Despite Microsoft’s popularity, more and more SharePoint intranet managers are looking to change providers. So, what problems does this type of software pose to businesses, and what are the SharePoint alternatives available on the market?
For many, SharePoint has been regarded as a failsafe software on which to build a corporate intranet on. But after implementing it, many businesses are learning that while it has its strengths in task management and document storage, as a modern, social intranet, it is not fit for purpose. Many of the customers who approach Interact, are businesses who want to replace their SharePoint intranet for something more flexible, adaptable and easy-to-use.
Popularity of SharePoint
As part of Microsoft’s Office 365, SharePoint offers users a document management system which has recently evolved to offer a collaborative platform across an organization. Many organizations believe that because it is part of their O365 subscription, that the SharePoint software provides a free, accessible platform to build an intranet on.
Microsoft has started to recognize SharePoint’s use as an intranet and have created additional services to sit alongside it to create a more cohesive experience. Despite this, because SharePoint’s origins are not in intranet software, organizations are finding it too complex to operate long-term and soon see an eventual slide. Products that have their foundations in intranet software are significantly more powerful, practical and efficient at building a better relationship between the workplace and the employee.
Issues and Misconceptions
So how come SharePoint is still recognized as a serious contender for intranet software? Its popularity as an intranet has been helped along by a few misconceptions. Some of these include:
- SharePoint is an intranet: SharePoint has never been designed as an intranet. Its original purpose was purely for the storing of documents. Over time, in any organization, this type of document storage system will evolve to house thousands of documents. When this happens to a SharePoint intranet, it loses its effectiveness and functionality.
- SharePoint is free: The initial cost of SharePoint isn’t free – it’s included in the subscription cost on your O365 which depends on the number of employees in the business. If you’re setting up SharePoint as your intranet, the cost of design, customization, training, migration, and implementation adds up. In the long run, SharePoint intranets are often considerably more expensive than other more bespoke intranet software.
- Every employee has access to SharePoint: More often than not, the workers who are office-based will have O365 licenses, but those in depots, or who are customer-facing, won’t. Stretching out a corporate intranet on SharePoint will either mean isolating those without access to the right type of technology or make heavy investments in getting additional licenses and software.
When SharePoint is being used as an intranet, organizations usually come across the following issues:
1. SharePoint is difficult to customize
2. Developers who specialize in SharePoint are rare and often charge high fees
3. SharePoint intranet projects can range from $200k – $500k
4. Creation and infrastructure are generally controlled by IT admins
What about Hub Sites?
The infrastructure of SharePoint is based on sites, which have created problems among both intranet managers and IT personnel. With different sites offering different services, a disjointedness arises. All these sites offer different permission settings – and with documents fragmented across these sites, the whole set up soon becomes siloed and unwieldy.
To remedy this, SharePoint introduced Hub Sites, which aggregates info and content from these sites to create more cohesion. However, even this idea has its limitations. Because they require a ‘shared responsibility model’ between the site owners and IT, it takes a significant amount of effort to create a Hub Site that works as a functional, albeit primitive, intranet.
Some of the many problems users experience when a Hub Site acts as their corporate intranet:
No homepage: because you cannot personalize the front page of your intranet, users will experience being confronted by information overload that is not relevant.
Limited navigation: Yes, Hub Sites does join up site collections, but the way in which it does it is flat and linear and creates problems with search and agility.
Restricted content management: unlike a lot of intranet software, managing content in SharePoint requires going into the backend, and must be managed at page level, rather than through lists and libraries.
Heavy admin burden: SharePoint users often remark on the heavy administrative burden it requires to use the software as an intranet compared to more intuitive software available.
With so many arguments against SharePoint, it’s strongly recommended that businesses who are weighing up what intranet software to implement, look for SharePoint alternatives.
So, what are the SharePoint alternatives out there?
There is a huge amount of choice when it comes to SharePoint alternatives. So many intranet companies have realized that despite its shortcomings, SharePoint is a serious competitor, and have upped their game. As a result, designing software that fully integrates Microsoft applications and supports the social features that are required for full employee adoption.
There are seven aspects to intranet software that should be weighed up in the lookout for alternatives to SharePoint. These are:
- News publishing
- User Experience
- Social and Knowledge Management
- Employee Services
Something that SharePoint struggles on is news management – and keeping a regular news site up on the intranet is important for large organizations. Communication sites not only need to operate well, but need to also integrate well with the intranet itself, being read and contributed to by not just internal comms, but the organization as a whole. News displays, with carousel features, small news displays, the ability to share, like and comment and the management of the story’s life cycle play a part too. If stories can be adjusted to fit the user, even better. Relevant content is key to keeping engagement levels up. Imagery is also an important feature of a social intranet, and image editors are getting more user-friendly.
