above-mentioned features. 

Plan a new strategy for your intranet development. Particularly with the arrival of AI to SharePoint, you can’t move on with a standard approach to building your corporate portal. Apart from the must-haves of the intranet development, don’t ignore advanced development practices (think SharePoint Framework). Be twice more vigilant to service providers you pick and make sure both your in-house and external teams speak the same language of the modern SharePoint. Additionally, plan you in-house team training and their knowledge upgrade.

Rethink the intranet adoption strategy. Finally, to ensure the long-term success of a reshaped intranet, you also have to rethink your intranet adoption strategy. The introduction to the SharePoint intranet has to make part of newcomers’ essential activities while all the updates should be spread among all employees. Moreover, companies should promote their intranets as the central workplace, not just as a supplementary solution for enterprise content storing.

SharePoint intranet catches up with the concept of a personalized digital workplace 

The enhancements within the SharePoint platform bring the entire concept of a corporate intranet to the next level. Packed with more user-focused functionality, traditional SharePoint intranets can transform from depersonalized content repositories into individual workplaces where each piece of information is adapted to a particular employee. 

The transition towards a reshaped SharePoint intranet can’t be made on its own, though. It requires changes in the intranet development approach, adoption strategy and the overall intranet positioning in an enterprise. An enterprise that runs the latest version of the platform but doesn’t take these important steps risks staying with a typical content-oriented solution that plays a secondary role in organizational processes and employees’ activities.

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Sandra Lupanava

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