One of the questions we increasingly get asked by companies is whether they can use Modern SharePoint and some of its constituent parts such as communication sites and hub sites as an intranet, straight out of the box? Or is it a better option to customise it or choose an “in a box” solution like Wizdom?
Our answer is usually fairly unequivocal. If you are a larger company or have more complex needs, in general out of the box SharePoint just isn’t going to meet your needs. Across a wide range of capabilities and attributes including internal communications, collaboration, forms & workflow and branding, we’ve generally found SharePoint Online alone just won’t cut it for you. That’s not to say its core elements won’t be a key part of your intranet, but with a purely out of the box approach there is usually a missing feature, an irritating compromise you have to make, or something frustrating for users. Don’t underestimate how seemingly small issues can seriously impact your adoption and user confidence in your intranet.
Of course, this situation may change over time as Microsoft continue to add to SharePoint Online and add templates and features which support more sophisticated intranet management. But it’s also very much the case that your own needs will change too. You need an intranet platform that is going to support your future internal communication and digital workplace strategy.
If you’re a smaller company – perhaps say of 200 or 300 people – and you have what you’d classify as less sophisticated internal communications needs, then the situation is less clear cut. Let’s look at some of the variables you need to consider, in terms of the suitability of SharePoint Online or Wizdom out of the box for key use cases.
Modern SharePoint has made leaps and bounds when it comes to news publishing and support for internal communications. You can use a combination of communication sites for news and then aggregate these within a hub site, so effectively you can have different teams and departments contributing news. The good news is that the publishing user interface are really easy to use, and news is presented well. Microsoft have also added capabilities around more audience targeting.
For a small organisation with straightforward internal communications needs this may be perfectly serviceable. For example, if you already mainly rely on email for sending messages around the office and don’t have a dedicated internal comms manager Modern is probably all you need.
However when you have a more complex communications needs with audience targeting that is particularly granular, multi-language, approval workflow, the need for news to move from a main carousel to a different homepage area and you work off an editorial calendar, it’s likely you’ll need the extra features and templates of a solution like Wizdom. Smaller organisations with a diverse and distributed workforce may also find this is the case, although increasingly over time Microsoft are adding capabilities that may help to drive more sophisticated internal communication capabilities.
Publishing and content management
The cornerstone of a great intranet is great content that helps employees get things done. Standard documents, information on how things work, departmental landing pages, product information, information on company strategy and more means that the intranet should be an essential reference guide that supports everything from task completion to driving better customer service.
Despite the transformation of publishing content when comparing modern and classic SharePoint, when it comes to a publishing platform and related content management processes Wizdom wins hands down.
If you want to drive content to higher publishing standards that presents information in a number of different ways and need to ensure that content is always up to date (for example if you are basing sales or customer support staff need access to product information) then Wizdom provides a more focused set of options, for example having a central policy, procedures and forms library straight out of the box. If you rely on a devolved publishing model with numerous content owners, then Wizdom allows you to build in governance for publishing to maintain standards.
If your content needs are far less important and it’s just a collection of central documents that need to be maintained and accessed and you don’t have a large collection of critical operational content, then modern SharePoint with pages and document libraries will probably suffice.
Of course, Office 365 and indeed SharePoint Online already packs a very handy set of collaboration tools including Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Team Sites. For any small organisation Wizdom is unlikely to add much to this toolset although there is a handy community template also. For most small organisations Office 365 out of the box is going to work fine.
Wizdom’s collaboration provisioning engine also allows you to control the type of collaboration site that employees use for different use cases and also establishes approval workflow for sites set up. If you’re a company that has a more frequent or structured approach to collaboration (for example an engineering firm with a strong project management methodology) you may find Wizdom has some advantages for you over just using Modern SharePoint Online.
Microsoft has recently made building something resembling a more traditional top-level navigation much easier, allowing you to tie together communication and hub sites together into what is more like an “intranet experience”. If you’re a smaller organisation, then you’re unlikely to need a massively complicated navigation so SharePoint out of the box will probably work. If you require something more complex such as personalised menus for different groups then Wizdom may be more robust, but again this is less likely to be a concern for a smaller company.
Apps, forms and workflow
Most intranets now have come packed with various apps and workflow capability that work just out of the box. Wizdom is particularly good for this, for example with the ability to manage events and an additional module to manage tickets, as well as simple request and approval processes via forms. However, Office 365 comes with huge capabilities to develop custom apps via various tools like PowerApps and Flow. While you can do some even more amazing things by leveraging their power in combination with Wizdom, in terms of creating apps suited around the way your business actually works and then presenting these through a single-entry point, then both Wizdom and Modern SharePoint / Office 365 deliver.
Integration with Office 365 and other tools
Both SharePoint Online out of the box and the Wizdom product have the ability to integrate tightly with other Office 365 tools such as Teams and Yammer. They also come with customisation options to integrate popular services and other applications. Generally, you’ll find both approaches probably support the Office 365 integration options you’re considering so if you are a small company, we imagine most of your integration needs will be met.
Different organisations need different capabilities from their intranet depending on industry sector, key organisational processes and what systems are already in place. A small company’s needs around core intranet “staples” such as the employee directory and particularly enterprise search may differ from organisation to organisation so the suitability of SharePoint out of the box will also vary. For example, Microsoft have recently made improvements to search which may meet many needs, but other organisations may need something very specialist.
It’s always difficult to know what you’re going to require in the future. Your organisation may restructure or get larger. Your needs may become more sophisticated as you see new possibilities with your platform, or you introduce a new service.
In general, you need a solution that’s going to be flexible in terms of being able to scale easily, add new features and integrate with other tools. Both SharePoint Online and Wizdom intranet both provide some flexibility and evolution in this case. Microsoft are definitely ramping up intranet-related capabilities for Office 365 and this is likely to continue. Wizdom intranet’s roadmap remains aligned to the Office 365 roadmap, but has also continues to add new features and even innovations like AI. So as a small company, installing SharePoint Online out of the box doesn’t necessarily limit all your future options. You can also always upgrade easily to Wizdom intranet if you grow rapidly, especially as Wizdom works independently of your SharePoint sites.
Of courses, cost is where SharePoint Online and Office 365 out of the box is going to have an advantage over Wizdom. If you are a smaller company with simple needs, then this may be the factor that pushes you towards simply using Office 365.
Our only advice is to beware of hidden costs and false economies. Relying on Communication and Hub sites may look fantastic on your budget plans but if user needs are probably better met by an intranet product like Wizdom, then you may eventually end up facing additional costs, for example when you start hiring developers to customise Office 365 or when other functions start to buy in other apps to compensate for what Office 365 can’t do. Wizdom’s reasonable pricing certainly makes it a great investment for most companies.
Whether you use Modern SharePoint or an intranet product like Wizdom will depend on your needs and priorities. It’s not always a straightforward choice. If you’re still confused, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to discuss this with you.