We often get asked by digital workplace teams about different tools and what they do. We try and cover the common answers through an article here on the Content Formula blog. This time its the turn of the Nintex Platform.
What is Nintex?
Nintex is a leading process improvement, workflow and automation software platform. In their own words, you can use the Nintex platform to Manage, automate, and optimise your processesâ€¦ to quickly and intelligently transform your business.
The software is owned by Nintex Inc, a US-based organisation founded in 2006.The company claims to have over 8,000 customers located in over 90 countries. It is generally considered to be one of the world leading process workflow platforms, along with Microsofts Power Platform.
How it works
Nintex is a very mature and feature-rich platform that comes packed with a number of tools and features. Weve worked with Nintex for many years and know the successful impact it can have.
Essentially, it works by allowing organisations to:
visualise and plan their approach to workflow using a mapping tool that can then be shared across groups for feedback
build relevant workflows leveraging automation through forms, workflow, mobile apps, automation and integrations
improve these processes through a reporting and analytics suite.
The above capabilities are delivered through a number of specific features, including:
A process mapping tool with an easy-to-use interface that allows teams to visualise processes and then redesign and improve them, if necessary. The ability for teams to collaborate, add feedback and get notified of changes to the mapping process also means that you can also maintain an enterprise-wide library of process maps as your one source of truth for key organisational processes.
The ability to build sophisticated and flexible forms with associated rules allows you to digitise and improve multiple processes.
Mobile capabilities allow digital workplace teams to bring forms, workflow, notifications and process improvement to mobile devices. Both iOS and Android are supported with mobile-ready interfaces. Some neat features allow you to leverage the power of Nintex for field and deskless workers, for example allowing offline data capture and enabling QR codes. An app studio capability also allows for some custom branding.
Nintex can help you to design workflows that are both simple and complex, allowing you to deliver both local and enterprise-wide workflows that produce real-world improvements. The workflow takes in task allocation, document auto-generation, document signing and integrations. The drag-and-drop design interface is also easy to use.
Nintex Robot Process Automation (RPA):
Nintexs RPA suite is a nice out-of-the-box bot capability that allows for the automation of simple, repetitive tasks. The automations can span across multiple applications and run at scale.
Document generation and e-signing:
Nintex also comes in with the ability to auto-generate documents as part of an process and also trigger e-signing, a capability that can really bring automation up to the next level and potentially deliver digital transformation to processes surrounding contracts, product registrations, service agreements and more.
An analytics and reporting suite help to monitor the efficiency of processes, identify any trend and opportunities for improvement and then measures the impact of any changes you make. The suite is flexible to allow you to define metrics and design data visualisations that suit your specific needs.
We enjoy working with Nintex and delivering solutions that transform processes for our clients. It has some several obvious strengths including:
the ability to combine power and flexibility
it is easy-to-use, allowing some process improvement to be configured by non-IT professionals
its ability to connect to multiple systems and applications.
Power and flexibility
You get a lot of fire power with Nintex. You can improve almost any process and enable that at scale. However, you can also deliver smaller and simpler improvements too. Because the Nintex platform is so flexible it also means you dont have to compromise on what you automate or the process you want to follow.
One of the great things about Nintex it its ability to allow some configuration directly by non-IT citizen developers. The well-designed interfaces means you dont necessarily need to be an IT professional to configure it to deliver simpler process improvement, meaning that super-users and admins within particular lines of business or divisions can leverage it to deliver local automation and process improvement.
To deliver more sophisticated enterprise-wide automation realistically you will need expert involvement.
Multiple systems and applications
Another strength of Nintex is its ability to connect to different systems and applications involved in processes. Theres already a large library of connectors out of the box covering key systems such as Salesforce. This makes it an attractive alternative option for organisations who operate outside the Office 365 world and dont have the luxury of access to the Power Platform. However, Nintex also plays very well with Office 365 and its suite of tools too, with MS Teams and SharePoint both covered in the Connectors library. You can also build custom connectors for other applications.
Overall level Nintex can be an engine for digital transformation, driving significant improvement for a whole raft of internal processes that will become more efficient, but also interactions with customers.
