7 top tips to improve Office 365 adoption and change management

Adoption and change management (ACM) is an essential activity in ensuring that your Office 365 implementation is successful and delivers the enterprise-wide benefits and ROI expected by your senior stakeholders. Office 365 opens many opportunities to raise productivity, drive innovation and transform collaboration, but this often requires users to learn how and when to use new tools, adopt new behaviours and gain confidence across the digital workplace.

Successfully changing user behaviour is never a given and is rarely mandated; employees are also usually very busy, frequently overworked, and already bombarded with messaging relating to other change initiatives. Digital workplace teams need to work hard to gain the attention of employees, win over hearts and minds, and continually reiterate messaging to truly embed behaviours.

Here at Content Formula, we’ve implemented hundreds of Office 365 / Microsoft 365 projects, often supporting the ACM work stream with launch, support and training activities. In this post we’re going to explore seven tactics that we’ve seen often work.

1 Involve and train your champions

In our recent post about how to drive Office 365 adoption and change management, one of our eight essential elements  was “top-down and bottom-up communications”. While you must show a tool has the support of senior leaders, bottom-up messaging from peers also helps to drive adoption. Involving a network of local champions and ambassadors who can frame their messages using scenarios, use cases and terminology that makes sense to different locations, functions and teams, will make change communications far more relevant across a diverse workforce.

Hearing a recommendation from a peer also can also give s a message more authenticity, while champions can also provide some local support by answering questions and even performing some training. We’ve seen many times how a a network of enthusiastic champions makes a real difference in an Office 365 roll-out and helps small central digital workplace teams achieve more.

Successful champions tend to be recruited on a voluntary basis rather than being “conscripted”, and central teams are often surprised about how enthusiastic and energetic they can be. Training and engaging them through formal and top-up virtual sessions, assets such as slide decks, maintaining a support community, and recognising the contribution of individuals, are all tactics that can help.

2 Focus on real use cases rather than concepts

All too often Office 365 change management campaigns centre on higher level concepts such as “increasing collaboration” and “working smarter” and “increasing our productivity”. These messages are all benefits of the platform, but they need to be communicated in conjunction with specific use cases that resonate with employees and illustrate the tangible benefits of the 365 platform. In this way, users can more easily see “what’s in it for me” and how Microsoft 365 and its tools will impact everyday working practices.

For example, your new digital workplace might help users to see all their notifications in one place, find the contact details of a colleague, ask a question to an expert, see the latest news, support a professional community, make it easier to manage a project, or use a whiteboard in a virtual meeting. All these are real world use cases that illustrate the benefits of a platform and support adoption efforts.

3 Creating engaging campaign assets

Creating engaging campaign assets to increase awareness of the launch of Office 365 or some of its constituent tools such as a SharePoint intranet or Yammer can support adoption and change management efforts. Eye-catching images, imaginative concepts, relevant and relatable messaging and consistent themes across multiple formats can all help to drive curiosity, spread information and even create a “buzz”.

There are a number of different types of assets that can be created, including:

  • Page tours that walk users through new features on first logging into a site, for example an intranet
  • Promotional banners that can appear across your digital channels
  • A training centre with self-serve resources – see below for more details
  • “How to” videos that are instructional, but also might explain the “why” and the related benefits of a tool
  • Tailored training to special groups including digital champions, content publishers or managers
  • Lock screen graphics to reiterate messaging across the office
  • Even a Q&A chatbot that can answer questions about Microsoft 365 or tools within it.

We’ve produced all of the above for different clients, and each has proved to be successful. We can help produce these for you as part of our new Office 365 ACM service.

4 Plan out your reinforcement activities

When we support our clients with Office 365 ACM we follow the ADKAR framework – a leading change management model based around five stages (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement). This last “reinforcement” stage is very important as it truly embeds changes in user behaviour for the longer term; without it, any initially promising adoption levels from your first launch efforts can start to wither.

From the outset, always plan some reinforcement activities that follow your initial launch period to remind users of your core messaging on an ongoing basis, building on your earlier efforts. These activities could include:

  • recognising adoption efforts such as highlighting teams who have used the platform successfully
  • leading engagement-led activities that encourage people to use tools such as a mini-campaign to get people to complete their profile
  • providing ongoing support, for example through an online Yammer community.

5 Plan self-serve resources

Self-serve resources can support adoption for users, as well as special groups like content owners and publishers, by providing information on how to use Office 365 tools, which tools to use for what purpose, and the benefits of each. Creating a self-service SharePoint site or intranet site aimed at your users, with an additional site for your content publishers, can prove to be a valuable resource that IT support helpdesks and digital workplace teams can point people towards. These resources are not only useful in your initial launch, but also an ongoing basis.

For example, when we helped Entain Group launch their Entain.Me digital workplace, we created a site for content publishers called “Entain.Me Guru” with how to guides, help videos, recordings of publisher training sessions and an embedded Yammer feed from a publisher support community. The site was created in the run up to launch but has remained live as an ongoing reference point.

6 Use Office 365 to drive usage of Office 365

The Office 365 platform itself can actually support some of your Office 365 ACM activities. For example, Yammer groups make excellent user or community support groups, while a SharePoint site is the obvious choice for a learning or knowledge-focused resources site. Taking an “eat your own dog food approach” and using the very tools that you are trying to promote to drive your ACM efforts sends the right message to both users and stakeholders, and can even get employees used to using the relevant tools.

7 Ring fence your ACM budget

As a rule, adoption and change management activities relating to Office 365 are sometimes not adequately budgeted for. The extent of ACM effort needed tends to be either underestimated or does not extend for a long enough period. Another danger is that there are other unexpected costs aspects of the project that emerge which were not budgeted for; these then end up eating into the ACM budget, which tends to be regarded as expendable, compared to other workstreams within your project. If you do have an ACM budget, ring fence it to ensure that it doesn’t get spent on other project aspects and that the spend is dedicated to critical ACM activities.

Need help with your Office 365 change and adoption? Get in touch!

We know how important adoption and change management is to the success of Office 365; this is why we’ve created a new Office 365 ACM service that assists with everything from planning your strategy to creating engaging campaign assets to providing ongoing support. If you’d like to discuss this or any aspect of growing your Office 365 adoption, then get in touch!

13 essential elements of SharePoint intranet governance

SharePoint intranet governance covers three of our favourite topics: SharePoint, intranets and governance! Governance is one of the key elements for the success of any SharePoint intranet – it covers the policies, processes and roles that ensure your intranet works optimally, keeps its strategic value and contains great content.

In the past, we’ve written extensively about the elements you need to include in your intranet governance framework, as well as governance for other 365 tools such as Microsoft Teams. In this post, we’re going to explore some of the primary elements you need for SharePoint intranet governance, although there may be additional elements needed depending on what you use your SharePoint intranet for.

