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 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!

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

MS Build 2021: What’s new with Microsoft 365, SharePoint, Teams and Search

Today Microsoft have announced a whole raft of upcoming changes to digital workplaces across the globe. Enhancements to profiles, Teams & meetings, Search and Graph were among the top topics on display. Here is a roundup of what we are most interested in coming out of Microsoft Build 2021:

Enrich profiles with information from Workday, SAP and other Microsoft Graph connectors

thumbnail image 1 of blog post titled Profile enrichment with Microsoft Graph connectors

Long overdue are updates to profiles in the Microsoft eco-system – today Microsoft have announced a way for organisations to enrich profile cards by directly showing information from HRMS systems like Workday, SAP SuccessFactors and more using Microsoft Graph connectors.
Whilst there are a few limitations, this looks like it will deliver a much needed boost to profiles in M365.

Messaging extensions in Outlook

A feature that has become invaluable in some scenarios in Microsoft Teams will be rolled out later this year in the form of Outlook messaging extensions. These extensions allow users to create rich media cards in messages to display powerful contextual information and actions from 3rd party systems.

Visual showing example of a message extension being used in Outlook on web.

Commercialise your Microsoft Teams apps

Also on the Microsoft roadmap is a feature that will allow partner organisations to start shipping products through Teams with all licensing handled through an integrated checkout process.

Users will be able to purchase subscriptions of partner apps directly from the Teams Store and the Teams Admin Center (via invoice billing or credit card)—making it even simpler for users to acquire and adopt apps while providing partners more monetization opportunities for your solutions.

Together mode in Teams meetings

Coming this summer, Together mode extensibility lets you create and share your own custom scenes for Teams meetings. This provides an easy design experience, within the Developer Portal for Teams, so developers can craft custom scenes to make meetings more engaging and personalised for your organization. Heres a custom scene built by the Microsoft team that you can try out today!

Visual showing a custom Together Mode scene being created.

A dedicated Org Explorer app that will allow employees to visualise and contextualise their organisation

In every digital workplace requirements document is a requirement for org charts. Until recently there hasn’t been great user experiences or functionality in org charts on M365. Microsoft are hoping to change this with what they are coining as an app that “enables users to contextualize, visualize, and explore people and teams around them from within Microsoft 365 apps and services”.


7 steps for planning an Azure migration

Migrating to the cloud is a strategic investment. Most organisations that are building a digital workplace based on the cloud choose to go with an Azure-based migration, and with good reason. In our view, Azure is the best-in-class cloud option due to its flexibility, scalability and capabilities such as reporting and integrations; it delivers a wide range of benefits from cost reduction, to business continuity, to supporting your digital workplace strategy. It is also the obvious choice for anyone focused on the Microsoft stack.

If you are going ahead with an Azure cloud migration, you need to adequately plan for it, both surrounding the details of the migration itself and the longer-term impact and ongoing management. Note that these are not just technical considerations but also business ones; moving to the cloud is as much about business transformation as it is about technology change.

In this article, were going to cover seven of the key areas you need to think about from a business and future management perspective when you are planning your Azure cloud migration.

1 Work out your scope and strategy

The starting point for any Azure migration must be to properly define your scope and strategy. This needs to focus as much on the business benefits as it does on the technical ones, meaning it requires discussions beyond the IT function or digital workplace team.

When speaking to other key business stakeholders and support functions about the transition, it is good to try and reach alignment and consensus. Not only should your cloud migration strategy and scope align with your overall company strategy, but it should take into account the different needs, plans and roadmaps of key stakeholders. Here, the different priorities and technical plans of other teams can impact the prioritisation of the steps in your migration, its timing and even some of the detail.

A strategy and scoping exercise working with other stakeholders can help to identify areas of value, potential challenges you may face and dependencies to factor in. It can also help you build up the relationships that will help further down the line with the actual implementation.

2 Audit your data and apps

Your strategy and scope might define the higher-level roadmap, but you will need to carry out an audit of the data you already hold and the various apps that are in use to define the detail around your Azure migration. Companies that have built up acquisitions and mergers often have huge collections of legacy data and content that might need to be migrated, and it is not unusual to discover collections that IT functions were previously unaware of while auditing. Youll also want to map the applications in use to decide what to bring over; this process has value regardless because it may help identify opportunities to simplify your application landscape.

An audit of your data and any related applications is not just about having a list of what is out there: its also important to identify a clear owner for each item (not always as straightforward as it might seem), as well as any issues – for example, around security and compliance or dependencies – which might impact if and how content is migrated.

3 Define your security and compliance needs

Its essential to involve the right people in your Azure migration planning – early conversations with your Information Security team and your Legal, Compliance & Regulatory team are strongly advised.

From a stakeholder management perspective, you may need to allay any fears they have, but they will also help identify any risks and advise on how they can be mitigated. For example, if you work in a regulated industry, there may be some data that must remain on-premises for compliance reasons.

Similarly, the territory of where data resides can be important. Here, Microsoft has country-specific data residency options – another strength of Azure. You may also need to identify replication policies between on-premises and cloud, a process which aids in adequately supporting your business continuity needs.

4 Ensure you have the right skills in place

Azure cloud migrations can be complex, and its important to ensure you have the right skills and experience in place for them to go smoothly. Ideally, you want to have someone on the migration team who has worked on an Azure migration before and can spread knowledge to the rest of the team; of course, there are options to bring in external expertise to fill any gaps here. As with most Microsoft offerings, there are a number of additional self-service resources that are available to help you plan your Azure migration.

