8 things we love about the SharePoint modern pages

Over the past couple of years Microsoft has been rolling out the SharePoint modern experience and while some parts of it are still in preview, it has been released globally for elements such as Team Sites. New SharePoint features such as Communication Sites and Hub Sites have also been released using modern pages.

What is the modern experience?

Modern pages represent a superior user and content editor experience for SharePoint, fills some of the gaps around publishing that Microsoft probably should have dealt with years ago and has various other advantages.

The Modern Experience is based on the SharePoint Framework, a development framework which presented a fundamental change from the classic platform, with everything developed on the client rather than server side. Without going too much into the technical aspects of this, it basically means developing SharePoint is now much more about configuring the front-end experience than the processes that run in the back end, which was the case for the classic SharePoint of the past.

While inevitably with a new whole development framework and design there have been a few glitches on the way, and there are still occasionally features of classic SharePoint which we miss, overall the introduction of SharePoints modern pages has been highly beneficial. Here are eight things we love about the SharePoints modern experience.

1. Its changed perceptions of SharePoint

Here at Content Formula weve worked with SharePoint for years, and while its always been a platform you can get some incredible results with, project teams and intranet managers who have worked with it closely have often found it frustrating and difficult. And users havent exactly been wild about the classic SharePoint user experience either.

Lets be honest, until a couple of years back, SharePoint was not a very popular platform and was associated with long, complex projects which were over-reliant on development resource and could easily end up with low adoption. But over the last two to three years weve noticed that perceptions of SharePoint have changed to something more favourable. This is down to multiple factors, including Office 365 and more bolt-on options, but also down to the modern experience with its far superior user experience and ease of use. The days of SharePoint regarded as a beast of a platform are disappearing.

2. Modern pages look great for users

While theres always improvements which can be made, generally modern pages look great with clear page layouts, greater use of images and a contemporary feel. They also render very nicely on mobile devices too, another key advantage of modern pages. And thats just right out of the box.

Modern page

The superior look and feel when compared to the dated and sometimes cluttered feel of classic SharePoint ensures a better reaction to content from users. These are sites employees are far more likely to want to use and will find easier to use.

3. Performance is better

Because the SharePoint framework means all the web parts are executed on the client side rather than the server side it means that generally performance is better, especially for content editors or site administrators. Previously things could be a bit clunky with loads of page reloads, but now SharePoint is faster and smoother.

4. It has given power to content editors (at last)

The lack of a CMS or a decent content editor experience in SharePoint for a long time had left many of us puzzled. Why, when so many intranets use SharePoint, didnt Microsoft invest in developing decent publishing interfaces? To a certain extent, intranet-in-a-box products like SharePoint have bridged that gap, but now the modern experience has opened up SharePoint to content editors who are used to the easy experience of a popular CMS like WordPress.

Content editor

Modern pages are really easy to edit. For example, with just two clicks you can add the necessary web part and the changes are made there and then on the page. Many of the off-putting elements for content editors such as page reloads, confusing terminology and other frustrating elements of classic SharePoint are gone. This puts SharePoint in the hands of content editors more than ever and opens up the opportunity to publish for all. They need less training, can be more self-sufficient and sites are most sustainable.


5. Less development resource is required

The other benefit of giving more power to content editors is that you need less development resource. Before youd need a .NET developer to achieve some of the things that content editors can do on their own now. Insert a Yammer feed web part? Thats now two clicks away, not a business case which has to be made to the Head of IT Development.

Of course, youll still need developers to do some of the things you need to achieve, but ultimately, youll save money and your IT developers will be freed up to use their time to add more value to more complex projects.

6. Communication and Hub sites add value

Communication sites, and more recently, Hub sites are an integral part of the modern experience and have made it much easier for teams within organisations, as well as smaller companies, to distribute information and communication via a simple intranet-like experience. With web parts for easy publishing of news, promotions and events and an attractive layout, Communication sites do make it easier to communicate!

Hub site

Hub site also can connect numerous communication sites and present an aggregated view of news and content a little like an intranet homepage and departmental sites, for example. These sites are a useful addition to the tools available within the digital workplace and while they are nowhere near in providing the sophistication of an in a box product such as Wizdom, particularly for internal communicators or knowledge management functions, they give welcome options to teams, departments and smaller companies.

