Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Microsoft Viva is a brand-new employee experience platform from Microsoft that is piquing a lot of interest across HR functions, IT departments and Internal Communications teams. There are currently four apps within the Viva universe, all of which are delivered through Microsoft Teams:

Viva Insights

Viva Insights: Personalised analytics and related insights for individuals, managers and leaders that support wellbeing, collaboration, productivity and more.

Viva Topics

Viva Topics: A knowledge discovery platform that uses AI to source experts and resources on different topics concerning Microsoft 365 tools and other digital channels.

Viva Learning

Viva Learning: A learning hub that aggregates learning resources from a variety of different sources including LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, popular third-party providers and a company’s own learning content.

Viva Connections

Viva Connections: A gateway to internal communications and company resources including policies and HR information, as well as the ability to participate in different social communities.

In particular, Viva Connections is proving to be of interest to internal communications teams as it provides another way to access communication-led content. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at Viva Connections and try to answer a question that we’ve heard asked a few times: Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

What exactly is Viva Connections?

Viva Connections was originally announced at Ignite 2020 as the Home Site App – a way to access and navigate resources and sites from across your organisation within Microsoft Teams. It was subsequently relaunched as Viva Connections in a move that contributed to the observation that Microsoft Viva is to some extent a rebranding exercise for initiatives that are already in-flight.

It’s still pretty early days for Microsoft Viva and there are a lot of developments to come, but at the moment Viva Connections is essentially designed to be a kind of intranet experience within the Teams environment. This is an explicit aim of the app expressed by Microsoft in a video called Living in Microsoft Teams? Now, so does your intranet!, and follows a general trend to make other applications and channels accessible from within Teams, making it a convenient entry point to the wider digital workplace.

Other intranet software providers have worked separately on apps to make their intranet accessible within Teams, including LiveTiles. For example, we recently ensured a fantastic new LiveTiles intranet for Entain was also available from within Teams.

Sam Marshall at ClearBox has done an excellent overview of Viva Connections and points out the main features of the app, including a global navigation menu that can be accessed from within the app, a main landing or home page which is a linked SharePoint home site, and a search facility that allows for the a wider search into SharePoint content. A new dashboard and mobile app are also in the pipeline, due for release later in the year.

Will Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Some executives have expressed the hope that Viva Connections, and the Viva Suite as a whole, will provide an opportunity to replace existing services and applications with new apps that are covered by the Microsoft 365 license. This might lead to both a reduction in licensing costs and an extension in the value of a company’s investment in the Microsoft 365-driven digital workplace. This world view is particularly attractive for IT stakeholders who may be under pressure to streamline resources, and wish to make the most out of Microsoft 365 in doing so.

These stakeholders are going to be disappointed – Viva Connections does not replace your SharePoint intranet. However, it does offer some interesting options for digital workplace and internal communications teams, particularly for smaller organisations where disparate SharePoint communication sites have taken over an existing intranet as the main vehicle for employee communications.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why Viva Connections is currently not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet.

1 Viva Connections is not plug and play

One misconception about Viva Connections and other Microsoft Viva apps is that they are plug and play. The idea is a seductive one – somehow you would be able to switch everything on and you’d have an intranet that works instantly and continues to work through automation, saving you time, resources and licensing fees. This is often the thinking behind the question of replacing a SharePoint intranet, considering the potential reduction in costs and effort.

Whilst you’ll certainly be able to leverage the power of Microsoft Graph with Viva Connections, you will actually need to do considerable preparation work and ongoing management to get any value out of Viva Connections. This is not plug and play: you need foundational work, ownership, governance and continual effort, just as you would if you were managing an intranet.

2 It’s still early days

Viva Connections is still relatively new, and we can expect there to be improvements and tweaks. In fact, some core components the mobile app and dashboard are still being rolled out. One of the things we love about working with the Microsoft 365 platform is the continuing investment that Microsoft put into every tool; this means the Viva Connection app of today may be quite different in a year’s time, with potential for additional capabilities.

We are always a little wary of diving into a new technology and replacing what has gone before when it has only recently been released. Even if Viva Connections does evolve to a point where it becomes the primary way for employees to access communications, replacing your existing SharePoint intranet with Viva Connections at this early stage is not something we would advise.

3 Viva Connections is accessed through Teams

The desktop experience for Viva Connections is accessed through Teams. Although Teams usage has exploded in many organisations, particularly during the pandemic, there are still some organisations where Teams usage is still growing or patchy across the entire workforce. In some places, it hasnt even been rolled out.

At the moment, replacing an intranet with Viva Connections is only going to be an option within organisations where Teams is the centre of the digital workplace and employees are already in Teams all day, yet there are still not that many organisations who have reached that kind of status. Moreover, in our view, the digital workplace needs to be accessed through multiple front doors, including both Teams and the intranet, so switching off a browser-based intranet may well be a retrograde step.

4 Viva Connections does not cover all an intranet does

Intranets, and in particular SharePoint intranets, provide a multi-faceted platform for internal communication, content publishing, dialogue, engagement, collaboration, transactions, HR self-service, search and findability, learning, access to digital workplace tools, communities of practice, knowledge management and more. Why are intranets still a staple of the workplace technology environments provided by organisations after 25 years? Because they are versatile, flexible, convenient and essential for both everyday working and deeper digital transformation. We’re excited about what Viva Connections can do, but it simply cannot compete with the wide number of use cases in which an intranet provides value.

If you’re in a position where it looks like Viva Connections will bring more value than your current SharePoint intranet, the key issue is not to do with Viva Connections it’s more likely that you are missing out on all the benefits a modern SharePoint intranet could bring you.

5 Internal communications don’t have enough control over comms

Viva Connections is set up in a way that assumes a less hierarchical, top-down view of news throughout your organisation, typically characterised by a group of communication sites and related hub sites with more distributed ownership. While it does attempt to aggregate news in a way that is more controlled, it lacks the kind of publishing features and central news formats that internal communications teams want to achieve with an intranet.

This is where an intranet product like LiveTiles is also superior to using SharePoint straight out of the box for an intranet. Viva Connections simply does not deliver on the expectations of internal communicators compared to a SharePoint intranet.

6 The set-up for Viva Connections means you’re creating an intranet anyway

When you create the set-up for Viva Connections, you’re effectively setting up an intranet anyway, with a SharePoint home site and global navigation you need to consider. When you begin to design a homepage experience and consider a global information architecture, you are starting to define an intranet, and when you then create the governance to make that work, you’re going even further down the intranet road. If you want to make Viva Connections work, you may also want to define a SharePoint intranet that works.

Where could Viva Connections add value?

While we don’t see Viva Connections as a replacement for a SharePoint intranet, we think it has great potential. We can see its utilisation as a way to:

  • Integrate some of your existing SharePoint intranet content into Teams, particularly in companies with high Teams usage
  • Act as a catalyst to create or invigorate a SharePoint Online intranet where most communication is currently dispersed across multiple Communication sites
  • Experiment and innovate to keep your digital workplace evolving, for example, using the mobile app and dashboard feature with frontline employees.

Need advice on Viva Connections? Get in touch!

It’s still quite early days for Viva Connections, but it’s definitely one to watch and experiment with. While it’s not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet, we think it will bring value. If you’d like to discuss using Viva Connections or your SharePoint intranet, then get in touch!

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