5 Consider the change management effort

Migrating to the cloud is a business change which can significantly impact employees, particularly if they are moving to using Microsoft 365 for the first time. There can also be concerns from staff about security and risk. Always consider the change management aspects of your migration in terms of securing buy-in, supporting new ways of working, handling any disruption caused by the implementation and implementing any necessary communications in response to negative perceptions about Azure.

6 Commit to managing Azure

Although not always acknowledged, Azure does require some commitment to manage it, and you should always factor this into your resourcing plan for after the migration. Firstly, without active management, you will not necessarily be able to take advantage of all the analytics, services and integrations that Azure delivers and which can kickstart transformation for your business.

Secondly, its worth remembering that Azure is still a relatively new platform. Microsoft continues to invest in Azure to make it better and better which is highly positive, but it does mean that features within the system may be upgraded or even removed, and this may require action from time to time. For example, if you are working with Azure integrations, these may need to be upgraded.

As with any cloud service, managing these changes is unavoidable. Overall, going in with an active commitment to and mindset for managing Azure is the best approach.

7 Define the future roadmap too

Youll already know that you need to meticulously plan for the actual implementation, particularly in order to avoid any interruption of service. It can be good to draw up a detailed roadmap covering the specific steps to be taken after the launch too, in order to ensure you keep up the momentum, follow through with benefits, consider any ongoing change management needs and support a programme of continuous improvement.

Migrating to Azure

Migrating to Azure has enormous value, but you need to view it as both a technical and business change. If youd like to discuss your Azure migration strategy, then get in touch!

10 benefits of an Azure cloud migration

Many organisations and IT functions have chosen to migrate to the cloud, forming a backbone of IT strategy, business continuity, digital workplace and even digital transformation plans. There are myriad reasons to move over to the cloud, including reduced costs, increased flexibility, ease of management and the sheer power it can give even small organisations to produce game-changing solutions and exceptional digital workplaces.

Although there are different providers to consider when planning out a cloud migration, many organisations choose an Azure-based migration. For many of the customers we work with here at Content Formula, going down the Azure migration route is a no-brainer.

In this article, were going to explore ten key benefits of an Azure migration. Some of these relate to the general advantages of moving to the cloud, but most are specific to why we believe Azure is the best option for almost every organisation.

1 Azure is best-in-class

Make no mistake, Azure is a best-in-class option for cloud migrations. Microsoft has invested heavily in ensuring that Azure is leading-edge  relating to both Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), providing excellent scalability, performance, controls and services for global enterprises and small companies alike. IT functions also have confidence and certainty that they are investing in a platform that will continue to be industry-leading.

2 Its a Microsoft platform

Whilst Microsoft as an organisation can provoke strong reactions in people, its undeniable that the company has played a major role in supporting the evolution of the cloud and the digital workplace. Many organisations and IT functions are attracted to Azure because it is a Microsoft platform and aligns with technology roadmaps and digital workplaces strategies that are already based on the Microsoft stack.

Microsoft also drives confidence among IT professionals who are already comfortable working with Microsoft technologies but also want to get solid experience of working with Azure; working on an Azure migration is transferable experience that supports career progression.

3 Business continuity

Business continuity has always been a key reason for migrating to the cloud. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved just how critical this is, ensuring that businesses were able to implement remote working at scale and speed through access to the right tools and cloud-based files. Of course, business continuity also covers elements such as extreme weather events, ransomware attacks and issues with on-premises installations. Here, Azure migrations have proved to be a successful pillar of thousands of business continuity strategies.

4 Digital workplace and digital employee experience strategy

Having a successful digital workplace and accompanying digital employee experience strategy is now a given for most organisations. Here, Microsoft 365 and Azure are at the centre of most organisations digital workplace strategies, providing world-class opportunities for communication, collaboration and digital transformation. As a key enabler of a successful Microsoft-driven digital workplace and digital employee experience strategy and roadmap, Azure migration is an option which opens up multiple possibilities to develop a digital workplace.

Theres also a future-proofing element here, as you can be confident that Microsoft will continue to improve and extend the power of Azure to meet future digital workplace needs.

5 Scalability

The scalability of Azure is an obvious area of strength. Both a small organisation with fewer than 50 people and a global mega-corporation with a six or even seven-figure workforce can scale-up and scale-down very quickly with the Azure platform.  This scalability also ensures IT teams can plan and tightly control their migration with confidence.

Scalability is important. As the pandemic has shown, the world is highly unpredictable, and Azure can more than meet unexpected requirements as well as deal with more planned business restructures.  Azure also has robust autoscaling capabilities that reflect daily changes in use which can occur, particularly in global organisations.

6 Costs

Costs are going to be a major driver for any cloud migration. With an Azure migration, there is the potential to massively reduce infrastructure costs for larger enterprises. At the same time, smaller enterprises get access to a platform and its related services, analytics and more at a fraction of the cost that would have previously been possible.