SharePoint is well known to be fairly inflexible to redesign or branding. Where there might be the ability to alter the hue or implement an icon, some businesses want to really push their brands – and in the case of larger corporations – sub-brands across the organization and the intranet is one of the key platforms. Think about Innocent Smoothies owned by Coca-Cola and Body Shop by L’Oréal – two conglomerates with popular and distinct sub-brands. Intranet software companies are capitalizing on SharePoint’s shortfalls by creating user-friendly tools that allow workers outside of IT and design to drag and drop and change the page as to how they see fit.
Social and Knowledge Management
Microsoft options for social features on their software is notoriously messy. They’ve introduced Yammer, but with poor integration and changes in functionality, O365 is still behind on creating more engaging internal communications tools. When it comes to supporting social network activity, independent intranet companies are streets ahead. Developing features that underpin a healthy vibrant social environment is one of the big priorities for intranet managers, so many providers are moving away from Microsoft integration completely. Interact have gone one further by introducing an employee recognition system which serves to reward colleagues with virtual points (introduced as ‘donuts’ but businesses can decide what their reward tokens can be).
Search engines can differ massively from product to product, and while Microsoft has been championed for their search capabilities, many businesses which have incorporated SharePoint as an intranet have complained that the search function is lacking.
A good search capability is integral to an intranet becoming embraced by an organization. It’s the search function that creates order and allows users to find what they need quickly. Advanced intranet search will have a number of features including the type-ahead search and answers being provided rather than just links. These create an intuitive user experience which limits wasted time and frustrations from a poor search function.
Tracking the metrics for internal communications and intranet use is, of course, important. SharePoint’s tools are still notoriously very poor for this – which is where in-a-box intranets can really have the edge. Finding ways to track the publishing of content, social interaction and news are changing and it’s now common to chart demographic breakdowns for location, role or department.
With Interact, you have analytics to show you intranet usage. In the content section, you can see how many pages and blogs have created and published over the time period you selected, along with the average quality score. In the Profiles Section, you can see how many users, authors and team owners (if applicable) you have. In the Collaboration section, you can see an overview of the number of users using Interacts collaborative features such as the number of contributors, the number of posts on the timeline (microblog) and the number of different types of post in the forums. This is a better alternative to SharePoint’s analytics dashboard, which is comparatively primitive.
One of the intranet’s main roles is to help employees get things done. We see this in the automation and quick processing in booking holidays, meeting rooms and services, or requesting training sessions, one-to-one or time to work from home. Any procedure that was once done on spreadsheets or print-offs can be taken on my any modern intranet. SharePoint does well on this front, but then so do most other intranets.
While this is now becoming standard, its need mustn’t be understated. The time and money freed up is a valuable saving to the company. Interact’s Workflow and Forms competes well with Microsoft’s standard tools such as Forms, Flow and PowerApps to automate a number of procedures within the workplace.
Integration power in intranet software is increasingly important as Microsoft raises its game. While other intranet providers can produce tools that exceed those of Microsoft, competitors need to keep honing its integration power to keep up with developments in digital. Not only does Microsoft prove a challenge, but external tools can easily take over and monopolize the workplace.
So intranets have to be consistent with the entire Office 365 product and everything else outside of Planet Microsoft. Interact have ensured that they preserve access to other tools and also welcome Microsoft features.
Zack, Trello, Zendesk, Jira, ServiceNow, Salesforce, Google Calendar, and Tasks are some of the third-party applications that allow employees to use the tools they need to get work done.
These seven aspects of a modern, social intranet show how important it is for intranet software providers do not set themselves apart from Microsoft and SharePoint, but instead, create a product that allows them to use all the best bits of one and while creating an even better service for the user. SharePoint on its own does not provide a robust intranet – it needs the help of several other services to operate properly. Which is where an out-of-the-box intranet provides the best infrastructure – access but not reliance on Microsoft, and freedom to explore new developments in tech to provide a better experience for the user.
When looking into a new intranet project, ask yourself:
- What is the primary objective of the intranet? For example, is it to facilitate communication to and amongst employees, give employees access to documents, etc.
- How much of your workforce is desk-based, and how much are front line or in the field?
- Who will be the day-to-day owner of the intranet? For example, Comms, IT or HR
- How much time and money do you have to invest in an intranet and its upkeep?
- How available is training to your employees? Do you need something simple and intuitive, or can you invest the time in getting users up to speed and adopting the intranet?
- How important are regular new features and functionality?
- What other investments have you made in your digital workplace, and how are your users accessing and using these?
SharePoint has been around for years and will continue to be considered by organizations as a possible intranet solution. Indeed, with the right amount of time and resource available to build and – more importantly – maintain it, SharePoint can be used as an intranet platform. The question is whether you are willing and able to make that commitment.