At a more granular level, here are some examples of processes you could improve with Nintex:
Using a form and workflow to drive more efficient HR processes such as requests for annual leave or training
Providing one central in-box for all things a manager needs to approve across different systems, driving far greater efficiencies than email
Allow site inspectors for an engineering or construction firm to input site inspection data on-site into a tablet or mobile device as well as use photos, whatever the level of connectivity
Allow for the auto-generation of a report in Word format based on the site inspection data, saving huge amounts of time over if this was done manually
Use marketing automation to deliver emails to customers who have signed up for your email newsletter, and update your CRM system accordingly
Automate the issuing of contract documents to new employees as well as the process for signing them, a value-added activity for businesses with high volume recruitment.
Delivering effective learning and training across any organisation is not necessarily straightforward. Employees are extremely busy; workforces are complex with a variety of different learning needs; and L&D teams tend to be small.
Meanwhile the technology that should support the delivery of learning such as the Learning Management System (LMS) at the centre, are not always as effective as they should be. Typically, within the wider digital workplace learning and training is not fully integrated, feeling like it is at the periphery rather than at the heart of digital employee experience.
Webinar recording: What does learning look like in the modern workplace?
In a recent webinar the Content Formula team took a deeper dive into looking at learning and training across the digital workplace, exploring some of the key challenges and also how an effective LMS can tackle them. In particular we looked at LMS365, an LMS that integrates closely with Office 365.
You can watch a recording of the webinar above, but here are some the key takeaways that came up during the session.
Key challenges of learning and training in the enterprise
The webinar began by inviting attendees to send in some of their key challenges around delivering learning in the enterprise. Among the issues mentioned, several stood out:
1. Delivering training in the flow of work and at the point of need
2. Delivering training to a diverse global workplace where one size doesnt fit all
3. Delivering learning that is relevant and digestible
4. Getting internal stakeholders involved in course creation and curation
5. Providing evidence that shows people have undertaken learning
6. How to administer all of the above
Lets look at each of these in turn and explore some of the suggested approaches that were discussed in the webinar.
1. Delivering training in the flow of work and point of need
Staff are incredibly busy and usually have no spare time at all for their own learning and development, unless its something they are required to do or is a must-have for their job.
Ideally training should be delivered in the flow of work and at the right time, however this is often not the case. All too often, learning and training course material delivered online is held in a Learning Management System (LMS) that is hard to reach, needs a unique password and looks unfamiliar. This is a real barrier to use and adoption.
One of the great advantages of LMS365 is that it is seamlessly integrated into Office 365 so has Single Sign-On driven through AAD so there is no need to remember yet another password. It can also be reached through SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams and even through search, so learning can be accessed right in the heart of the digital workplace and where work happens. The look and feel is also consistent with Office 365 so users dont feel like they are a in different system. All these elements hugely remove barriers to learning, helping to drive good levels of adoption and course completion.
2. Delivering training to a diverse global workplace where one size doesnt fit all
One of the key challenges of delivering training to a large enterprise is the highly diverse learning needs of different roles, locations and individuals. One size definitely does not fit all. For example:
Every individual will have different preferences on how and when they want to take training
Different locations in a global enterprise may want to access learning content in different languages
Different roles will need to access completely different content to meet their training needs
Firstline and deskless workers out in the field or in factories and retail units may have practical difficulties in accessing content compared to knowledge workers who have access to a computer all day.
An LMS therefore needs to come with a variety of different options to present and access content to meet a diversity of needs. In LMS365 there is the possibility to issue multiple course catalogues that can come in different languages. There is also the ability to present different formats of content, including videos, quizzes, documents and pages; you can even embed a Twitter feed.
There are also different ways to access LMS365 including through an intranet, through MS Teams and also a strong mobile app. This latter format is important for firstline workers who can access learning content through their mobile device. Even then there are further options such as being able to access learning material offline, so training can still be delivered in places of low or no connectivity.
3. Delivering learning that is relevant and digestible
For heavily time-stretched employees effective learning has to be both relevant (especially with a diverse workforce) and also quick to digest (bite-sized). When learning is too long or is pushed out to the wrong group then adoption suffers.