7 Security and compliance

Microsoft has invested heavily in security and compliance features to ensure that organisational data on Azure has robust, enterprise-grade security in place and that most of the complex compliance, legal and regulatory needs of global organisations can be met. This is reflected in everything from increasing flexibility in the territories in which data is technically stored, to good administration controls for Azure Active Directory (AAD), to tools to help you find personally identifiable information (PII) for GDPR-related compliance.  There are also some industry-specific solutions, such as those relating to government institutions. Choosing Azure as your migration platform will give you access to the best security available as well as a strong ability to meet compliance needs.

8 Analytics

Another benefit from Azure is that it comes with some strong analytical and reporting features that can help with  delivering insights, but also in monitoring the platform.  For example, there are dashboards which can reveal insights from big data, give recommendations relating to security and also  help with the general management of the platform. As hybrid patterns of work continue with increased use of the digital workplace, we think Azure-driven data insights will continue to grow in importance.

9 Services

Azure comes with some advanced services and frameworks that organisations can tap into to deliver a variety of digital workplace capabilities, including AI-driven solutions. These continue to grow in sophistication and include translation services, cognitive services with natural language understanding, big data processing and even facial recognition. Developers and increasingly low-code or no-code solutions can easily make instant API calls to these services to deliver sophisticated apps.

10 Integrations

The creation of apps is also supported by a library of out-of-the-box integrations in Azure. These cover both widely-used Microsoft tools and popular non-Microsoft applications like ServiceNow. To take full advantage of these integrations, developers can use Azure Logic Apps to build sophisticated workflows that work at scale and lightning speed, and again deliver strong digital workplace solutions. The library connectors also enable rapid development, shaving development time where in the past integrations were much harder and took longer to develop.

The power of Azure

Cloud migration is definitely the direction of travel for most organisations and IT functions. Azure cloud migration is, in our opinion, the best choice due to a wide variety of benefits. If youd like to discuss migrating to Azure, then get in touch!

9 SharePoint integrations that deliver business value

For anyone using SharePoint as the base technology for their intranet or digital workplace, integrating different tools, applications and platforms into SharePoint is a must. Integrations can bring value to your SharePoint sites or intranet in various ways, including by:

  • Helping employees to get tasks done, including completing simple transactions without even having to visit some of the applications in question
  • Making it easier for employees to reach core applications across the enterprise, with SharePoint acting as the point of entry to different tools and applications
  • Helping employees find important information that might be hidden, lost or siloed within different applications, including when not all staff have licenses
  • Supporting process improvement and workflow that involves more than one application, driving efficiency and productivity gains
  • Supporting adoption and use of individual tools.

Integrations have moved from difficult to doable

Over the past year, we have seen more and more customers come to us with questions and requests relating to SharePoint integrations. This is partly because many digital workplace teams are realising the value of integrations as a key part of digital employee experience, particularly with the increase in remote and hybrid working due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, its also because integrating applications within SharePoint is now easier, faster and cheaper, thanks to:

  • The effortless integrations between Microsoft 365 tools that already take place, often with SharePoint or Microsoft Teams as the centre of the digital workplace experience
  • Microsofts support for an extensive library of connectors out-of-the-box for popular enterprise applications such as Salesforce and ServiceNow
  • Better APIs and support for Single Sign-On via AAD as a prerequisite across different products
  • Some integrations now being achievable through configuration rather than customisation, supported by Microsoft.

This has effectively flipped the notion of SharePoint integrations from being  an expensive process prone to errors in which highly specialised developers have to do all the heavy lifting, to one in which highly effective integrations are now a core objective of good SharePoint implementation. While it is still important to involve experienced people for an enterprise-wide integration, views have shifted from SharePoint integrations being complicated and difficult, to being far more accessible.

Nine popular SharePoint integrations

There are a number of common integrations with SharePoint that deliver value for both employees and organisations. Here are nine key ones to consider.

1 Microsoft Teams

The explosion into heavy usage of Microsoft Teams across many enterprises in recent months continues to be quite remarkable. In terms of SharePoint and Teams integration, as both applications are core pillars of Microsoft 365, the two are already integrated in some respects a Team will have a SharePoint library, for example.

In terms of a SharePoint intranet or communication or hub site, a very useful Teams integration to consider is to provide a central directory of Teams spaces which users can browse through, find spaces of value and then apply to join them, using workflow to notify the administrator of  particular Teams. This also brings visibility to Teams spaces and supports governance in areas such as  reducing duplication of sites.

Another valuable SharePoint integration is providing a personalised list of Teams which an individual person is a member of with links to each space; this is very effective for those users who are not in Teams everyday and dont have the application open by default, so might not be able to find the link to the space they need immediately.

2 Yammer

Yammer is perhaps the most extensive integration with SharePoint to date, providing activity feeds and powering conversations within SharePoint sites and intranets. With Yammer being the key tool to drive social collaboration, professional communities and enterprise-wide conversations, the benefits of Yammer integration with SharePoint to bring content, discussions and collaboration together are pretty clear.

Typical SharePoint integrations involving Yammer include:

  • Using Yammer as the commenting engine for news and updates
  • Giving users oversight on Yammer discussions through an embedded feed on a SharePoint intranet homepage
  • Inviting discussions on broader topics where content and conversations provide important context for each other
  • Creating support pages for services or applications where an embedded Yammer community allows users to direct questions to specialists.

