The cloud world is ever-changing and creates a demand for intranet to not just be a content management solution, but an all-round digital workplace. SharePoint is one of the most popular platforms used today, but there are many options you can choose from. Which one to choose to create a good intranet or digital workplace? Whatever your requirements, there is a SharePoint option for you!
I’ve been working with SharePoint since 2007, and I’ve witnessed its evolution over these years. I saw this software boom – where every customer wanted a SharePoint solution. I answered many customer questions, like “Does SharePoint have a nice picture gallery in the new version?” (you can guess the answer ?).
Microsoft has also made me learn a new development model with each SharePoint version. We had Solutions, Sandbox Solutions, Apps, and now the SharePoint Framework. But there is one good thing! After a couple of years, SharePoint is becoming sexy again.
But, especially in a constantly changing and evergreen cloud world, one question arises. How to create a good intranet or digital workplace? Which SharePoint options to use, how to provide the best user experience with good solution maintainability for the future?
In my opinion, there are three main options right now for creating an intranet solution using SharePoint. The choice determines which features will be used, what will the user experience be and what customization options will be available. The first option is using SharePoint Publishing.
What are the best SharePoint solutions for creating a digital workplace?
SharePoint Publishing is a set of features that enable creating, managing and displaying content – especially in the form of content pages. Some out-of-the-box components such as Page Layouts, Cross-site publishing, Content and Search Query WebParts, give creators a great flexibility for creating, styling and managing large, enterprise-scale portals. If you already have SharePoint-based intranet, it’s almost certainly done with Publishing features.
Using Publishing has its advantages:
There are however some disadvantages to this solution:
As you can see – Microsoft didn’t improve Publishing, and resources for developing SharePoint are allocated to different feature sets – mainly cloud. When you are planning a large corporate portal, you should consider different approaches described below. But, when you need a small SharePoint-based portal with a custom look and feel and have a limited budget, you should consider this option.
SharePoint is implemented using fairly old technology – ASP.Net Forms. It makes it harder and harder to create modern applications with a nice user experience. That is why Microsoft created Modern Sites and SharePoint Framework.
To keep it simple – Modern Sites is the new user interface for SharePoint. It’s modern, it looks good, it’s mobile-friendly, it’s responsive, it works fast – and it’s incomplete. Microsoft has been working on it for quite some time and what we have now is just a basic version.
SharePoint Framework is a new, modern, development model for SharePoint. It allows using all new front-end frameworks such as React, but similarly to Modern sites – I would like to see a quicker progress in its development. Now you can only implement basic scenarios within the SP Framework.
Using this framework provides a number of benefits:
Figure 1. Page designer in Modern Sites allows for easy creation of RWD-friendly pages
Modern Sites are not without their problems:
When to use
With Modern Sites and SP Framework, SharePoint became sexy again! End user reactions are very positive when they see it. For now I would recommend using it in two scenarios:
Figure 2. Default user experience of Modern Site – mobile-friendly out of the box
With SharePoint Server 2013, Microsoft introduced the SharePoint Add-In development model. It works very similarly to how mobile applications work. During installation, the Add-in asks for specific permission to your SharePoint environment – for example creating sites, reading and writing documents and reading user profiles. Just like a mobile application asks for permission to access camera or microphone. It addresses a very important issue administrators have with SharePoint Solutions – they don’t really know what the code will do with the SharePoint Farm.
SharePoint Add-in has a number of useful features:
Here are some problems with the SharePoint Add-in:
When to use
I strongly believe in Add-In’s future. Even Microsoft delivers features in a similar model – look at Office 365 Video Portal, Planner or Delve. All these tools have a custom UI and use SharePoint or other services as a backend, delivering great user experience. If you have a corporate portal project, you should go with the SharePoint Add-in, and I believe you won’t regret it.
As a summary – I would like you to remember just two things.
First – there are three main ways of delivering intranet in SharePoint. If you’re planning a large project that will require long-term maintenance and development – you should only consider Modern Sites or SharePoint Add-ins.
Second – if you are about to start a project, especially if you are willing to buy it as an IT service from a consulting company like Predica, be sure to understand the models different vendors are proposing. It will be crucial for user experience, cost of maintenance and future upgrades to your solution.
And finally, if you need further information or would like to discuss your requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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