7. Modern pages are good news for turnkey intranets

Modern pages are also good news for turnkey SharePoint intranets like Wizdom which can utilise the design and approach of modern pages, and even utilise Communication or Hub sites, while still filling the gaps that SharePoint out of the box doesnt provide. In our view, the better SharePoint gets, the better the SharePoint in-a-box products get too.

8. Modern SharePoint web parts wrap themselves around Office 365

One of the obvious advantages of SharePoint Online and the modern experience is that it integrates more easily with the rest of Office 365. By letting content editors easily add templated web parts which enable people to add document libraries, Yammer feeds or the latest updates from a relevant Microsoft Teams site, SharePoint becomes the obvious place to build an integrated experience with the rest of the Office 365 suite. This adds value to Office 365 and your SharePoint intranet and helps to drive adoption.


Make it modern!

SharePoint modern pages bring lots of other advantages which are too numerous to mention here, but including arguably better security, more flexibility and more.

Modern SharePoint irons out many of the issues with classic SharePoint and delivers a great user experience. If you fell out of love with classic SharePoint, then its really worth taking a fresh look at the modern platform for your intranet, collaborative spaces, workflow needs and more. If youd like to discuss any aspect of modern SharePoint modern pages or Office 365 then please get in touch!

How Office 365 and Wizdom makes automation possible for everybody

Go into any organisation or ask any employee and we can guarantee that there will be many business processes which can be improved or tasks which can be made easier to complete. Automation and using workflow are critical to ironing out inefficiencies, removing bottlenecks, streamlining tasks and creating new business applications. By replacing paper forms, email trails and spreadsheet-based reports, organisations save time, increase productivity and reduce frustration. Digital workplace teams can even start to reshape the things ways are done and create new opportunities to work better and serve clients.

A combination of Office 365, SharePoint Online and an intranet-in-a-box product like Wizdom provides an excellent digital workplace from which to introduce automation and workflows which will make a real difference to your organisation. Whats most exciting though, is that the options for automation with Office 365 and Wizdom include tools which no longer need to be coded or configured by developers. Instead, power-users and even content editors can create their own simpler workflows, meaning that automation and the benefits that flow from it no longer has to be exclusively delivered via your IT department.

Of course, process automation and workflows have always been possible with SharePoint, but you would generally have needed a resource who was very knowledgeable about SharePoint to be able to implement it for you. Other options would have included using a product like Nintex which some organisations have used successfully, but this comes at an additional cost. Without Nintex or a similar product, generally an average content editor using on-premises SharePoint 2013 would not have been able to produce any significant level of automation on their own without using a central IT resource.

We think this “democratisation” of automation has exciting potential for productivity improvement to reach every part of an organisation, particularly within lines of business and support functions, and individual teams. It can even spark innovation. While we think its still critical to work closely with central IT functions to reduce risk and optimise the configuration of sites, and developers will still need to be involved for complex processes, Office 365 does have the power to deliver tangible efficiencies and inspire a more digital mindset among employees.

Lets look at some of the options for delivering automation using Office 365, SharePoint Online and Wizdom.

1. Flow

Flow is an Office 365 tool that has made workflow and automation much more accessible to non-IT professionals. Flow delivers the power of automation through easy-to-use templates and the ability to build workflow experiences in the browser without leaving a page. For example, a site administrator might have created a list in SharePoint and wants to add some workflow associated with that list, such as adding a notification email if somebody adds an item to the list of a specific value. This can now be done easily within the page just by pointing and clicking.

There are also connectors inside Flow that allow interaction with third party systems. So, for example, you might want to raise a ticket on Jira every time somebody adds something to your SharePoint list or make a request to a third-party API based on some criteria. Before Flow doing that would have been very technical, but now Flow allows content editors and power users to set up their workflows independently.

2. PowerApps

PowerApps is another Office 365 tool which provides another option for automation, as well as the ability to create new experiences for users. PowerApps comes with its own app for mobile devices which can be used by those without an Office 365 license.

If you want to create some automation for a mobile workforce that use their own devices and dont have Office 365 identities, then PowerApps can be used to deliver functionality that will kick start various internal processes. For example, perhaps you want to create various approval workflows for simple business requests such as ordering a new uniform, requesting travel or raising an IT ticket. PowerApps can help you to automate employee requests via a handy mobile app.


3. Power BI

Power BI brings automation to versatile and attractive dashboards which can display the latest statistics, KPIs and other metrics. Because all dashboards update automatically, it means that reporting which previously had to be done manually and was hard to maintain, is now effortless. Power BI is used by everybody from management teams who want a snapshot of the latest company KPIs in real-time to Office 365 teams who want an overview of the adoption of different tools.