3 Dynamics and Salesforce: CRM and marketing platforms

Salesforce and Dynamics tend to be the core Customer Relationship Management platforms used by organisations to both store customer data and drive sales and marketing processes. This information is not only critical for sales and marketing staff, but is also likely to be used by any customer-facing staff; therefore, integration with a wider SharePoint environment such as an intranet can be extremely useful. Although Dynamics may be more closely integrated because it is a Microsoft product, Salesforce integrations with SharePoint are increasingly common.

The kind of SharePoint integrations that make sense can be:

  • Allowing all users to search for customer data or sales collateral within the core intranet or enterprise search
  • Providing one source of truth for any information that relies on showing customer data, for example, generating a list of clients available on the intranet that might link to other project data
  • Providing updates that alert staff, such as new opportunities that are logged on Salesforce or Dynamics and need to be reviewed for conflicts of interest
  • Triggering workflows that might involve SharePoint and Salesforce, for example, automatically creating a SharePoint page for information about a client or project, or creating a form on SharePoint that updates information on Salesforce.

4 Workday, SAP and Oracle: HR and ERP systems

A staple integration on SharePoint sites and intranets is that of HR and ERP systems that drive employee self-service, easing the pressure on busy HR teams, and saving time for employees and their managers. SharePoint is often the most convenient platform for employees to carry out simple transactions and view data in a way that means they dont have to visit the core system in question; it can also provide a better user interface. Here, synchronisation between HR data on a system like Workday or SAP and Active Directory is important to underpin these integrations.

Typical integrations with HR and ERP systems such as Workday, SAP and Oracle (as well as other HR-related technology solutions) include the ability for employees and managers to:

  • View and book annual leave
  • Approve annual leave
  • View a payslip
  • Update core HR and personal information
  • View and amend benefits information
  • Carry out performance review related tasks.

5 ServiceNow, Jira or Zendesk: IT and HR support

Just as HR system integrations with SharePoint relieve pressure on busy HR professionals by supporting employee self-service, SharePoint integrations with ticketing and support platforms like ServiceNow, Jira and Zendesk also aid helpdesk teams in IT and HR through self-serve approaches. Here, an integration with ServiceNow or Zendesk can drive access to content and allow users to carry out tasks through:

  • Viewing FAQs and Knowledge Base data to answer queries
  • Logging support tickets, saving time for both employee and support teams with pre-populated information on forms or guiding users to give the right information
  • Allowing users to track progress on support tickets without having to contact the helpdesk.

6 Condeco and other meeting room booking systems

Another core integration with a SharePoint environment that delivers value is with meeting room booking systems such as Condeco; these can also provide wider desk-booking systems. Here, a SharePoint integration can allow users to view and book a meeting room or desk through a central SharePoint site or intranet; we see this becoming more important in the new era of hybrid working that is likely to develop in the aftermath of the pandemic.

7 PowerApps and the Power Platform

The Microsoft 365 Power Platform (PowerApps, Power Automate, Power BI, Virtual Power Agents) is already driving the creation of powerful business apps, workflows and data visualisations that help to improve a range of different business processes. Integrations between SharePoint and Power Platform tools can be hugely valuable and are used frequently, either to power some of the content and data behind the process through a SharePoint list, or to provide a user interface for accessing or submitting information.

If you are creating a Power App, embedding it into SharePoint is often the best way to create a desktop view or interface for the app, helping to drive adoption and use. If you are using Power BI, embedding reporting into SharePoint can also open it up for everybody, for example, in surfacing important sales data or enterprise KPIs in real time on an intranet homepage.

8 Bots

Chatbots and conversational user interfaces are increasingly common across the digital workplace landscape, helping users to find information and complete tasks. Bots are often  accessed through Microsoft Teams, but it also make sense for them to be accessed within SharePoint as users are often logged on there to find information and complete tasks. Any team deploying a chatbot should consider a SharePoint integration.

9 LMSs and Learning Platforms

An area where we are seeing significant levels of interest is SharePoint integrations with Learning Platforms or Learning Management Systems. This brings learning into the heart of the digital workplace by:

  • Providing more visibility of courses and course material
  • Allowing users to carry out mandatory training and keep track of what needs to be completed
  • Allowing users and managers to view their training records
  • Supporting employee onboarding processes involving training.

For example, we are seeing a lot of interest in LMS365, which can be seamlessly integrated with SharePoint straight out-of-the-box.

We love SharePoint integrations!

Here at Content Formula, we love SharePoint integrations because we know the value they bring to our clients. If youd like to discuss your integration strategy, what to integrate into your SharePoint intranet or have any general questions, then get in touch!

What is the Microsoft Power Platform and how do I get started?

We often get asked what particular Microsoft 365 tools are and what they do. We try and cover the common answers through articles here on the Content Formula blog.  This time its the turn of the Microsoft Power Platform – one of the most exciting parts of the Microsoft 365 suite. Note that on the blog we have already covered some of the other individual tools, such as Power Virtual Agents.

What is the Microsoft Power Platform?

The Microsoft Power Platform is a suite of four integrated productivity tools that can be used to build what Microsoft describes as an end to end business solutions. It consists of:

  • Power BI – mainly used to create data visualisations, dashboards and reports
  • Power Apps – used to build a range of custom business apps
  • Power Automate – an automation and workflow tool that can be used to create, automate and streamline complex processes
  • Power Virtual Agents – a tool and canvas to create powerful chatbots that leverage different Microsoft / Azure frameworks.

