Low code development can be a great approach to deliver capabilities on a SharePoint intranet, helping to rapidly create a feature-rich environment at relatively low cost. When resources for your SharePoint intranet are tight or you are under pressure to deliver with ambitious deadlines, low code development can help overcome some of these challenges. In this post, we’re going to explore three of the main ways to deliver low code intranet development on your SharePoint intranet.
What is low code development?
Low code and no code solutions are platforms which empower IT developers and non-IT professionals alike to rapidly build apps, dashboards and sites that previously would have required a more traditional software approach. Using a combination of out-of-the-box templates and connectors, as well as intuitive authoring interfaces, these solutions enable development with minimal or no code needing to be written.
Note that there is a distinction between “low code” and “no code” in that the latter is designed for use by non-IT professionals, but in reality, this distinction can be a little fuzzy. For example, IT professionals might use a “no code” solution as part of their development. From here, we are going to refer to “low code” development to describe “no code” solutions too.
The attraction of low code solutions is compelling for both IT functions and business teams. By employing a decentralised, citizen-development approach to app design, they allow for the creation of more business-specific apps than would normally be possible with the constraints of current IT resources, and facilitate more rapid development at lower cost. All in all, low code development can play a part in digital transformation, and in enabling automation at scale throughout enterprises.
Microsoft 365 is an excellent platform for low code development, and many of the tools within the 365 suite are designed to be used via a low code approach. An intranet, with its enterprise reach and array of different features and content covering multiple uses, is also a good candidate for low code development. Carrying out low code development for an intranet based on SharePoint or SharePoint Online has real value.
You can carry this out in three main ways:
- Using modern SharePoint or SharePoint Online out of the box
- Leveraging the Power Platform
- Formatting SharePoint lists.
Let’s explore each of these areas in more detail.
1 Using modern SharePoint or SharePoint Online out of the box
SharePoint Online and modern SharePoint straight out of the box is revolutionising the intranet world by providing a viable platform on which to build an enterprise intranet, either straight out of the box or in conjunction with an in-a-box product like LiveTiles. Both approaches allow you to use low code development, leveraging the native features of SharePoint.
Using a communication site, it is very easy to add and rearrange different web parts to a site or individual page simply by selecting the web part of choice, and using drag and drop. These web parts cover both SharePoint features like document libraries, lists, news, calendars, images and content spotlights, and elements from other 365 tools such as Yammer feeds. The range of easy formatting and configuration options for each individual web part allows for huge flexibility. Organisations can also deploy their own custom web parts.
The ability to add and configure so many web parts with ease means central intranet teams, IT functions and decentralised intranet site owners can create and configure sophisticated SharePoint intranet sites and pages at speed, covering the vast majority of information needs without deploying any code.
2 Leveraging the Power Platform
The low code “heart” of Microsoft 365 is the Power Platform, a suite of four apps that support a low code and even citizen developer approach through libraries of connectors, an intuitive authoring canvas and the ability to reuse what has previously been created. Because of the seamless integration between different tools within the 365 suite, each of the four apps provide opportunities for low code development with a SharePoint intranet:
PowerApps – allows you to create specific apps that can be available as mobile apps, or be integrated into your intranet, such as an employee onboarding app to display tasks for new hires that could be embedded into the new hires section of your intranet.
Power BI – enables powerful data visualisations, dashboards and reports that can integrate with your intranet to dynamically present organisational data, such as sales figures or health and safety reporting, and can also be used to manage and present intranet and engagement metrics.
Power Automate – provides the ability to create automation and workflows between multiple systems that can power many capabilities across your intranet, including the ability to trigger any necessary workflows from forms that employees submit via the intranet, or present automatically updated information within pages, perhaps from another system.
Power Virtual Agents – chatbots can be launched to integrate into the fabric of your SharePoint intranet, providing information to employees or delivering simple transactions.
3 Formatting SharePoint lists
Here at Content Formula, we’re long-term fans of SharePoint lists. Lists are one of the most powerful and flexible features of SharePoint, and are an excellent vehicle for storing and maintaining structured information that you might want to publish somewhere on your intranet, such as a directory of offices, an inventory of equipment or a list of relevant first aiders across each office.
Up to now, SharePoint lists have been quite basic in their look and feel, resembling online spreadsheets. But in the past few months, Microsoft have opened up options to format SharePoint lists, introducing attractive views for information presentation. Perhaps most excitingly, there is a growing library of pre-formatted SharePoint lists, some of which are offered out-of-the-box in SharePoint and include an asset tracker, an issue tracker and a travel request log.
Elsewhere, there is a substantial collection of list formats created by the developer community, which are available in GitHub with JSON code ready to copy and deploy. These cover use cases from budget trackers to London Underground train timetables, and are free and ready to use. Formats can also be tweaked right down to the column level to make any required changes.
We think list formats present an exciting and currently under-utilised opportunity for low code SharePoint intranet development. You can deploy these formats easily and quickly within SharePoint pages, saving hours of coding and creating a range of attractive and compelling information resources. When some of these lists are combined with flows from Power Automate, they are akin to intranet apps.
By creating and saving these list formats, you can start to create an organisation-specific marketplace of attractive, custom formatted list templates that your intranet publishing community can deploy directly onto pages. Alternatively, they might be saved as web parts and then deployed to different sites.
Go low code!
Low code intranet development is possible with SharePoint, with a variety of different options. It can help reduce costs, dramatically reduce the time to market and increase the business value of your intranet. It also engages owners of different parts of your intranet who can configure their sites to better serve user needs.
If you’d like to discuss low code intranet development, then get in touch!