1. Strategic bodies and cross-functional groups

A SharePoint intranet is a strategic, enterprise-wide investment that has both direct and indirect stakeholders. When driving buy-in across the organisation and ensuring alignment with corporate strategy and other initiatives and roadmaps, involving cross-functional groups in your SharePoint intranet governance has real value. Typically, this might include members of Comms, HR, IT, Knowledge and other support functions.

Depending on your size, culture and needs, as well as the maturity of your intranet, there could be two groups: a higher level steering group that discusses strategy and meets, say, quarterly, and an operation-focused working group that meets more regularly. There is likely to be information flows and escalation of different issues and decisions concerning the intranet between the two.

2. Information architecture, site scope and hierarchy

Information architecture is always a critical part of any intranet, for example, in defining the navigation. It’s also very important in determining the different SharePoint sites that comprise your intranet, and, if you are using SharePoint Online out of the box, the hierarchy of hub sites and ultimately the home site that can define your SharePoint homepage.

You may also need to decide on the scope of the intranet if you have existing SharePoint sites that sit outside the intranet estate. Card sorting exercises and further testing are a good way to ensure that your information architecture is user-centric. For your SharePoint site hierarchy, how you want internal comms news to roll up to different hub sites within your intranet can also have an influence.

3. Search and taxonomy

SharePoint search is increasingly being used for your intranet search, and it definitely needs governance to scope its limits as SharePoint search can extend right across your 365 tenant. Sometimes, this can lead to issues if files on SharePoint sites outside the intranet aren’t security-trimmed with the right permissions, as they can be suddenly exposed via search.

You may have some taxonomy items that are controlled via the SharePoint Term Store that contribute to findability; the definition and management of these terms will also need to be part of your SharePoint intranet governance framework.

4. Relation to other M365 channels

Office 365 and Microsoft 365 tools are increasingly integrated, and have some overlapping capabilities. In terms of governance, it helps to map out the relationship between SharePoint and other tools and channels in terms of integrations, user experience and which tools gets used for what content and communications. For example, you may want to delineate between when Teams gets used for more local, team-focused content and when your SharePoint intranet gets used for content that is of wider interest.

You may want to clarify the relationship between Yammer and SharePoint – when do you use SharePoint commenting, and when do you use Yammer? How are Yammer sites integrated? The future relationship between your intranet and Viva Connections may also need to be decided, as well as how you evaluate and introduce future additional tools and features to the 365 suite.

5. Personalisation and targeting

A successful SharePoint intranet will rely on personalisation and audience targeting to deliver a relevant experience with related content. The approach to personalisation and ensuring the integrity of your data needs to fall under your governance framework in terms of which groups to target, how this relates to other Office 365 groups, how the right metadata and tagging is added to content and how your Active Directory data is kept up to date, for example, by synchronising with your HR system of record. The tagging you use will also need to be aligned with your information architecture; this falls under how you control your taxonomy.

6. Approach to customisation, plug-ins and integrations

Many intranet teams are now choosing to use SharePoint Online straight out of the box, although others will use an additional “in-a-box” product like LiveTiles. In both these scenarios, some limited customisation might be in place to enhance design or add new features. Plug-ins might be utilised, and most intranets will also introduce some integrations.

In order to ensure there is tight management of the platform’s upgrades, as well as to ensure a good user experience, there needs to be governance in terms of control over what level of customisation is allowed, which plug-ins are in use and the integrations that are employed

7. Roles and responsibilities

A central part of any SharePoint intranet governance framework is working out all the different roles and responsibilities, relating to both central team and distributed roles. This needs to cover the management, content and technical aspects of all your intranet operations. Having clarity here means everybody is far more likely to meet expectations and carry out the tasks they have agreed to do, helping the intranet to run optimally. A RACI matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) is a good way to establish the different roles and responsibilities your framework should cover at a high level, including:

  • Strategy
  • Day-to-day management
  • Managing the intranet homepage
  • Central communications and content
  • Technical support
  • Development and integrations
  • Adoption and engagement
  • Design and branding
  • SharePoint administration
  • Search and taxonomy
  • And more!

There are many other important roles related to content governance which are also included below, and which support decentralised publishing on your SharePoint intranet.

8. Content strategy

At the root of intranet governance is a detailed content strategy that establishes what you want your intranet content to do, the benefits it will deliver, how you intend to deliver that content and how you will keep it up to date. This can cover elements such as the role of news and communications, different content types and buckets, the utilisation of imagery, how metadata is being used and even how you intend to measure success. You content strategy will be closely aligned with your digital communications strategy and your intranet strategy. From here, you can then define other content-related elements of your SharePoint intranet governance.

9. Publishing standards

Although there are many aspects of SharePoint intranet governance, ensuring the quality of your content is essential. An intranet with poor content is an unsuccessful intranet. Defining and documenting publishing standards will help ensure your intranet content is engaging, well-written, timely, up-to-date, accurate, purposeful and on-brand. Intranet teams who work with a decentralised publishing community should have detailed published guidelines available, as well as a more succinct summary of the main points to help content publishers maintain good content.

10. Content roles and responsibilities

Another key element of SharePoint intranet governance is the associated content roles and responsibilities. This might include establishing who is responsible for central content areas like your homepage, news centre and lists of apps and tools, as well as detailing the responsibilities and tasks of local publishers and individual page owners at a site or section level. Part of establishing content roles is ensuring there is clear and visible ownership of every page, driving accountability for your content.

11. Content lifecycle management processes and approvals

There should be several content processes within your governance, including any necessary approval workflows, author reviews of content, translations of content, action on user feedback about content and more. These should cover the entire content lifecycle, including archiving and deletion.

12. Terms of usage and other policies

Any SharePoint intranet governance framework is likely to need a terms of use policy for users about what they can and cannot post. This might cover acceptable usage, GDPR and privacy elements, posting copyrighted materials and also what happens if employees do not follow the terms of use. There are likely to be further related policies and processes, such as what happens when a person reports a piece of content or when content is archived.

13. Templates and webparts

You might establish site and page templates to help your publishers maintain their sites and drive consistency throughout your intranet. You may also want to restrict the use of particular web parts, although this is not always easy to do with SharePoint Online out of the box.

SharePoint intranet governance

SharePoint intranet governance can help create a successful and sustainable intranet that supports employees, drives value and provides great content. We’ve outlined some of the main elements in this post, but there will likely be other processes and policies to consider. If you’d like to discuss SharePoint intranet governance, then get in touch!

6 great SharePoint examples with screenshots for 2022

SharePoint remains an excellent platform for delivering high impact intranets and digital workplace solutions to increase engagement, drive efficiency, minimise risk and improve productivity. At Content Formula, we’ve delivered hundreds of SharePoint projects that have supported employees in their day-to-day work while helping the organisations they work for realise strategic goals.