Although these tools are separate and can be purchased individually, they work most powerfully together, and are often available for purchase as the entire Power Platform, such as with some Microsoft 365 licenses. More value is generated when the tools are combined, for example, with Power Automate driving the workflow used in a mobile app built on Power Apps. As Microsoft put it, the Microsoft Power Platform is more than the sum of its parts.

What does each element of the Microsoft Power Platform do?

Lets explore the four core tools that comprise the Microsoft Power Platform.


Power BI

Power BI is a business analytics and data visualisation solution that offers the opportunity to create custom dashboards and dynamic views of business data from multiple sources, not only from the Microsoft 365 universe, but also from non-Microsoft solutions.

Power BI dashboards can easily be shared throughout businesses, and efficiently embedded into SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and other apps.  It is an excellent application to visualise data and analytics at scale in order to drive reveal insights that kickstart better decision-making, track success and monitor information in real-time. Dashboards can be personalised, meaning they can also help to drive reporting processes across different divisions and teams, and for multiple use cases.

Libraries of popular visual elements and data connectors also open up Power BI to more users, helping to drive a culture of transparency and data-driven decision-making.

You can find out more details in our previous article on Power BI and how to use it.


Power Apps

Power Apps allows businesses to build powerful and sophisticated custom apps that are suited to their specific needs. Microsoft defines it as a suite of apps, services, connectors and data platform that provides a rapid application development environment for app creation.

The apps you can create can:

  • Be browser- or mobile-based, or both
  • Incorporate forms, workflow and automation
  • Share data across different Microsoft applications
  • Leverage libraries of connectors to involve non-Microsoft tools.

Power Apps can be used by developers, but also by non-IT professionals, opening up app creation to a much wider population; although, for more sophisticated app creation, technical expertise will need to be involved.  The app design canvas with drag-and-drop capabilities is one of the ways in which Power Apps is effectively democratising app creation.

Again, you can find out more detail in our article on Power Apps, including common use cases.


Power Automate

Power Automate, previously branded as Flow, is the workflow engine that powers automation across different applications; it if often combined with other elements of the Power Platform, like carrying out the core workflow of a Power App.

Power Automates intuitive interfaces allow power users to define multi-step workflows across different applications (Microsoft and non-Microsoft) that are triggered by an array of events. When you start to combine different workflows dependent on different outcomes, you can deliver automation that makes a real difference to users and eliminates inefficiencies.

What makes Power Automate so powerful is its  flexibility that allows for both enterprise-scale automation and modest smaller scale workflows used by individual teams.

You can find more about Power Automate in our previous article on this blog.


Power Virtual Agents

Power Virtual Agents is the new kid on the block in the Power Platform: it allows teams to create chatbots that can be displayed in Microsoft Teams, on a SharePoint intranet, in individual Power Apps and potentially across other areas of your digital workplace.

These chatbots can trigger Power Automate workflows to enable automation with a bot interface, for example, based on the responses from employees.

The no code elements of Power Virtual Agents are particularly well-designed, with an excellent authoring canvas and the ability to drive easy integrations, including the possibility to hand off to live chat if such a facility is available in your organisation.

Power Virtual Agents is also extremely flexible, thus supports the constant improvement of bot responses and adding of choices which is often the best way to drive adoption and value, using analytics to fuel such improvement.

We recently published a post about Power Virtual Agents, where you can find out more.


Rise of the citizen developer

One consistent theme across all four core capabilities within the Power Platform is the low code / no code approach which effectively opens up potential use of each tool to non-IT professionals.

This is driven through a combination of:

  • Intuitive and well-designed interfaces and canvases
  • Libraries of pre-existing and popular elements
  • Libraries of data connectors
  • The underlying Microsoft Dataverse framework which allows data to be easily managed and shared consistently across different applications
  • The tight integration between each Power Platform tool and the Microsoft stack in general.

All this means super users within particular teams such as Finance, Marketing or individual lines of business can create their own dashboards, apps and automations that are suited to their own business needs, with little or even no IT involvement.

Although all these tools are designed with no code in mind, Microsoft has also ensured that they can be used by software developers to create highly sophisticated and complex solutions. Here at Content Formula, we are constantly leveraging the Power Platform in the vast majority of our projects.

Opening up the full power of Microsoft 365 to an army of citizen developers is a very exciting stage in the evolution of the digital workplace, and takes digital transformation to the next level. It starts to extend the fuller power of Microsoft 365 to support functions and business lines, driving process improvement and automation at scale, and also drives a culture of using the digital workplace to improve productivity and stimulate innovation.

Were still early on in the rise of the citizen developer, with inspiring examples of imaginative practice emerging, but we expect this will start to rapidly increase over the next year / eighteen months. Despite the promise of less IT involvement, realistically, you still need IT developers to create more sophisticated apps, and IT functions will wish to establish some governance and probably a review process that reduces risks and ensures super users are using the tools in the optimum way.

How to get started with the Power Platform

The Microsoft Power Platform and its constituent tools can bring value to any organisation in multiple ways, regardless of size and sector. The Power Platform can drive digital transformation by:

  • Creating business solutions specific to different parts of your organisation
  • Creating custom apps that can be used both by a specialist team or the entire workforce
  • Creating rapid solutions and apps to meet urgent business needs
  • Driving automation, process improvement and digitisation at scale
  • Creating dashboards and data visualisations to transform decision-making and reporting
  • Driving a culture of innovation and improvement through citizen developers.