A critical capability of any decent LMS is the ability to target course material to the right people; LMS365 does this in a highly effective way because course content can be targeted to different groups based on an employees profile data from Active Directory.
The configuration and presentation of course material in LMS365 also makes it easy to deliver smaller learning or even micro-learning, such as short videos. Because the course can be presented in small, granular steps employees can go at their own pace and carry out learning in smaller doses as time and inclination allows.
4. Getting internal stakeholders involved in content curation and course creation
A challenge mentioned during the webinar was about trying to get internal stakeholders to get involved in content creation and curation, helping to shape learning experiences for particular divisions and functions. Stakeholders often dont have the time but may also find content creation costly and time-consuming.
One of the best things about LMS365 is that it lowers the barriers for creating course content so that non-L&D professionals can set up courses quickly and cheaply. This means it should be easier to involve internal stakeholders as the system empowers them to take charge of their own learning material. Several LMS365 features contribute to this including:
simple and intuitive administration interfaces
easy ability to include documents and presentations from across Office 365
embedding videos from Stream, YouTube and elsewhere
a great quiz building tool with a variety of different formats to keep users engaged
the ability to assign learning to individuals, Office 365 groups and more.
5. Providing evidence that shows people have undertaken learning
Organisations push learning for a variety of different reasons including making people more effective in their roles, launching new software or initiatives (e.g. Office 365 training) and to reduce risk. For example, pushing through GDPR training is popular. Often the reporting behind learning is important, not only to show progress to senior management but also sometimes externally for auditing or compliance purposes.
Getting effective reporting though is not always as easy as it should be. Luckily, LMS365 comes with highly granular reporting with different metrics available to show enrolments, completions and more that can be sliced and diced by function, location, groups and more. You can also create even more custom reporting by leveraging LMS365s easy integration with PowerBI to create dashboards that are built around your internal and external reporting needs.
6. Having to administer all of the above
Learning & Development teams tend to be small so managing some of the above tasks can potentially be very time-consuming and provide an ongoing challenge.
The in-built automation of a solution like LMS365 can prove to be critical in successfully administering an ambitious learning programme. For example, you can enrol users automatically onto a course through an AAD group, meaning that all managers would automatically be enrolled into it. Additionally, you can:
set up auto-reminders so people get notified to remind them to attend a course
get people to register to courses so it is effectively self-service
set approval workflow, from an individuals line manager for example
automate effective reporting
build custom workflows involving other platforms using PowerAutomate (Flow).
All of the above contribute to a more efficient running of learning that puts far more power in the hands of smaller teams.
Delivering successful learning in the digital workplace.
Delivering learning through the digital workplace has its challenges but with the right LMS and approaches it can be highly effective. If youd like more information about LMS365 or even to organise a demo then please get in touch.
When customers first started asking us if it was possible to build an intranet inside Teams we were pretty adamant that it was a bad idea. However, since then a lot has changed: there is now a Teams intranet app and other apps we can use; there are new and more sophisticated developer tools for Teams; and the Teams platform itself has matured giving us useful features we can use in our task. So whilst before we said, no you cant, were now saying, yes you can. There is a but: its clear that what you build on Teams is going to be different to your standard browser-based or mobile intranet experience. An intranet built on Teams will inevitably have a different structure and a different user experience to a conventional intranet but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. In this article we are going to explore the different tools, apps and techniques you can use to build your intranet on Teams. Before we get into this we will also cover off a few important points and sub-questions as the way the you answer these will determine how you approach the task:
Why would you want to build an intranet on Teams?
First, its because of the tremendous levels of Teams adoption. The fact youre reading this article means its likely that Microsoft Teams is well adopted within your own organisation. People are spending less time in email and a lot more time in Teams. Furthermore, the Covid-19 crisis has led to a mass and accelerated adoption of Teams. This has also been helped by Microsofts free Teams licence during the crisis. Creating an intranet in Teams seems like a no-brainer: why not try to piggyback on these high levels of adoption? In fact, many companies have struggled to drive traffic to their traditional browser-based intranet and so a Teams intranet might seem like a good way around the eyeballs problem. Its worth considering however, that whilst Teams has great appeal for an office-based and desktop-using workforce, for the frontline and field-based worker that appeal is likely to be more muted. If youve got a mobile workforce you will have to work harder and smarter to gain good levels of intranet adoption, or you might need to look at a separate tool to reach them, such as a mobile intranet or employee app.