One of the major advantages of SharePoint is its flexibility, insofar as it can deliver all kinds of different solutions while integrating with other Office 365 tools, providing huge value either out of the box or with customisation. There is also a highly mature ecosystem of products based on SharePoint.

With intranets and the digital workplace set to be more important in 2022 than ever, there are bound to be many opportunities for SharePoint to make a difference. Let’s look at six high impact examples of how you can use SharePoint, illustrated with screenshots from some of the work we have delivered to clients.

1 Using SharePoint to implement Viva Connections

One of the most exciting digital workplace developments of the past 18 months has been the launch of Microsoft Viva – the employee experience platform that consists of complementary apps that are accessed through Teams. One of these is Viva Connections, which seeks to surface internal communications, relevant reference content and Yammer conversations all within the Teams experience. Additionally, the Viva Connections dashboard can feature integrations from other digital workplace systems such as ServiceNow, SuccessFactors and Glint. We know many internal communications and digital workplace teams are currently considering how they can use Viva Connections, and 2022 will be a big year for the platform.

There is still some confusion about Viva Connections and whether it replaces a SharePoint intranet. In fact, Viva Connections is dependent on SharePoint, as what you’re viewing is essentially SharePoint content within the Microsoft Teams environment. By making a SharePoint communication or hub site a home site and creating your desired navigation within Viva Connections (or inheriting it from the home site), you can allow employees to access SharePoint content through Teams. This can be really valuable if your employees spend a lot of time within Teams, bringing SharePoint content to the place where they are working and providing a more consistent digital workplace experience across different tools.

Entain Viva Connections

2 Creating a hub or portal to centralise and contextualise learning

Over the past year, placing learning and training right at the heart of the digital workplace and the daily flow of work has come increasingly into focus. This is partly down to the possibilities of integrating a learning platform seamlessly into Office 365 through a solution like LMS365 (which is actually based on SharePoint), as well as the launch of Microsoft Viva Learning which surfaces relevant learning content for users.

If you are using LMS365, a great use case for SharePoint is to create a learning hub on your intranet which can act as a seamless front page into your learning platform, giving more context about the content you provide It can also be a top-level navigation item in your information architecture so users can find it more easily. Here, you can leverage SharePoint web parts such as news, events, key links and even Yammer threads to bring together the latest updates, as well as provide information about learning at your organisation, offer opportunities to ask questions to the learning team and more. You can also link to relevant dashboards within LMS365.

Because LMS365 integrates so seamlessly with a SharePoint intranet, users may not even realise that they are entering the LMS365 platform because it will feel like one integrated ecosystem, delivering a consistent digital employee experience and supporting good learning adoption.

School-Led Network LMS365

3 A central policy library to support compliance and minimise risk

SharePoint is an excellent platform for employees to access the trusted, authoritative information, content and documents that they need in order to get things done, carry out their role or complete mandatory compliance-related tasks. A central policy library built on SharePoint and Microsoft 365 has real value as a place where employees can easily find HR and work-related policies, procedural information, critical forms, key guidelines and more, knowing they are accessing the latest and most up-to-date information. When you don’t have a central library, it cannot only prove difficult for employees to find the policies they need, but if they do, they then have no way of knowing if it is the right version. Carrying out tasks and making decisions based on out-of-date policy documents can involve risks, especially if they pertain to a topic like health & safety.

There are multiple ways to create a policy library using SharePoint, such as leveraging pages, a document library, integrating workflows from Power Automate and using the right permissions to ensure documents are kept up to date. At Content Formula, we have used SharePoint as the basis for Xoralia – a sophisticated and intelligent policies and procedures library software product with multiple features including mandatory reads, detailed reporting, robust policy lifecycle management and even a range of useful web parts that you can deploy on your SharePoint intranet.

Xoralia

4 An HR intrant to support self-service and key HR processes

An HR intranet based on SharePoint is an excellent way to help HR teams achieve their goals and ensure employees have access to the people-related information they need. An HR-focused SharePoint intranet will have a number of key features including access to HR policies, personalisation to target information to the right location and role and integrations with core HR systems to support self-service tasks like booking annual leave. The flexibility of SharePoint means this can all be achieved in a relatively straightforward way that allows employees to access what they need on a self-serve basis, relieving pressure on busy HR support teams.

SharePoint pages can also include information and integrations to streamline major HR processes. For example, employee onboarding is a high-value use case that supports good employee experience. You can use a combination of SharePoint web parts, features and integrations like lists, notifications, to-dos, forms and personalisation to make sure new joiners have an authoritative list of the tasks they need to complete and when. They can then perform the tasks and track their progress. This drives efficiency and makes the onboarding experience smoother for new joiners.

Haines Watts

5 Revolutionising frontline messaging with a custom SharePoint solution

Communicating with frontline staff in a targeted and impactful way can be challenging. For example, we were engaged by TTEC – a global provider of customer experience services with many frontline staff deployed to different customers – to deliver an improved method of messaging hard-to-reach staff. Using email had proved to be ineffectual, and they were looking for a fresh way to deliver personalised, hyper-targeted messaging.

One of the advantages of using SharePoint here is that you can deliver customised solutions. Customisation is not always desired by IT functions, but for high impact use cases, it can be necessary to achieve great results. We were able to deliver a user-friendly messaging service that is hard-baked into their already highly-used SharePoint intranet. Here, each employee can view personal and targeted group messages and reply to them. It’s a simple and elegant solution that has had a strong impact and exploits the power of SharePoint.

TTEC Messages For You

6 Streamlining digital communications through a SharePoint intranet homepage

The digital communications landscape for most organisations is highly complex, with multiple channels for internal and external messaging as well as varied audience targeting across different locations, functions and regions. It’s hard for employees to keep on top of all the news they need to read, events they might want to attend, automated notifications they may receive from different systems, various social feeds and more!

One thing a SharePoint intranet does very well is surface news and updates from different channels in one place, helping to streamline communications and reduce information overload while also ensuring relevance through matching the right content to an individual’s Active Directory profile. For example, a SharePoint intranet homepage could include:

  • Global, regional, divisional, departmental and role-based news
  • Automated notifications, reminders and approval requests from right across the digital workplace
  • Embedded social feeds from internal tools like Yammer or external channels like Twitter
  • Details of events
  • And more!

A compelling intranet homepage that improves communications is a common use case that is as relevant in 2022 as it has been for the past fifteen years.

TP Bennetts

Using SharePoint in 2022

We’re looking to delivering more exciting SharePoint projects this year. If you’d like to discuss your potential SharePoint intranet or digital workplace project, then get in touch!