If youre not using Microsoft Power Platform, its worth getting started by:

  1. Considering what you want to achieve in terms of digital transformation and digital workplace maturity, and how the Power Platform may help
  2. Working out the specific use cases for the Power Platform; these might be business problems that need solving, opportunities for process improvement, or areas where teams want to innovate and experiment
  3. Starting conversations – if youre a business stakeholder, speak to your IT function or the Microsoft 365 team, or vice versa
  4. Starting a pilot or working on an obvious use case – develop either a pilot or a straight-forward use case that will demonstrate the value of the Power Platform
  5. Speaking to people in the know; find Power Platform experts or practitioners across your peer network or get external help weve had conversations with multiple customers who have been at an early step in their Power Platform journey to assist them along the way.

Want more information? Get in touch!

The Microsoft Power Platform is a potentially transformative set of tools that is genuinely exciting. If youre on the Microsoft 365 path and youre not leveraging the Power Platform, then you should be.

If youd like to discuss the potential of the Power Platform, how to get started or a specific project, then get in touch!

5 tips for migrating from Lotus Notes to SharePoint

Digital workplace teams and IT functions tend to remember Lotus Notes with mixed feelings as an extremely flexible and powerful platform that provided solutions that drive real value, but also one that was sometimes eminently frustrating and difficult to work with.  Many early intranets and custom collaboration environments from the late nineties onwards were built on Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino; many of these environments were then later migrated to SharePoint during the 2010s, particularly as more organisations signed enterprise agreements with Microsoft that included SharePoint.

Although some assume that Lotus Notes is no longer supported and available, it is actually still a going concern. Although IBM largely retired the Lotus brand name in 2013, the platform has continued and was sold to HCL Technologies in 2019. Today, Notes and Domino are now known as HCL Notes and HCL Domino respectively.

Migration projects involving Notes are not as common as they used to be, but we still get clients that are looking to migrate to SharePoint or SharePoint Online. They are often active users of the tools or have legacy Notes databases – there are some ancient custom environments still in use today. This is partly a testament to the durability of Lotus Notes, but also a reflection of the general complexity of most digital workplace landscapes that can  include a number of legacy systems, particularly in companies that are built up through acquisition.

We recently covered five tips for migrating Jive to SharePoint Online; now lets look at five tips for migrating Notes.

1 Run an audit of what you have

Any migration project will involve a data and content audit; you need to know whats out there before you can plan your migration. The audit is particularly important for Notes migrations because they often involve old legacy systems and databases; digital workplace teams, IT functions and business owners may not actually know what is out there. For example, a company may have acquired company after company and steadily inherited a collection of data and content along the way with little idea of what it actually contains. Carrying out a robust and thorough data and content audit is necessary before you can plan and budget your migration project.


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2 Identify the owners

The content and data audit also needs to identify business owners for the content to make business decisions on migration in order to be responsible for it going forward in the new Microsoft 365 world. Identifying the right business owners can be more challenging and time-consuming than it seems, not only due to potential complications with older legacy Notes content, but because some busy teams may be reluctant to take on ownership of a new content collection that requires time and effort to sort through.

Clear and engaged content ownership is at the heart of good intranet and digital workplace governance, so you want to make sure this is covered on your new platform by identifying any content owners before migration takes place.

3 Map content types and features to Microsoft 365

An important part of planning a migration is carrying out a mapping exercise that covers what your old Notes content will look like in the new environment. Like a Jive migration to SharePoint, a Notes migration to Microsoft 365 may not map perfectly in terms of content templates and capabilities. However, Microsoft 365 and SharePoint are highly flexible tools, and sometimes perfect is not necessarily the best approach – business value needs to be the overriding factor. For example, you may only need to migrate 80% of your existing features because there are actually better options available in Microsoft 365.

The mapping exercise might involve defining the content templates that will need to feature in SharePoint, but again, eventual business value rather than like-for-like migration should be the guide to your actions.

4 Keep an eye on permissions, data governance and compliance

For any data or content migration, two thorny issues which often arise are permissions and data governance. You dont want to migrate content that might be sensitive and need to have the right permissions; with legacy data and content in Notes databases, permissions may not necessarily be up-to-date and will need extensive attention. Do you have the right permissions on the content that you are migrating?

When carrying out a SharePoint migration of Notes content that was effectively lost or hidden, you can expose content that is suddenly available in SharePoint search. If this content hasnt been reviewed, you may unwittingly open up access to sensitive content.

Its worth ensuring you meet data governance and compliance requirements for example, there may be a legal requirement to keep content and data available for a certain number of years. When there are old Notes database inherited from an acquisition, your instinct may be to delete or archive that content rather than migrate it over; however, make sure your decisions reference your compliance, regulatory and legal commitments.

5 Decide the best migration path on a case by case basis

Most data and content migrations require a hybrid approach to migration using both automated and manual approaches. When possible, automation can add real value, but thats not true for every content collection or database. For example, where content needs to be rewritten or reformatted and there is a potential for large amount of content to be deleted, a manual approach may have more business value because it forces through a more robust review process involving business owners. Similarly, if an automated migration will need extensive manual checking of content, it may not be worth the effort.

Overall, it is best to decide the preferable migration path on a case-by-case basis for each pot or collection of content. This is particularly true for Notes migrations; each migration approach will depend on how neatly the content and features map to the Microsoft 365 content, technical considerations, the business value of the content, the level of the review that needs to take place and the migration tools open to the project team.


