Intranet with Microsoft 365: Modern Experience with SharePoint Online

Intranet with Microsoft 365:

Modern Experience with SharePoint Online

Intranet with Microsoft 365

Users have already become real fans of SharePoint Online and all the opportunities it offers for collaboration, especially in connection with Microsoft Teams. So doesn't it sound like a good idea to map the company's intranet on this platform as well? This article examines what you need to consider when planning and implementing a SharePoint-based intranet in the Microsoft 365 Cloud.

Extensive Design Option

Among the crucial aspects when selecting the right intranet platform are its usability and associated user interface. The Content Management System (CMS) included in SharePoint Online enables simple yet flexible creation and editing of content. What’s more, modular kits of easily configurable, modern web parts help you to add the features you need to the content pages. More advanced technical understanding of configuration issues and matching services is only needed for more complex requirements such as creating a custom search page with additional web parts (PnP Modern Search).

Intranet with Microsoft 365
Picture 1: Example of a homepage form the SharePoint Look Book

Libraries and lists can be integrated just as easily into a page and fit seamlessly into the modern experience intranet. This means it is also possible to use documents and structured information for the intranet, without requiring additional interfaces.

Another element in the core functionality is the integrated search feature, which simplifies the process of retrieving information, especially in larger intranet structures.

Internet with Microsoft 365 - Embedded Libraries
Picture 2: Embedded libraries

Despite all these positive aspects, it is equally important to note that some features can´t be implemented directly in SharePoint Online, or only in a rudimentary form. The following section explains which ones they are and how you can still fulfil your preferred requirements.

Pitfalls – What Works and What Doesn't?

You have tolook behind the scenes to understand why SharePoint Online has its limitations, despite the extensive functionality. As part of the Microsoft 365 Cloud, SharePoint Online belongs to the Microsoft Evergreen model, which means that services running in the Microsoft Cloud are always kept up to date. Among the benefits of this system is that updates can usually be applied without interrupting operation, which guarantees security and stability.

But it also means that the scope for designing customized SharePoint Online sites will inevitably be restricted, as it would otherwise be impossible to ensure that updates are compatible. It follows, therefore, that designs can only be adapted to a limited extent or at least that this would take more than a few simple configuration steps. Nonetheless, things like customizing the color scheme, integrating a logo or selecting from a variety of display options will not cause any trouble at all.

Apart from that, SharePoint Online occasionally goes its own way in the Microsoft 365 Cloud when it comes to the provision of (standard) functions. At least the current iteration of the modern experience sites is – at first glance – missing some of the ‘typical’ features you may usually encounter in the well-known content management systems or on social network platforms. There are, for instance, no specific templates for blogs or wikis.

However, a closer look quickly reveals that these scenarios can usually be modelled very well in the modern experience sites within SharePoint Online. The content editor understands “Wiki links” and a comments function with enable and disable function can be used directly in the content pages.

If that’s not enough, Microsoft 365 also places a wide array of application services at your fingertips – but we will return to this aspect later on.

Extension Options

Some of the intranet design options you may have encountered in Microsoft SharePoint Server in the on-premises world may be absent when you move to the modern experience version of SharePoint Online.

A typical example of this is the Search function, which has limited configurability in the current standard. But this shortcoming is easy to fix with the PnP Modern Search web parts. Once the free app has been added and enabled, these web parts can be used to design a search function within SharePoint pages or as a standalone tool.

It is also possible to use programmed solutions to provide the required functionalities. This is done within SharePoint Framework, which is also ideal for modelling complex use cases. Developers can also find plenty of tips and tricks in the well-established community to familiarize themselves with issues and add meaningful solutions that enhance the functionality of SharePoint Online.

'Opened up' – Smart Combinations

A variety of functionalities can be implemented that by far exceed the scope of SharePoint Online applications by integrating other services from Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Azure. It is certainly worth taking a look at the numerous other applications in the Microsoft 365 Cloud, especially for functions that are not integrated directly within SharePoint Online. Microsoft Forms is just one simple example of a tool that enables the quick and easy design of surveys. Finished forms can be integrated into a SharePoint Online page without much effort at all (using the Embed web part).

Selection Web Part – Embedding
Picture 3: Selection web part - Embedding

Another option is to use the Microsoft Power Platform whose form-based apps and automated processes allow you to implement complex use cases without programming any (or very little) code. The content-rich dashboards and reports that can be created with Power BIare brimming with additional possibilities.

Even so, the examples outlined here merely touch on the many different ways in which functions within a SharePoint Online-based intranet can be expanded through the integration of additional cloud services. And the opportunities are not limited to the Microsoft 365 Cloud alone; indeed, including services from the Microsoft Azure Cloud or using third-party solutions expand the dizzying array of possibilities. But it is still worth mentioning that drawing on Microsoft services can reduce the effort required to clarify licensing and legal aspects.

Outlook: What Does the Future Hold?

Microsoft is working hard to expand the Microsoft 365 platform as a matter of urgency. New features and integration options are being added all the time, especially in SharePoint Online. But there is still plenty of room for improvement in regard to the implementation options, and intranet administrators are doubtless longing for the day when the specific options they are so sorely lacking will finally be added.

But any exact prediction of what the future will bring would be wasted breath due to the highly dynamic evolution of cloud services and Microsoft 365 in particular. Nevertheless, promising developments are expected in the near future that will significantly improve the variety of functions and design options. The range of available web parts, customization options for website design and the provision of interfaces to integrate data and services stand as prime examples of how SharePoint Online is developing continuously as a platform for content support in the Microsoft 365 cloud.

Take Full Advantage of the Benefits of Microsoft 365!

Would you like personal advice or further information? Let’s talk about the pros and cons of your SharePoint Online and what you need to consider during planning and migration.

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Author

Bernhard Schmidt

Senior Consultant SharePoint and Office 365

Modern Workplace and Microsoft Products

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