Webinar video: Using SharePoint for policy management and compliance

Ensuring that employees read policies is an important factor in compliance for all organisations. You may be considering using SharePoint to manage your policies or your organization may be using it now, but in either case you may be asking the question Is SharePoint the best approach?

During this webinar, we will show you how to get the most out of SharePoint when managing your policies and help your organisation to stay compliant.

We will explain why SharePoint is the best approach and cover:

  • Common organisational scenarios in policy management
  • How to get the best out of SharePoint
  • Is SharePoint enough?
  • One of our customer case studies

25 business processes you can automate using Microsoft 365

Business automation and process improvement are key reasons why organisations launch Microsoft 365 and create intranets. They want to reduce costs, save time, increase productivity, speed up end-to-end processes and remove frustration for users.

Microsoft 365 customers have an incredibly powerful platform from which to start automating business processes, both simple and complex. Using different combinations of features and capabilities, you can make a real difference to your digital workplace, organisational efficiency and employee experience. The opportunity for business automation extends to some of the products that work alongside Microsoft 365, such as LiveTiles intranet, LMS365 or the Xoralia policy management tool, mainly because they are based on 365 technologies like SharePoint and Power Automate.

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft’s continuing investment in the 365 platform and Microsoft Teams means new opportunities for automation are opening up. For example, the Microsoft Viva suite of apps is providing exciting opportunities to increase productivity and improve employee experience, while Power Virtual Agents allows every organisation to leverage the power of bots. In fact, when we first published this post, we included 19 opportunities, but we’ve since expanded this to 25.

Let’s look at some of the processes you can automate, based on what we’ve seen with clients and other organisations. Just to be clear, there is a lot you can potentially do these ideas are just for starters!

  1. Updating key business policies

Many intranets have a central library of key business policies. It’s important that these are kept up to date; there may be regular reviews in place to ensure this happens. Automated reminders to content owners based on review dates introduce an automation layer to support an effective central policy library.

Potential tools to use: Xoralia policy management tool, SharePoint, Power Automate.
  1. Monitoring mandatory reads

Sometimes, it’s important for employees to read particular content for compliance, regulatory or risk reasons: perhaps a new policy, an important update or a critical communication. Monitoring who has confirmed they have read the content can be a real administrative burden. Automating this process saves vast amounts of time and effort. This can involve sending targeted reminders based on Active Directory (AD) groups to those employees still to confirm the mandatory read, and producing real-time progress reports.

Potential tools to use: Xoralia policy management tool, SharePoint, Power Automate, Power BI, Azure Active Directory
  1. Adding document metadata

Having the right metadata for documents helps with findability, but also gives users important information about the content; it may define displays in web environments, and support other outcomes such as targeting. Getting the right metadata on a document is something some organisations struggle with, especially if it all needs to be done manually.

Automation can really help add accurate document metadata. For example, if there is metadata associated with a project and a new document is added to the project workspace, the document may be able to inherit that metadata. There are also opportunities to use AI to suggest the right metadata to add through the SharePoint Syntex service.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, SharePoint, SharePoint Syntex
  1. Archiving content and data

Governance around the archiving and deletion of content and data is critical for keeping your digital workplace tidy, aligning to company retention policies and enhancing findability. Adding some automation to this process really helps so that documents, content and spaces are automatically archived based on different criteria (including review or approval from the content owner).

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, SharePoint
  1. Updating employee profiles

The employee directory and profiles are a staple of the intranet environment, but the best ones always represent the one source of truth of HR data so that profiles are always accurate, and employees don’t have to complete information across two systems.

Updates to your HR system containing individual employee data should always be reflected in individual employee profiles. For example, an update to a job title in the HR system should also be displayed on the intranet, ideally in real-time.

Potential tools to use: LiveTiles Directory, Delve, Custom-built solution, Active Directory
  1. Requests and approvals

This is perhaps the most common form of process improvement driven by intranets and Microsoft 365, using forms and workflow to deal with requests involving everything from booking travel, to organising annual leave, to requesting stationery, to ordering lunch for a client meeting. Usually, these requests need to go through an approval process. In many organisations, there will still be request and approval processes which are done using email or even paper that are just waiting to be automated. Increasingly, requests and approvals are being dealt with through chatbots that might be accessed through Microsoft Teams, or even through a mobile app for frontline staff.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, SharePoint, Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft Teams apps
  1. IT and facilities performance monitoring

Performance monitoring of different systems is an obvious area to automate, using dashboards to provide reporting and notifications when things don’t look right, based on different rules. We’ve seen many examples of this, including the monitoring of load times on different web channels or servers, or reporting on the temperature of different parts of a building.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, LiveTiles Intelligence, SharePoint, Azure application insights
  1. Microsoft 365 adoption reporting

Unsurprisingly, digital workplace teams are always interested in driving adoption of Microsoft 365 and its constituent tools. With so many tools and channels in operation, automated reporting of the use of different applications and channels via a customised dashboard is almost always of interest to teams. Increasingly, some of the behaviours of Microsoft 365 are being rolled into the new Viva Insights tool which focuses on collaboration, productivity and wellbeing, offering some organisation-wide analytics.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, Microsoft 365 out-of-the-box, Viva Insights
  1. Logging support calls

There are already systems like ServiceNow which allow users to log issues and automatically raise tickets for IT, HR and other support services. The ability to raise tickets is usually a prerequisite for running any scalable helpdesk or support service, and integrating this automation into your intranet or Microsoft Teams can be helpful. Increasingly, support calls are also being logged through chatbots. More lightweight processes might not always warrant investment in a separate system. In these instances, using your intranet platform or Microsoft365 may make a lot of sense as an affordable system to log support calls, and automation can really add value.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, PowerApps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft Teams Apps
  1. Centralising notifications from different systems

Information overload is still a real issue for many users, especially with an overwhelming email in-box. Many users find it hard to keep on top of all the automated notifications, alerts, approvals and actions needed across a number of disparate systems.