Power BI is incredibly powerful because it can pull data from a variety of sources, both within Office 365 but also from external resources. Once trained, power users should be able to create and administer several highly useful dashboards which can be consumed by any user. You can also put in options for different reports to be generated, based on the values of the data flowing in.


4. Wizdom forms and polls

Wizdom provides easy ways for content editors and site administrators to create forms and polls for users to enter information which can then be used to kick off a workflow and deliver an automated process. Lets say a content editor uses Wizdom Forms to easily build a form using drag and drop elements. Because data entered by users in the form can be captured inside a SharePoint list, it then means that list can be combined with Flow or one of the other tools to effectively create a business application. This can be straightforward to configure and end up delivering a powerful solution. A great example might be a form for booking maternity leave which would generate emails and approvals to various people that need to be involved and informed.

A similar approach can combine Wizdom polls with Flow to create workflows. For example, if an IT service was rated by users as poor in a Wizdom poll, you could automatically kick of a workflow to start a follow-up process with that user.


5. Artificial intelligence

AI is likely to become the way to deliver automation in the future, for example using chatbots as the interface to receive information to kick off workflows, but also to power different automation processes within Office 365. In fact, Wizdom will shortly be implementing some AI-powered automation into its toolset, with the ability for a bot to suggest automatic content tagging for any article as part of the standard publishing workflow. In this case, AI uses language understanding services to make sense of text and match phrases and keywords to a company taxonomy.

We can increasingly see AI as being part of automation, with new tools becoming available for content editors to be able to make meaningful independent configurations which exploit AI.

6. SharePoint workflows or SharePoint designer workflows

Before Office 365 if a SharePoint intranet needed any process automation (such as custom staged approvals) an IT professional might use SharePoint Workflows or SharePoint Designer Workflows to build the workflow. Using these tools today is still a valid approach for IT professionals, and there are other options in SharePoint too, but you need to be very savvy with how SharePoint works and be confident to make it succeed. For complex workflows and for less experienced power users who havent received the right training, initially speaking to your IT function or implementation partner is always the best first step.

Lets automate!

Automation and workflow are no longer specialist activities for central IT functions. Office 365 and tools like Wizdom are unlocking the potential to set up simple automation for power-users and even content editors. We think thats going to have a beneficial impact on organisations, not only in terms of making efficiency a habit, but also in creating a more digitally-confident workforce.

With several options, including Flow, Forms, Power BI and PowerApps, and with AI creating opportunities in the future, any organisation not currently considering automation-at-scale may be missing a trick. If youd like to discuss automation, workflow and improving processes using Office 365, SharePoint and Wizdom then get in touch!

Six best practices for building a digital workplace

Building a true digital workplace is a path which many of our clients are now following. With the help of Wizdom and Office 365, they are going beyond the confines of the traditional intranet and implementing an experience where employees can carry out more and more of their everyday work efficiently and effectively, all wrapped up in an attractive user interface.

Earlier in the year, at our Digital Workplace conference in Copenhagen, we heard from a number of organizations who are on their digital workplace journey, as well as from members of the Wizdom team or trusted partners, about what needs to be done to build a successful digital workplace. Clause Ole Hasle, Wizdoms COO and Christian Larsen, Director of Internal Communication and Corporate Events, and Events, GEA Group presented together about some of the best practices to follow.

Here are some of some observations from that session, which were also reflected in some of the other presentations. Here are six best practices to follow in building a digital workplace.

Team work

1. Consider a wide scope which focuses on the full potential of the digital workplace

The digital workplace can have a very wide scope with a broad range of functionality, capabilities and content. Often the wider the scope, the more potential value your digital workplace will deliver to employees.

In working out what you want your digital workplace to be, its critical to not to have a traditional intranet mindset and focus just on news publishing and static content. Consider how employees do their work, what will deliver business value, the key processes in your organization and outcomes such as increased productivity and even digital transformation.

In considering a wide scope of the digital workplace, several elements were outlined including:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • People and communication
  • Projects
  • Tools
  • Standards and procedures
  • Employee self-service
  • Processes

If that scope sounds ambitious, thats because it is! But its worth remembering that the digital workplace is a platform which evolves. Having a wide scope from the start means that you can build your platform in a way so that it can keep on expanding and delivering value.