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Planning your Notes to SharePoint migration

Lotus Notes and Domino migrations to SharePoint and Microsoft 365 need some planning and thought. If youd like to discuss your migration project and methodology, then get in touch!

Why you should migrate from classic SharePoint to modern SharePoint

Modern SharePoint has been around for four years, and while there were some initial gaps in functionality and capability when compared to classic SharePoint, the platform has now matured to the extent that migrating from classic to modern makes a lot of sense.

There are still many companies who have yet to make the move. One of the reasons for this is that they have customised environments based on classic SharePoint, meaning that migration to the new system will cause operational headaches and incur some costs. While these are short-term pains, in the medium- to longer-term, organisations will reap multiple benefits from moving to modern SharePoint.

In this article, were going to look at ten advantages that modern SharePoint has over classic SharePoint, and why you should consider migrating sooner rather than later. For a more detailed view of the differences between the two, you can also see the information provided by Microsoft.

1 Superior and more user-friendly interfaces

If you were involved in one of those huge custom intranet developments based on classic SharePoint from a few years back, youll know that a recurrent theme in the design was an attempt to develop a UI that ensured users were protected from the more confusing elements of the classic interface. A classic SharePoint intranet that looked as dissimilar to SharePoint as possible was regarded as a good thing. Thankfully, the far more up-to-date and user-friendly interfaces associated with out-of-the-box modern SharePoint are hugely superior to classic, resulting in more attractive and intuitive digital workplaces and intranets, supporting better adoption.

This has had a significant impact on super-users and site owners covering both communication and collaboration who can now manage their own sites with greater ease and confidence, allowing digital workplaces to flourish and evolve. Quite frankly, we dont want to return to the bad old days of the classic interface.

2 Better news and publishing

One of the mysteries of classic SharePoint was why Microsoft failed to develop a decent content publishing experience, particularly for news and updates, given the dominance of SharePoint as the base technology for corporate intranets.

Of course, modern SharePoint provides much better support for news publishing, with not only attractive web parts, but also the ease with which users can create and publish an item. Communication sites, for example, can effectively democratise internal communications within their enterprises by potentially opening up news publishing to all, encouraging news and content publishing at both team and function levels, and offering easy layouts and options. Meanwhile, internal communications teams can also leverage modern SharePoints web parts to drive publishing at the corporate intranet level. Any approach that involves devolved publishing is far easier to achieve using modern SharePoint compared to classic.

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3 Better and more comprehensive mobile experience

A major draw of the modern SharePoint is a far superior and more comprehensive mobile experience. The poor mobile support for classic SharePoint has always been a pain point, but all modern SharePoint site templates and web parts are responsive by default. Its not just mobile browsers that benefit from modern SharePoint, but also the app too: with modern, the SharePoint app now provides comprehensive mobile access, avoiding the gaping holes in the app associated with classic SharePoint. With modern, organisations no longer need to rely on third-party or customised apps.

4 Better integrated team sites

In classic SharePoint, arguably the star of the show is team sites, a great way to drive collaboration at scale. But modern team sites offer even more, fully leveraging the power of Microsoft / Office 365 groups, meaning you can more easily add elements from across the Microsoft 365 suite such as Planner, Yammer, Calendar and Stream. These features may already be part of your digital workplace, in which case migrating over to modern means you can start to deliver far more integrated and richer team sites.

4 A multitude of better features across libraries, lists and more

SharePoint is a highly complex and mature platform with a huge range of capabilities. As Microsoft has invested in and improved the modern experience, the gap between the capabilities in classic and modern has grown.

This is shown when you look at the detail in two of the core features of SharePoint lists and libraries. In modern SharePoint libraries, you can download multiple files in one go and upload an entire folder, and the admin interfaces are quicker and easier to use for tasks such as updating metadata.  Here, the devil can be in the detail, and whilst some of the capability gaps might seem modest, they can be highly significant to individual users and admin in particular scenarios. Over the whole platform, these enhanced capabilities point to a significant advantage of using modern SharePoint.

6 Leveraging modern site templates

Modern SharePoint comes with a range of different site templates that are ready out-of-the-box and give teams a head-start in supporting collaboration and communication needs, as well as in stitching these together into a more cohesive digital workplace experience. Organisations are using modern communication sites, hub sites, team sites and home sites to not only help site owners get up and running more quicky and become self-sufficient, but also to drive a more integrated experience that is not available in classic. Whats more, there are now page templates in SharePoint modern too which make it extremely easy to standardise content creation within your organisation.


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7 Reducing the need for customisations

The rise of cloud-based systems has changed attitudes to managing platforms, even for on-premises solutions. While some light customisations are important for the individual needs of organisations, heavily customised environments result in significant additional costs and huge effort around upgrades, and can limit the use of new features for users. Most IT functions will want to avoid customisations as far as possible, but classic SharePoint usually needs far more customisations than modern SharePoint in order to deliver a strong user experience and generate business value. To adopt a less customised environment, a migration from classic may well be required.