Having a focused activity stream, list of notifications or notification dashboard from systems in one place (universal inbox) that can allow users to organise all the things they need to do, and ensure approvals are made more speedily. Here, there are an increasing number of options to deliver this capability within Microsoft Teams, to frontline staff via a mobile app or through a chatbot facility where employees can complete simple transactions.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, PowerApps, Microsoft Teams Apps, SharePoint, LiveTiles Everywhere, Power Virtual Agents
  1. Financial reporting and monitoring

Financial reporting is an obvious use case for a dashboard which can have considerable value for senior management and finance departments, helping to drive accountability and support decision-making. However, dashboards with simplified financial and performance data such as sales can even be presented to users on the intranet homepage as a way of keeping everybody up to date. This form of automation almost always has value.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, SharePoint
  1. Marketing automation

Marketing automation is on the wish-list of most marketing functions, but is not always put into operation. Marketing automation can be powerful in saving time and supporting your sales funnel. It can range from the simple (sending out an automatic email based on the completion of a website form) to the sophisticated (sending out a targeted message based on a range of user behaviour). Reporting on the success of your efforts is also automated.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Power Automate, Power BI, Microsoft Dynamics, Outlook
  1. Tracking assets

IT departments often need to track and manage the assets which are given out to users, including devices, equipment, software licenses and more. It’s incredible how many teams still rely on spreadsheets and email for this exercise, even though there may be some workflow in place to issue devices for new employees. Automating this process allows you to use one source of truth for keeping track of your assets alongside stakeholder and user reporting. You can also potentially integrate this with the process for users requesting new assets, as well as the employee onboarding and offboarding process.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Power BI, Power Automate, Microsoft Forms, Power Virtual Agents
  1. 360 appraisals

360 appraisals tend to be a process-heavy exercise involving data input from different users, reporting, approval workflow, notifications and the need to store all the data in a core system of record. In other words, 360 appraisals are ripe for automation and improvement! Appraisals can be cumbersome and time-consuming, so anything which makes them easier for everybody is welcome.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, PowerApps, SharePoint
  1. Document building

Building model documents based on different criteria is a theme often found in knowledge management. It’s of real interest in certain sectors, especially professional services, but also functions such as in-house legal teams. Being able to build automated documents like contracts and agreements based on different metadata (e.g. client name or document type) can help maintain document standards, as well as save huge amounts of time.

Often, the model document produced is a starting point which must still be completed and checked, but the process automation adds a lot of value.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, SharePoint Workflows, Microsoft Office, Power Virtual Agents
  1. Know Your Client

Know Your Client (KYC) is a standard process carried out by some companies as part of the due diligence and procurement process to onboard new clients, suppliers and vendors, and minimise risks involved. KYC may involve interrogating external databases with company information, and performing credit checks. The extent to which KYC processes can be automated varies, but there is usually scope for speeding up the process, such as using a chatbot to gather initial information or running the process through Teams if that is the system where most work gets done.

Potential tools to use: Virtual Power Agents, PowerApps, Power BI, Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, Microsoft Teams apps
  1. Resource planning

Resource planning for projects, teams and initiatives can be challenging, particularly if relevant information is scattered around different systems. For example, you may want to view core information from your HR platform, timecard systems and details of expertise from people profiles to help you assemble the right team and check availability.

Automating reporting with data from various systems to help with resource planning and specific views to aid team selection can be very powerful, helping you to create the best teams while ensuring capacity. This can be extremely valuable for managers and frontline teams where shift work is involved, or for businesses with a lot of seasonal work or intense projects.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, Microsoft Planner, Power Automate, Microsoft Shifts
  1. Project management

Project management is a broad activity which is key to the way many companies operate. Microsoft 365 can help with many aspects of project management, including providing the base for some automation. For example, some companies might choose to automatically create a collaboration space whenever a project is set up in their financial management system or equivalent, or choose to integrate real-time budgeting and financial or timecard information within their project space. This helps to embed collaboration and dashboards right into the project management processes, as well as drive efficiencies.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Planner, Power BI, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Project, SharePoint Online, Outlook
  1. Employee onboarding

Having a formal employee onboarding programme drives efficiencies and make new starters feel welcome, supporting better employee retention. With so many checklists and tasks to complete and information to provide, there are myriad processes which can be automated or semi-automated even before a new hire’s first day. Ensuring that employees fill in the necessary forms before they start and in their first few weeks (and ensuring this information goes to the right people and systems) is a great starting point. They might need to read a policy, take a course, review information on the intranet, complete their contact details, supply particular forms and more. Some organisations particularly with frontline employees choose to invest in a dedicated employee onboarding app for this.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, LMS365, Xoralia policy management tool, Power Automate, SharePoint Online, LiveTiles content targeting, Power BI
  1. Employee offboarding

Employee onboarding gets a lot of attention, but offboarding also involves multiple processes, including ensuring equipment is recovered and sent back, completing any necessary paperwork, making adjustments in different systems, carrying out an exit interview or even issuing an invitation to join the alumni programme. This is another process where automation can streamline interactions, workflows and reporting.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, Microsoft Forms, Power BI
  1. Collecting data from the field

Sometimes, field workers or mobile employees may need to file reports with data collected when they are out and about, such as engineers making site inspections. Ideally, data should be gathered and inputted directly into mobile devices. Automation can make sure this information appears automatically in documents, databases, dashboards and even workspaces.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Microsoft Forms, Teams Apps, Power Virtual Agents, SharePoint, Power BI
  1. Learning and development administration

Learning and development is a critical part of employee and organisational life. However, it can take a lot of administration effort, particularly when enrolling employees onto mandatory training (which can occur annually), monitoring progress and completions and reporting sometimes even to external bodies – for compliance reasons. Automation makes a lot of sense in enrolment and tracking, especially when targeting different courses to different Microsoft AD groups. Although it’s early days, learning automation might also involve Viva Learning in the future as its capabilities evolve and develop.

Potential tools to use: LMS365, SharePoint, Power Automate, Power BI, Microsoft Viva Learning, Xoralia policy management tool, Azure Active Directory
  1. Keeping groups and lists up to date

Group and list management is often a time-consuming activity and can incorporate multiple aspects of your digital workplace, including e-mail distribution, content targeting, personalisation, security and permissions, subscriptions, employee directories and more. Groups can be highly dynamic, based on joiners and leavers, internal moves and individual preferences. Ensuring your Azure Active Directory groups are fully up to date and mirroring your needs is key. Here, automation is a must, including synchronisation with your HR system of record, as well as facilitating elements such as default membership of different communities, enabling topic subscriptions on your intranet and more.

Potential tools to use: Azure Active Directory, Power Automate, SharePoint
  1. Meetings

We spend so much of our time in meetings, yet very little automation outside of what happens when you use Outlook tends to be applied to meeting booking, even though this is an area where there are multiple opportunities to improve processes. Automation could be applied to booking equipment, creating a space, sourcing tools such as whiteboards (if for a virtual meeting), diary management, sending out reminders, constructing minutes, determining agendas, regulating the number of people in the office (due to COVID restrictions), gathering pre-meeting data and even organising travel arrangements.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, Outlook, Microsoft Forms
  1. Knowledge Management

Viva Topics is an intriguing new part of the Viva suite of employee experience apps that uses AI to automate the presentation of content and identification of experts on different topics, and presents this information to users. In a way, this represents the partial automation of knowledge management, and is an exciting prospect. However, it comes with a caveat: Viva Topics is not plug-and-play, and requires active and ongoing knowledge curation, plus a necessary level of content, to get value out of the tool.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Viva Topics, SharePoint

Microsoft 365 is a productivity and automation platform

You can do so much with Microsoft 365, providing a digital workplace where you can drive automation, reporting and more. In fact, there’s so much to automate, it can be hard to know where to start! If you’d like to discuss using Microsoft 365 to automate key business processes across your digital workplace, then get in touch!