2. Use standard products and limit customization

Office 365 and products like Wizdom keep on adding more and more tools and capabilities. Microsofts investment in the Office 365 toolset is impressive. We also focus much of our effort on making Wizdom better and better.

The sheer scale of the tools available as well as their configurability, means that organizations can usually meet the vast majority of their digital workplace needs out of the box. Theres also a much better user experience compared to a few years back, so organisations dont need to change interfaces.

Using the standard product functionality for your digital workplace has many advantages. Its far easier to maintain and cheaper to run, quicker to introduce changes and your digital workplace keeps on expanding. Youre taking advantage of a platform which keeps on improving, particularly if you are in the cloud rather than on-premises.

Customizing your entire digital workplace comes with risks its expensive, time-consuming and may not be compatible with the latest updates. It will mean there will be more work involved with any upgrade to your platform and a higher risk of issues. We know that in complex organizations or for particular processes sometimes customization is needed. However, we strongly recommend limiting the level of customization to only where your business has particular complex needs and will truly deliver value.

3. Invest in search

Search is an essential part of the digital workplace. As soon as you start building an experience with a wider scope beyond the traditional publishing intranet, you also create an expectation from users that they will be able to search for everything in one place. Your users are also used to using Google and will expect to have a similar ability to tap in just one word and find everything they need.

Unfortunately, many enterprise search tools come nowhere near meeting the expectations of their users. And while some users do have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved (Google and enterprise search are two very different things!), if you can achieve even just a decent digital workplace search with good findability youll be helping to drive productivity, and already making a massive impact.

SharePoint has a great search engine, which works well out-of-the-box, but you only start really getting the value when you invest some time and resources in configuring the search, establishing some governance and working on a pattern of continuous improvement.

Spend time on:

  • establishing search refiners
  • widening the scope of search
  • tweaking search rules based on metrics
  • putting governance in place around tagging to improve findability
  • having a regular process to make improvements,
  • optimising content and more!

Doing all these things will help make your search better and better. In our view, investing in search is absolutely worth the effort!

4. Work on a task-based information architecture

Along with a decent search, having a great information architecture that mirrors the way employees think will also help them to navigate around your digital workplace and find the information or application they need. Its important that an information architecture is built around the way employees work usually around completing tasks and other common themes with intuitive labelling so it is easy to understand for your employees.

All too often traditional intranets have a navigation based on the organisational structure or full of horrible acronyms, but this means that you then have to know your organisation and systems very well to be able to find what you need. Thats no good for a new employee!

Spend time on developing a good information architecture based on tasks and needs which has been thoroughly tested with your users. Having a task-based information architecture will make your digital workplace much easier to use.

5. Carry out usability testing

Having a strong information architecture, useful content and intuitive interfaces is key for your digital workplace. This can only really be achieved through usability testing. By carrying out ongoing tests with your users you can make sure your digital workplace is meeting your users needs. A common way to do this is to make sure that your users are able to complete particular tasks by finding and using the content they need.

Usability testing not only saves you time and provides better results, but also creates user buy-in as they know an intranet has been centred around their needs. Sometimes those involved in your testing may also become digital workplace champions, helping to support your launch. Having usability data also helps to drive consensus around decision-making and eliminates time-consuming arguments about what should go in the navigation or where content should be placed.

6. Dont get scared off by multi-language challenges

Workforces are diverse, especially in global organisations. Thats something to celebrate and working with colleagues from around the world is one of the most exciting things about modern working life. However, one of the challenges can be around the use of multiple languages. You may have a smaller number of official languages and even just one or two (for example English and Danish), but in your everyday business perhaps employees need some critical content in the digital workplace to be translated into their native tongue.

Having a multi-lingual policy and digital workplace that actually works on a day-to-day basis to meet employee needs can have a significant impact on both productivity, but also employee engagement, especially for employees in country offices who may feel disconnected from their global HQ.

There are lots of options for multi-lingual digital workplaces, ranging from auto-translation to language variations of critical pages and documents (e.g. HR information and policies) to personalisation. Make sure you exploit the out of the box functionality in your digital workplace to meet the needs of your employees. Dont get scared off by the challenges of multi-language!

8. Building a great digital workplace

If youve invested in Office 365 and a solution like Wizdom, you certainly have the right tools to build a digital workplace. Its now important to get your approach right. Consider using some of the best practices detailed in this article on your digital workplace journey to achieve the right solution for your employees and your organization.

The original article was published here

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