Second, weve also seen Microsoft invest heavily in improving Teams and in pushing it out to the market. This twin strategy has made it Microsofts fastest ever adopted tool with over 44 million daily active users as of March 2020. Its entirely consistent for digital workplace professionals to continue to want to extend the capabilities of Teams within their own organisation, confident that Teams is only going to get better and better via Microsofts own roadmap. Microsofts continuing investment in making it easier to integrate different elements of Office 365 is also a factor here.
The third reason why you might want to build your intranet in Teams is because youre looking to save on costs and effort. This theme goes way beyond Teams thanks to the ease with which citizen developers with only moderate technical skills are now able to spin up all manner of apps (built with Powerapps), intranet pages (built with SharePoint communication sites) and workflows (built with Power Automate). With its structure of channels, apps and tabs, Teams seems like it would be pretty easy and quick to build something at least half decent. If this is a key driver for you it is important that you are realistic: doing it yourself is going to take time and a lot of trial and error. And you should definitely not overlook building an intranet on SharePoint, whether you end up building an out-of-the-box SharePoint intranet or turning to an intranet-in-a-box.
Communication corporate news, departmental and team news and noticeboards.
Collaboration and social tools to support people search and expertise finding, file sharing, working on files collaboratively and peer-to-peer conversations. On the surface it might seem that Teams covers this pillar really well but it does have some major gaps which well come to later.
Business processes tools and workflows for delivering common business processes such as HR processes as well as more bespoke operational processes.
Knowledge, resources and search places and tools for the storage of more static information and knowledge. This would also include the information sources that might underpin business processes above, including policies and procedures libraries, FAQs and I need toâ€¦ links.
As we go through the options for a Teams intranet well discuss how well they deliver on the high-level requirements list above. Of course the devil is in the detail so you do need to do your own research and testing or speak to us about your project. Weve also got a tonne of articles and blogs and videos on intranet research and planning so do take a look.
Problems and challenges with Teams
Teams has some glaring gaps most users and organisations that have been using it for some time will be aware of these. There are also inherent issues that make building an intranet within it somewhat challenging. Most of these can be overcome to a certain extent but you definitely dont have a blank slate on which to build such as you have on SharePointyou have to work with or around Teams issues and quirks (yes, I know SharePoint has its own quirks but there are more options for overcoming these). Lets look at the main challenges youre going to have to think about:
Flat structure all the teams in your organisation are displayed in a single list. Theres no hierarchy or nesting. When you get into a team youve only got channels and single-level tabs. This compares poorly with an intranet which can have many different types of menus, mega-menus and navigation aids. When you consider that workspaces form a key part of modern digital workspaces, even a small organisation is going to struggle to help users find relevant collaboration spaces. A good intranet will contain a sophisticated index of available workspaces.
The flat structure in Teams makes it hard to find relevant teams. It lacks a workspaces index page such as this example built inside an intranet
Intranets help employees find things and often requires users to explore via navigation, either through a mega-menu or through elements on a homepage or landing pages. Teams is not designed to do this and for users to navigate will require largely physical clicking through tabs, for example, which ends up becoming very clunky and slow. There isnt the convenience of features such as mouse-overs and expanding menus. This means if we are going to use Teams as an intranet we need to avoid making employees feel like they are navigating through a series of files and folders, a concept that modern intranets ditched a long time ago.
Content governance – the successful publishing of content requires governance around it to ensure that pages and items are accurate, up to date and relevant. This is essential not only to sustain employee interest and adoption but also to ensure that content can be relied upon, for example to support customers. The kind of governance that needs to be put in place includes having clear ownership of every page, approval workflows, automated reminders to review pages perhaps every six months, restrictions on who can publish where and more. Teams is simply not going to give you this and organisations may find that a more conventional SharePoint intranet is the better option (well find out later that there are ways to bring your SharePoint intranet into Teams).