3 ways to deliver low code SharePoint intranet development

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:

  1. Using modern SharePoint or SharePoint Online out of the box
  2. Leveraging the Power Platform
  3. 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

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

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

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

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!

I need an intranet for Office 365! What are my options?

As more and more organisations go down the Office365 and Microsoft 365 route, they realise the importance of having an intranet that integrates with the other Microsoft tools such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Libraries, Planner, Microsoft Forms and even Outlook. Invariably, this means an intranet that is based upon SharePoint Online, although there are other options to explore.

Having an intranet that is built for 365 and integrates effortlessly with all the necessary tools means:

  • Your are provided with a seamless and less fragmented digital workplace and digital employee experience
  • Your intranet can provide a highly convenient entry point for the Microsoft universe, easily accessible for your entire workforce
  • You can present content and feeds from apps together to add context and value, for example, presenting Yammer conversations alongside SharePoint content
  • You can drive better findability through integrated search right across the 365 universe, simultaneous with better designed user journeys
  • You can fully leverage your 365 licence, allowing you to achieve ROI more easily
  • You can support better adoption of your tools and your intranet.

The options for your 365 intranet

Teams who are looking to introduce an intranet perfectly suited for Microsoft 365 don’t always know where to start, nor which base technology to use. Generally, if you have Microsoft 365, then a SharePoint intranet is going to be your best option. But there are a range of options to consider relating to SharePoint, as well as some slightly different approaches such as delivering an intranet through Microsoft Teams.

Let’s explore the different options for creating an intranet for Office 365 and Microsoft 365.

1 SharePoint Online out-of-the-box

Amber

One option for delivering an intranet is to leverage SharePoint Online straight out-of-the-box with no customisation. This is particularly attractive for some teams because it allows them to significantly reduce costs and fully leverage the features and tools included in their 365 licence. Avoiding customisation is another a tactical aim for most IT teams that supports easier day-to-day management of your intranet environment and avoids difficulties with upgrading.

Two years ago, a SharePoint intranet out-of-the-box simply wasn’t a viable option for most organisations, but Microsoft has invested in features which allow teams to add some of the main features of a global intranet such as a homepage and global navigation. However, using SharePoint alone could create significant gaps in the intranet experience, especially around the ability to deliver internal communications and advanced personalisation, as well as the capacity to add intranet governance to content to ensure a more successful and sustainable intranet. For more complex organisations, SharePoint Online alone may not be enough to meet all their needs.

2 An intranet in-a-box product such as a LiveTiles intranet

Entain

An excellent option for delivering a SharePoint Online intranet that offers a more comprehensive intranet experience is using an intranet in-a-box product in conjunction with SharePoint Online. This leverages the strengths of SharePoint Online, before adding a host of templates, features and interfaces which introduce capabilities for internal communicators, content owners and more. It also delivers a comprehensive digital workplace experience, and supports the more scalable and complex intranet required by most enterprises. An in-a-box product not only closes the gaps left by using SharePoint alone, but saves time and delivers an improved digital employee experience.

The in-a-box SharePoint intranet product that we implement is LiveTiles intranet, and it’s one of the market leaders. The obvious disadvantage of this approach is the additional cost of another platform; however, in our view, the advantages of using a LiveTiles intranet rather than just SharePoint actually make it a very sensible investment.

3 A fully customised SharePoint intranet

Moving Made Easy

A few years ago, leading SharePoint intranets were all customised. This meant they were very expensive to implement, and projects were long and intense; they also proved hard to improve and evolve. Thankfully, the days of fully customised SharePoint intranets are long gone due to a combination of cloud solutions, agile methodologies, developments to SharePoint Modern and the evolution of SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365. In our view, it is unlikely there is a need for a fully customised SharePoint intranet nowadays, unless it is part of a very specific wider customised digital workplace such as the one we created for property firm Moving Made Easy.

4 LiveTiles or SharePoint out of the box with customisations and add-ons

While most teams would not want to deliver a fully customised SharePoint intranet, customisation does still have a role to play in creating the perfect SharePoint intranet. If you’re choosing to implement an intranet just using SharePoint Online, and even with LiveTiles, there may still be some gaps you need to fill, for example:

  • Very specific features, processes or experiences which are unique to your organisation
  • Integrations with systems and applications that are not readily available out-of-the-box
  • Custom features that are popular with employees and which you want to replicate from a legacy intranet
  • Individual branding needs
  • Features and capabilities insisted upon by stakeholders.

When you have these gaps, adding customised web parts or additional intranet products can provide the intranet you need. For example, we regularly deliver custom business apps for Office 365 that can also be delivered or integrated via an intranet. Intranet add-ons and products deliver real value for example, our Xoralia policy library for SharePoint intranet provides industry-leading capabilities around policy management which you can’t get from just SharePoint or LiveTiles.

5 Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams has emerged as the centre of many digital workplaces, particularly during the pandemic. With an eye on the huge adoption of Microsoft Teams and its ability to integrate with other digital workplace tools (both Microsoft 365 and beyond), some teams have asked us can Microsoft Teams deliver an intranet? In fact, we were asked this so many times that we held a webinar on the topic.

When we unpacked this question, we found it can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, can you deliver the capabilities of an intranet through Microsoft Teams, and secondly, can you access and view an intranet through Teams?

The answer to the first question is not necessarily straightforward, although it’s safe to say that on balance, Teams isn’t going to deliver all the capabilities you need from your intranet, in the same way an intranet won’t deliver all you need from Teams. Again, we explore this in more detail on this blog.

The answer to the second question is more simple. It is possible to add a link to your SharePoint intranet within a Team channel, while a LiveTiles intranet is available to view within Teams. Viewing an intranet though Microsoft Teams is also possible through Viva Connections, which is explored in more detail below.

6 Viva Connections

Microsoft Viva is a recently launched employee experience platform that is still evolving. It incorporates four apps which are experienced through Microsoft Teams. One of these the Viva Connections app – is designed to create an intranet-like experience similar to Teams, and was actually originally developed as the Home Site App: a way to access and navigate resources and sites from across your organisation within Microsoft Teams. Some of the foundational work you need to do to leverage Viva Connections actually means you’re effectively setting up a SharePoint intranet anyway.