8 Quicker implementations and continuous improvement

With next to no customisations in modern SharePoint, and site templates readily available out-of-the-box, it is far easier to perform implementations quickly. Nobody wants to go back to the old days of long, expensive classic SharePoint intranet implementations – we certainly dont!  Modern SharePoint also means it is far easier to make small, iterative ongoing changes, and ultimately drive a more agile digital workplace or intranet based on continuous improvement. In turn, this means you can react much better to employee feedback and drive a platform that can be smoothly adopted and have more business impact.

9 Integration with the rest of Microsoft 365

Because SharePoint is intertwined with the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite, many organisations think in terms of the whole platform and what it can do, rather than just SharePoint. A huge advantage of modern SharePoint over classic is that it integrates far more easily and tightly with the rest of the Microsoft universe.

To fully leverage the power of collaboration and communication in Microsoft Teams, alongside the workflow and automation of Power Automate from your SharePoint environment, then going down a modern route is the way to go, allowing you to evolve a fully integrated and consistent experience.

10 Future proofing your digital workplace

Microsoft continue to invest in modern SharePoint and while its still possible to maintain a classic SharePoint experience, its long-term future is unclear. We suspect it will stick around for quite a while, but one day, Microsoft may make an announcement that either officially ends support for classic, or renders that day inevitable.  Moving to modern makes sense in order to ensure you can leverage the continuous improvement and investment in the platform.

Microsoft also has a vast ecosystem of suppliers and developers who continue to create solutions, plug-ins and more that work alongside modern SharePoint and can add value to your digital workplace; the intranet-in-a-box market is a classic example. With an eye to the future, these solutions are now likely to be developed to work with modern SharePoint rather than classic, meaning moving to modern SharePoint ultimately helps to future-proof your digital workplace.

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Have any questions? Get in touch!

In our view, modern SharePoint beats classic SharePoint in numerous ways. There are many other areas we could have covered in this article, including better performance, better security, easier development and more. If youd like to discuss the differences between classic and modern SharePoint and migrating across the systems, then get in touch!

5 leading SharePoint intranet examples 2020

Here at Content Formula weve delivered numerous SharePoint intranets, both custom-built and based on LiveTiles intranet in-a-box product. This means weve built up a great library of SharePoint intranet examples, some of which you can find on our website. In delivering these, weve also learnt some of the key approaches that can make all the difference in making an intranet a real success.

We often get asked by clients what are some of our best SharePoint intranet examples? Here is a selection of five that also illustrate some essential approaches to delivering an intranet. You can also see some of our best Office 365 intranet examples too in a companion article.

1. Legal and General: A hub for getting things done

Employees are always busy and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete everything they need to do. A key role of an intranet is to help employees to complete tasks and get things done quickly and efficiently. It does this in several different ways including:

  • ensuring users effortlessly find what they need;
  • establishing clear and up-to-date procedural information that employees trust;
  • provide links through to essential apps and systems;
  • and even presenting data from other applications through integrations. An intranet that delivers efficiencies for employees is a successful intranet.

Legal & General is multinational financial services company offering insurance, asset management and other services. The company has a complex structure, a diverse portfolio of services, and a very busy workforce with a wide range of information needs, who use an array of IT applications. We partnered with the Legal & General team to create a new SharePoint and LiveTiles intranet built on detailed user research that helps employees in their day-to-day work and gives them back some time.

Evergreen content acts as an essential reference guide for employees on the things they need to know. An extensive How Do I library is a powerful, central repository of easy-to-find procedural and task information which can be searched from the intranet homepage. Central catalogues of enterprise apps and workspaces are just one click away with the intuitive information architecture and provide a quick window into the wider digital workplace. The popular and highly innovative LiveTiles Everywhere toolbar also includes a dashboard of essential links and information delivered through integrations, following employees wherever they are. The intranet really has become Legal & Generals hub for getting things done.

View case study

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2. TTEC: a critical intranet that navigates risk and mobility challenges

No two SharePoint intranets are the same. Every intranet needs to have a laser-sharp focus on the needs of an organisation and its employees, sometimes navigating complex challenges without ever compromising on the user experience. Security and data privacy challenges can have a significant impact on how a SharePoint intranet is set-up and consumed, while a workforce of predominantly frontline employees can mean mobile access is critical. The trick is to design your intranet based on a deep understanding of organisational priorities and user needs delivered through research, and then continue to work closely with stakeholders and employees to refine and improve the platform.

TTEC is a global provider of customer experience services, providing solutions focused on strategy, technology, training and outsourced customer support to a large client base. Headquartered in the US, most of the companys 50,000 employees either work on client premises or at home and are regularly exposed to sensitive customer data. This means that on TTECs SharePoint intranet there are particular measures that must be put in place to safeguard client information. An intranet also has to be available on mobile devices to be able to reach a highly mobile and remote workforce. We undertook extensive user research and worked in close partnership with TTECs digital workplace team to ensure the SharePoint intranet considered both these factors.

Personalization means that the TTEC intranet delivers highly targeted news and updates to different client teams. ensuring relevance. Guardrails have been put in place to protect data; these include a sensitive content scanner to identify if client data has been added to the intranet, additional IP-based restrictions and local shared terminals placed within each contact centre. Meanwhile a mobile app allows all employees to access the intranet from corporate and employee-owned devices, both iOS and Android. Best of all, the user experience has not been compromised, meaning staff can access a vibrant, modern intranet that supports efficiency and engagement.

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3. Intranets can help facilitate learning and development

Continue reading “5 leading SharePoint intranet examples 2020”

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