Content management Teams lacks common CMS and publishing functionalities. Everyday content management tasks such as publishing a news item or retrieving analytics on a page might make a comms professional progressively frustrated having to use Teams as their main comms channel.
Branding the Teams canvas is blue and grey and you cant change that unfortunately. You can use your own logos for apps and teams but these end up looking more like icons than branding. You cant change the colour of the team or channels. Any branding that you do put in place is going to be buried within the Teams interface.
Teams governance there are some controls to help manage how Teams works in your organisation but there are some gaps. Controlling Teams provisioning is an obvious one and is leading to companies Teams environments quickly growing to hundreds if not thousands of Teams. This can cause the overall experience to seriously deteriorate as users struggle to find quality and relevance. There are some bespoke things we can do to help reduce Teams proliferation, by adding approval workflows so that users have to request a team, for example.
Office worker focus – Teams is a knowledge workers tool, not a frontline workers tool. Using Teams as your main channel for frontline workers is probably not going to be effective, even though there is a Teams mobile app.
What not to do when building your intranet in Teams
Theres one trap that Ive seen people fall into when considering a Teams-based intranet. This trap pretty much encompasses every weakness of Teams that Ive highlighted above so it is one to avoid: dont be tempted to create a complex structure of Teams, channels and folder structures for your Teams intranet. This makes for slow, clunky and frustrating user experience and you will get very low levels of adoption because of this.
Furthermore, intranets in large organisations can become extremely complex and in reality, are often a series of locally run intranets or microsites, tied together with a navigation and a homepage that aggregates and surfaces content in ways that make sense to different groups, and presents global and local content together side by side. Currently it is going to be nearly impossible to reproduce this complexity within a Teams hierarchy in a way that helps employees find what they need and also delivers a good and relevant user experience.
What are the good options for building our intranet in Teams?
So far weve looked at what services an intranet needs to deliver and then the challenges and traps to avoid with Teams. Thankfully we are left with multiple options for us to explore and use. What I would say however, is that it is unlikely that any one option on its own will be right for you. The right solution is going to be made up of a variety of options layered together. In some ways this makes Teams less than perfect because your intranet is going to be somewhat fragmented across the Teams environment. As we present the different options to you below well start with the simpler ones and move to the progressively more complex ones where you are going to need some development skills. Lets look at the different options:
Option 1 – Org-wide teams
Teams has a feature which allows you to set up an org-wide team (or convert an existing team). Org-wide teams have one key characteristic: when you set them up, every employee in your organisation will be placed into the team and they cant leave the team. This means that as an internal communications professional you can push messages out to the posts tab along with a corresponding notification. This means that Teams can be more like the All company group in Yammer whilst also giving you more controls for governance and moderation which you dont get in Yammer. You can also maintain a set of channels and tabs and know that everyone will have access to them. As previously stated, dont fall into the temptation of creating too many channels in your team and building deep and complex file structures.
You might think that having everyone in a single team is going to cause things to rapidly deteriorate with noisy and uncontrolled chat and a free-for-all chaos. There are controls you can set to limit posting to teams owners; to set up moderation; to limit channel creation and so on. Some of these controls are found at the team level and others are found at the channel level. There are some controls which youd expect to find but are not available such as limiting file uploads to team owners only.
There are some sensible limitations with org-wide teams but also some gaps:
You can only have five org-wide teams in an organisation. This seems like a good thing as too many is likely to overwhelm your staff.
You cant pin your org-wide team to the top of the list or make it stand out against other teams. This is likely to frustrate internal comms who will want to maintain a highly visible presence.
You can only have 5000 users in an org-wide team which is going to restrict larger organisations. I am not sure that there are going to be many use cases for an org-wide team for companies larger than 5000 so this is perhaps not a bad thing.
You need to speak to your Teams service admin to set up an org-wide team for you and make you the owner.
Guest users arent added by default but can be added manually.