We recently covered Viva Connections on this blog as an option for intranet teams. We think it’s still early days for Viva Connections, which means there are some advantages in waiting to deploy it. We also don’t think it’s a replacement for the full browser-led intranet experience. However, it is almost certainly going to play a role in bringing your intranet to the Teams environment, and is definitely an option to watch as it evolves.

Looking for an intranet for Office 365? Get in touch!

If you’re looking for an intranet for Office 365, there a number of options to consider. If you’d like to discuss the right one for you, then get in touch!

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!

SharePoint – out of the box and customisation

Deciding whether to opt for an out-of-the-box or customised intranet is still a difficult decision with a few things to consider.

There are three main options:

1 Out of the box by this we mean using SharePoint and Microsoft 365 as it comes without modification or third party features

2 Customisation through a third party add in or set of services (like LiveTiles)“ which you typically pay a monthly licence fee for (sometimes called intranet in a box)

3 Bespoke customisation extra features built specifically to your particular requirements

In a previous webinar we compared the differences between intranet in a box and bespoke customisation. But, what about option one staying entirely out-of-the-box and only configuring what Microsoft gives you?

This used to be a very limited option, particularly for online flavours of SharePoint provided by Office 365 and, later, Microsoft 365. Because of the basic feature set, it tended to be an option only for smaller companies or those on a very tight budget.

However, Microsoft has continued to build on its intranet capabilities in SharePoint and Microsoft 365 and now, in 2021, it’s a more compelling option. New features and configuration options make it possible to deliver a best practice intranet at low cost – that’s why we offer an Accelerate package for companies who want to take this route.

What can you achieve now with out-of-the-box SharePoint?

  • Cascading (roll-up, roll-down news content) using Hubs and Communication sites
  • Mega menu style navigation
  • Global navigation across multiple sites
  • Upcoming events feeds
  • Improved presentation options (thanks to new display template options for lists)
  • Better integration with other Microsoft 365 apps like Yammer and Stream including better webparts

What is out-of-the-box SharePoint still not good at?

  • Targeting of content is still very basic
  • Branding and user experience customisation options are limited
  • The news experience is not very sophisticated and larger companies will struggle with it
  • Templating, provisioning and governance of intranet components like workspaces and hubs

 
It’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to choose from only option 1, 2 or 3 above. You can have a mixture of options. For example, you could choose to go mostly with an out-of-the-box approach, but with one or two minor custom elements e.g. an improved news feed experience or an enhanced policy library.

As part of our digital workplace discovery process, we help many organisations to decide which route is the best for them the one that will help them meet their business objectives, but efficiently from a cost perspective. As a digital workplace consultancy we help organisations deliver all three of the options, so we are neutral in terms of deciding which route you should take.

Out-of-the-box SharePoint doesn’t work for everyone and there are often good reasons not to embrace it, but for some companies it’s a good choice and we see more and more organisations having success with the core Microsoft tools. A key thing, as ever, it to ensure that you have help from a partner who lives and breathes intranets and digital workplace. That way, whichever route you take, you will get the most value out of the tools available.

Get in touch

16 ways you can integrate Microsoft 365 functionality into your intranet

Updated for 2021

Many businesses have moved to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), but still think of their intranet as something separate that sits alongside it. However, the Microsoft 365 apps can be cleverly integrated and embedded into your intranet (and your LiveTiles intranet), giving you the following benefits:

  • Drive adoption of Microsoft 365 apps and the intranet at the same time
  • Improve efficiency and usability
  • Continually add value as Microsoft rolls out new features and changes

So, how specifically can you integrate Microsoft 365s many apps and capabilities in your intranet?

 

1. Use Delve and Microsoft Graph to give employees a list of their recently accessed documents

List of recent documents with Microsoft graph

Microsoft Graph is the technology that tracks everything you do in Microsoft 365. You might find that scary, but its really useful. It enables Delve to highlight relevant content to you, and if you go to portal.office.com you will see a list of the documents that you recently accessed.

Its pretty easy to then add this feed to your intranet homepage, making it more useful and personally relevant to all your employees. Weve added this as an additional feature in LiveTiles.

 

Get in touch to discuss your project

 

2. Use Yammer for questions and answers (Q&A)

use yammer as a questions and answers feature on your intranet

Yammer is great for conversations around all sorts of topics within a business, but it seems quite separate from SharePoint and the intranet. However, it doesnt have to be this way. Its completely possible to use the powerful Yammer functionality to house discussions within your intranet including asking questions.

When someone posts a question, anyone can answer but the person posing the question or an administrator can then choose the best answer. This means that people looking for the same information in the future can more easily find it.

This is a much better way to answer common questions from your internal customers than a traditional email, because you avoid answering the same question multiple times.

 

3. Add interactive PowerBI dashboards and bring data to life

build power bi dashboards into your sharepoint intranet

PowerBI is a fantastic app that allows you to build dashboards and custom reports which are fed from lots of different data sources financial systems, CRMs, inventory management or Excel spreadsheets. You can build and view the reports within the PowerBI app, but why stop there? There’s a PowerBI webpart for SharePoint Online, allowing you to easily publish reports into your intranet pages. The only catch is that people must have a PowerBI pro licence to view the reports.

 

4. Create a learning & development area using Stream

using microsoft stream as a learning platform

For years and years, video platforms for intranets were really lacking. But, things have changed and I talked about a new hope for intranet video at IntraTeam in Copenhagen.

Its now completely possible to deliver high quality video content to your employees via laptop, tablet or mobile. With Stream (Microsoft 365s video platform) you can do this quickly and easily. The app converts and optimises your videos for you and allows you to arrange them into searchable channels.

But did you know that you can also embed the videos into your intranet pages? Meaning you can embed them within guidelines or policies. You could even create a dedicated training or learning and development site with chaptered video content.

We created an Office 365 learning centre for Johnson Matthey on their intranet all powered by Stream.

Recently Microsoft rolled out new features including the ability to lightly edit videos, and to create videos by recoding your screen. See this page for the latest Stream info including upcoming features.

5. Create a blogging platform using Communication sites

blogging in communication sites in microsoft 365

Unfortunately, Microsoft retired the blogging feature within Delve, but there is still a way to blog in Microsoft 365. You can use a Communication site to build a blog portal where, rather than posting news articles, you use the same features to publish blog posts.

This benefits from 365s modern UI for content publishing which is much easier and more satisfying to use than the traditional SharePoint publishing tools. If you want to take things further, you can even create a blog network using multiple communication sites connected to a hub site.

How to set up a communication site as a blog

 

6. Relay important messages to employees using bots in Teams

relay important intranet messages in teams using a bot

With so many employees now using Microsoft Teams as their primary work and collaboration tool, its a great place to reach them with important announcements that they may have previously seen on the intranet.

Its possible to create a bot for Teams that sends people a message with important updates or actions that they need to take e.g. Compulsory training.

You can connect the bot to Power Automate Flows and write rules that ensure the right people get the messages that are most pertinent to them.

 

7. Manage projects using Office 365 Planner

plan projects in microsoft 365 planner

Some companies use SharePoint team-sites for project management and others use Microsoft Project. However, if you are looking for a middle ground something that is better for tracking tasks than SharePoint, but not as heavy duty as Project then Planner is worth a look.

Microsoft 365 Planner allows you to quickly create projects, organise tasks into buckets and assign them to different team members. It can be used across desktop, tablet and mobile.

You can associate a plan with a Microsoft Team and allow people to track and update tasks there, but also add information on tasks in SharePoint too

Heres a great intro to Planner

 

Get in touch to discuss your project

 

8. Surface your intranet in Teams

surface your intranet in Microsoft Teams

Its been a big year for Teams. The pandemic has meant lots of home working and many companies have gone from experimenting with Teams to fully depending upon it. Employees have also become comfortable with Teams and it has become an app more central to their workday.

All of this means that its a great place to reach people with your intranet content news, policies, how-to guidance etc.

You can do this a few ways: You can add your intranet as a tab within a Team or multiple Teams, you can build a simple app to appear in the left ribbon (or ask us to!), you could buy software like LiveTiles or wait to see what capabilities Microsoft Viva brings in this space.

9. Use chat bots to provide everyone with a personal concierge

integrated chat bot in sharepoint

Chat bots are Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered assistants that you can interact with via a text chat interface. You might ask them to find you a policy, book a meeting room or check the weather forecast.

Chat bots are a hot topic in the intranet world at the moment because they have reached a level of maturity where they can be useful, but also they are much easier to configure. You no longer have to be an AI boffin to train bots and make them more helpful.

Microsofts bot, Luis, can be embedded on your SharePoint intranet via a chat interface. We have rolled out a bot for UK accountancy firm, Haines Watts.

 

10. Work live on intranet information at the same time using Office Online

Office Online integration with SharePoint

Anywhere in Microsoft 365, whenever you click on a Microsoft Office document that document will open in a new browser tab within Office Online. Office Online includes the web app version of Word, PowerPoint and Excel that runs within your web browser.

But, were you aware that you can click the Edit button and make changes to the file directly in the browser? Not only that, but other people can edit the same document at the same time, and you even can see their changes appearing right in front of you.

There are many opportunities to make use of this neat functionality on your intranet. You could use these files to collect information from multiple people at the same time using a shared excel spreadsheet. Or, you could create a knowledge base / wiki which is based on set of word documents. The contents will be indexed by search so people will easily find the content later.

 

11. Create an approval workflow for policies using Power Automate Flows

 

create approval workflows with power automate flow

Building workflows for your SharePoint intranet used to be quite tricky. Power Automate is the Microsoft 365 app that was designed to fix that. Creating workflows – known simply as Flows – in Power Automate is much more straightforward. It offers integrations with other apps outside of SharePoint and even outside of Microsoft 365, like Dropbox for example.

A really common workflow that companies often want to implement is one for approval of content before its published. Check out this video for a step by step tutorial for building an approval workflow in Flow.

 

Get in touch to discuss your project

 

12. Build an app for field workers using Power Apps

build-sharepoint-integrated-apps-for-field-workers-with-powerapps

Many organisations struggle with how to make their intranet relevant and useful to field workers people not based at a desk. This can be factory workers, delivery agents, sales reps and so on. Most of these workers do not have laptops, but many have tablets or mobile devices.

Power Apps is a tool that allows you to build apps for these staff to use on their mobile devices. The apps could allow them to enter information about a customer they just visited, or log maintenance problems with machinery on the production line. Also, that app can be integrated directly with SharePoint to share this information with other people in your business via the intranet.

We ran a webinar about PowerApps and how it could support your business.

In this step-by-step tutorial video, Microsoft show you how to build an app using Power Apps. Their example scenario is a secret shopper app for clothing retail stores.

See whats new in PowerApps in 2021

 

13. Keep in touch with customers using Dynamics 365

Dynamics 365 integration with SharePoint

You may already have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) suite, but you should really take a look at Dynamics 365.

Dynamics 365 allows you to do all the regular things that youd expect from a CRM: Keep data on customers, integrate with your website etc. However, being based in Microsoft 365 means that it integrates really well with other apps like SharePoint. Dynamics 365 uses SharePoint for storing its documents and can be easily connected to your SharePoint intranet search. This means that your employees wont have to jump between different systems to find the information they need.

Here are 13 reasons why you should use Dynamics 365 as your CRM.

 

14. Run an employee survey using Forms

using microsoft forms for an employee survey

Its often necessary to collect information from your users on your intranet from booking a training course to requesting stationery. You can do this with SharePoint lists, but its a bit difficult to configure and not very easy to use for employees.

Say hello to Forms. Forms allows you to build attractive and usable forms with a simple drag and drop interface.

The forms you create can then be embedded in a range of locations on Microsoft 365, including within your SharePoint intranet pages. You can then use Power Automate Flows to move the captured information through a business process.

Watch this video to get started with Forms.

If Forms is too basic for your needs, then Microsofts upcoming Viva product and its integration with Glint employee survey software will probably be of interest. Using these tools youll be able to get much more detailed insights on your employee experience.

 

15. Craft beautiful sales aids using Sway

creat-beautiful-sales-aids-with-sway-and-sharepoint

Many companies have sales reps out in the field, talking to customers and evangelising products and services. Traditionally they are provided with material to help them explain the products or services to their leads. Sometimes these sales aids are expensive custom apps built for tablet devices, but often they are just a few lacklustre PowerPoint presentations or pamphlets.

Sway is an Microsoft 365 app that allows you to quickly build web app that conveys information using mixed media and a simple interface. Without any need to touch computer code, you can create a set of content that is beautifully structure and presented, but can include written content, images, videos, charts and graphs. With a built in menu system it also allows you to take the customer on a journey through the information that is unique to them, rather than flicking through a generic linear PowerPoint presentation.

You can manage access to all your Sway presentations from your SharePoint intranet.

Get started with Sway using this video tutorial.

 

16. Allow your employees to jump into their Teams from the intranet homepage

Microsoft-Teams-integration-with-SharePoint

Thanks to Microsoft Graph and the Microsoft Teams API – it’s possible to display a list of each employee’s Teams on the SharePoint intranet homepage. This helps to make the intranet more of a personalised and useful daily work tool – presenting the employees with a quick and easy way to access their Teams. This enhancement requires a bit of coding, but it’s something we have added to the capabilities of LiveTiles – as well as a few custom intranets for our customers.

 

Get in touch to discuss your project

 

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