Option 2 – Showing your existing intranet in Teams
If youve already got an intranet and you want to bring it into Teams you can do this really easily. You simply create a new tab in a team channel and add the Website app and paste in a link to your intranet. If youve decided to go for an org-wide team then adding your intranet to the General channel would augment the experience nicely. Effectively what youre doing here is creating a browser window inside a tab. If your organisation has a large mobile workforce this solution would work really nicely with the Condense frontline mobile intranet because it provides desktop browser version which would work well in Teams whilst you would also be giving your frontline workers a fully featured mobile app and not pushing them through to Teams.
How a Condense intranet looks inside Teams
A different yet similar approach could be to set up a few tabs and deep link each one into the main pages of your intranet that are likely to be useful to a user inside Teams. Perhaps a Policies and Procedures tab; an I need toâ€¦ tab for common employee tasks; etc. This borrows the philosophy found in mobile intranet development where you dont simply deliver all of your pages inside the mobile app version of your intranet but rather focus on those that are likely to be useful for people on the move
Option 3 – Creating a simple corporate news page inside Teams
If you dont already have an intranet but are looking for somewhere to publish official news within Teams then you could create a SharePoint Communication site fairly quickly and easily. Once youve done that simply add it to a tab with the Website app as described above. This will take a little bit of time to figure out how to use SharePoint communication sites but these are pretty simple and getting into that might even tempt you into doing more with your SharePoint environment. We come across a lot of people who have been really put off by SharePoint because of bad, clunky experiences from yesteryear. The SharePoint Modern experience we have today is a pleasure to use comparatively. You shouldnt overlook it and any pages you do end up building can be brought into Teams using the same technique described here.
Option 4 – Using the Wizdom for Teams app in the side rail
Weve touched on Teams apps in the options above where apps can be added to channel tabs. This has some uses but is perhaps a little limited in that any app you choose is potentially going to end up lost inside a channel inside a tab somewhere. Another option is to use special intranet apps on the Teams side rail. The side rail is the vertical rail which you see in the desktop version of Teams. Any app that you put there is effectively pinned and is always visible. There are various Teams admin controls to allow you to push and pin apps to peoples side rails. Annoyingly the Website app isnt available to use in the side rail so you cant add your existing intranet or news here without getting a fair bit more technical. However, the Wizdom for Teams app is one good option that we have started to use more and more with our customers. It allows you to create a mini intranet inside Teams and use it to display news, links, tasks, policies, forms and so on. Wizdom for Teams news is also really quite neat and uses the sophisticated Noticeboard feature found in the main Wizdom intranet-in-a-box product. Noticeboard allows you to create news channels. Users can then subscribe to the channels that interest them, or you can make certain important channels mandatory. Its easy to use so you can hand out channels to different departments and groups across your organisation. If you already have a Wizdom intranet then you get Wizdom for Teams for free. If not, then you can buy the Wizdom for Teams as a standalone without having to fork out for the whole Wizdom product. Get in touch if you want to find out more.
Option 5 – Using other apps in the side rail
The market for Teams Apps is still pretty young and there arent any other specific intranet options available. There are however some other apps which are worth mentioning because they would make your Teams intranet all the more useful. One we like and resell is LMS365 which effectively delivers a Learning Management System into Office 365 and Teams. LMS365 is a full-feature LMS with course catalogue, course builder, tracking, reporting, mandatory courses, a mobile app and SCORM compatibility. It has the advantage of sitting within Office 365 so doesnt require users to login. It has lots of clever Teams integrations such as the ability to display specific courses within a teams channel, post courses to chat, search for courses inside Teams, and more. Have a look at other apps inside Teams and let us know if you find something interesting.
Option 6 – Create your own side-rail Teams apps
Soon after Microsoft launched Teams they also launched a development tool called App Studio for Microsoft Teams. If youre a developer youll be able to pick this up relatively quickly and build simple little apps. These are some of the things you can do with App Studio and could include in your app if you get into Teams app development:
You could easily build a little app that simply displays your existing intranet and provides an icon in the side rail.
You can create pages inside your app that use the same framework as SharePoint. This means you can create webparts and also use them in SharePoint. Any custom webparts that youve developed for SharePoint can also be ported over to Teams. Unfortunately you cant use all of those out-of-the-box webparts that come with SharePoint.
Teams apps can also contain chat bots built with the Microsoft Bot Framework. This means you could create a bot to answer common HR questions. The beauty of using bots is that you can also easily plug into Power Automate (previously known as Flow) and build workflows and integrations with other systems. This allows you to deliver more sophisticated micro-services that are focused around common user tasks. You could for example build a Teams bot that allows users to book annual leave, update their bank details or book a room. Were seeing more and more companies using bots to handle menial repetitive tasks. This signifies a shift from thinking of intranets that you navigate and browse through to intranets that you chat to in order to get jobs done (these are called conversational interfaces).
If you decide to go down the bot route then you can deliver micro-services in a really user-friendly way. Wed encourage you to use adaptive cards. These allow you to create mini user experiences within a bot chat window. They can contain mini forms, dashboards etc.
Apps can also include chat integrations. This means you can interact with your app in chat. Theres a nice example of a chat integration inside LMS365, the Learning Management System for Teams and Office 365 that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to search the course catalogue from within Teams chat and then post a result as a card inside a chat (see screenshots below).
Clicking the little LMS365 tick icon below the chat field brings up a simple course catalogue search…
…the user then selects the course he wants to post and this gets dropped into the chat field as a card.
Another example of a chat integration could be the app reaching out to you through chat to notify you that a task is due. Similar to LMS365 the notification could contain an adaptive card with details and action buttons related to the task.
I think that well start to see more companies creating custom Teams app so as to deliver intranet functionality within Teams. It will of course take some investment but out of all the options, I think this one is going to give users the best and most integrated user experience. However, there is one downside with having a Teams app in the sidebar: the Teams mobile app doesnt incorporate the sidebar. This can be partly overcome by also placing your new app in a tab in an org-wide team since apps in tabs are still visible through the mobile app.
The intranet inside Teams is never going to be the same experience that you get through the browser. And there are definitely trade-offs to think about when youre choosing and designing the intranet services you want to deliver through the platform. Youre also not going to get a great experience unless you are prepared to invest time and money. If you asked me for a recommendation I would say try setting up a SharePoint site to publish news and pages and bring this into Teams purely because SharePoint gives you much more sophisticated CMS tools than Teams on its own could ever do. I would also say look at a Teams app, whether youre buying one off the shelf or choosing to build your own.
I hope youve found this article useful and that you agree that there is value for organisations and users in delivering intranet services through Teams and its worth experimenting and investing. As with anything intranet related, remember to do your research beforehand, seek and act upon continuous feedback, and always have a clear governance plan. Intranet governance is what keeps intranets healthy and stops them failing.
If you want help with any of the topics raised in this article, do please get in touch. We can help you with:
Recently we explored the advantages of setting up an extranet, particularly in SharePoint Online. In a nutshell, an extranet is an exciting way to build on the maturity of your digital workplace and fully leverage your investment in Office 365.
An extranet drives efficiency through improving processes but also strengthens relationships with customers, suppliers and external partners. We highlighted that this happens through different use cases, including:
Onboarding and alumni platforms
Alliances and joint venture spaces
Freelancer and contactor extranet
And in the current climate where a lot of us are working from home, it makes complete sense to make use of extranets to help collaborate and communicate with suppliers via an extranet to help with visibility of information.
There are also other areas where extranets make sense, from industry or professional community spaces to simply sharing large files that are difficult to send through email. In short, extranets make good business sense.
Six essential approaches for deploying an extranet
Deploying an extranet is relatively straightforward and has got much easier in SharePoint Online. There are several things to consider from a business, technical and operational standpoint that will help you launch a sustainable and successful extranet programme. Here are six of the most important.
1. Cover your back with a usage policy
Nobody likes Terms & Conditions except perhaps lawyers, but when you launch an extranet, youre dealing with users who are external to your organisation and with whom you have no control and influence. Hopefully youll never have to refer to it, but if someone doesnt use the site properly it really helps to ensure you have appropriate usage policies in place to help iron out any issues or if you need to remove a user.
Its very likely your risk people will also want to have the right usage policy in place; ideally speak to them as early as possible when planning your extranet strategy.
2. Prioritise the obvious use cases that have value
If youre starting out with an extranet its usually best to start with something that is likely to work. We can guarantee there will be some obvious use cases; perhaps a less-than-ideal extranet solution is already in use and could be improved upon. Perhaps there is already a lot of emailing that takes place. Initially, work on a use case for an extranet that is a no-brainer and likely to be a success.
3. Remember the extranet must work for people inside your business
Driving adoption of an extranet with people from third-party organisations can be hard as you may not have direct access to these people. Externally facing people within your business are the ones who are likely to have contact with third parties, therefore they need to advocate for the use of your extranet to drive usage.
For that to happen you need to ensure the extranet has as much value internally as it does for external people, otherwise it will fail. When a digital solution is designed to be presented externally, the prevailing mindset can be that the customer experience is more important than the employee experience, but with SharePoint Online extranets both boxes need to be ticked. The extranet must work for people inside your business, either driving efficiency, enabling a process or strengthening client relationships.
4. Establish who is responsible for adding and removing people
Operationally, one of the thorniest problems around extranets is adding and removing people. Often the onboarding and offboarding is not clear and this can lead to risks. For example, if you have a number of people accessing the extranet from a third party organisation, it is not uncommon to have people who have actually left that third-party organisation still able to access the site because they havent been removed from the extranet.
Generally, the best solution is to make a specific person responsible at a third-party organisation responsible for informing you of starters and leavers, while you control the add and remove person process. Whatever you do, clarity is the best way to reduce risks. Note that if you use Azure B2B Services (see below!) you can circumvent many of these problems.
5. Keep tighter control over permissions using Azure B2B services
Microsoft have been working hard to make it much easier to set up SharePoint sites that can be shared across multiple organisations. If youre managing an extranet, using Azure B2B Services is the way to go as it gives your administrators the ability to manage access and security in a more structured way; you can implement security policies to give you more control but also manage permission which leverage the Active Directory of other organisations. Azure B2B Services also allows you to set which of your SharePoint sites cannot be shared externally.
For example, you can stipulate the trusted domains that users need to come from such as a particular partner organisation and then also block non-business addresses from Hotmail or Yahoo. You can also tap into another organisations AD and stipulate the people you want to give access to, giving you the tight, granular control that you need for extranet management.
This makes the starter and leaver process a whole lot easier because you can search for a user at a third party organisation and also be confident that a person has left they will automatically be blocked, as long as they are no longer active in that organisations directory. Moreover, using Azure B2B Services means users from third parties can authenticate using their existing AD credentials via Single Sign-On, removing a significant barrier to adoption.
6. Make sure your users understand what theyre sharing
With different Teams spaces and sites for internal sharing of information and external sharing of information potentially looking very similar, its important for your users to know where and with whom they are sharing information.
Where there is a lack of clarity there can be consequences; there is a risk that a sensitive or confidential internal document gets shared externally. Moreover, your users may also simply revert back to email for sharing information externally, if they dont have total confidence about who has access to an extranet facility and who will view that information.
Good luck with your extranets!
Like all digital channels and services, extranets need some management, governance and communications to make them effective, but they can be extremely successful. Microsoft has also made it easier than ever to be able to set up a SharePoint extranet that can allow users from third parties to log-in via SSO and give admins the controls they need.
….well, kind of custom. Microsoft have just announced that the much anticipated feature that it first demonstrated way back in 2019, will be rolled out to General Availability this month (April 2020). And if you’ve ever had any kind of meeting with any Microsoft employee, you’ll know that they’ve been showing off this functionality for the best part of 6 months.
However, Microsoft have named this feature “background effects in Teams meetings”. This is because the first release will only allow for users to select from a predefined set of background images. There are currently around 25 to choose from, also allowing users to choose the existing blur option too.
It would seem that in all likelihood Microsoft will follow suit with other competitors and bring out green screen’esque functionality, where users can add their own background pictures to any video call. We’re guessing that the enterprise governance functionality would have to be deployed around this before any roll out of full customisation feature like that to prevent any misuse.
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