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Engineering A Better Digital Workplace with SharePoint Online OOTB

April 25, 2023
5 min read
Engineering A Better Digital Workplace with SharePoint Online OOTB
Case Study Details
Org Size: 500-999

Our client is an employee-owned and fully integrated Architecture and Engineering firm backed by 800 professionals across the globe. The company has been building on its solid reputation for more than 80 years to advance design through sustainable stewardship, diversity of people, the power of technology, and the pursuit of excellence for the built environment.

The Business Challenge

At the time, their current Intranet solution was based on a classic SharePoint-based experience designed in 2016. This experience has not aged well from a technical standpoint and cannot keep pace with the expectations of a fully featured modern digital workplace. Specifically, the team often struggles with the adverse effects of ongoing updates (broken design pages, calendar time conversion, file properties, filters, etc.), which typically initiates a cascade of events culminating in the need for classic support (which is rare to find today as this is a legacy workload). This less-than-desirable situation resulted in a constrained technological environment for the client's intranet team. In consequence, the reactive stance required to maintain the aged Intranet had significantly limited the team's ability to invest and innovate to keep pace with modern features and functionality and is therefore no longer fit for purpose.

The modern capabilities of SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365 have continued to evolve and improve since the design phase of 2016. This has led to significant innovation available that needs to be utilized more. At the time, they leverage a third-party solution that provides additional Intranet functionality. While it offered a modern set of capabilities, it was not clear what modern OOTB (out of the box) Intranet capabilities from Microsoft may displace the need for a third-party solution in the near and distant future.

Starting Fresh with A Strong SharePoint Online Foundation

While their third-party application offered a modernized solution, the first step was to modernize their old Intranet's classic sites, pages, and experiences into SPO OOTB capabilities to maximize the value their Microsoft 365 investment provides. We proposed updating their Intranet with an implementation that maximizes out-of-the-box SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365 capabilities.

To ensure long-term success, we believed it was imperative to go back to basics and reestablish a strong foundation. This approach will minimize disruption so you can assume a proactive and productive stance with respect to maintaining their digital workplace. As Microsoft updates the platform further, the client will be empowered to leverage those improvements.

The proposed OOTB solution was designed based on the concept of needing to evolve iteratively over time. It was made clear from the outset that this engagement should only attempt to deliver some functionality that may be desired all at once. Instead, we recommended identifying the core needs for a foundational intranet and launching that to users for feedback before iterating on the original solution. This was particularly important given the time constraint of a 4-month delivery requirement due to product license expiration. Specifically, aesthetic branded elements currently enjoyed within the current state may not be prioritized within the first release of this solution; however, this can and should be readdressed in subsequent iterations and has been acknowledged by the customer as secondary to functionality.

SharePoint Community Page Layout
SharePoint Community Page Layout

This delivery model was aligned with industry best practices and an "evergreen" cloud model, which focused on successful adoption and enablement in a manageable and measured approach. In the process, the engagement served to onboard the Core Intranet team to an Intranet Framework based on industry best practices and internal learnings refined over countless digital workplace design initiatives. 

The overall objectives of the proposed solution were to ensure the following:

  • Deliver a foundational SharePoint Online intranet within 4 months of the project kick-off.
  • Needs assessed and used to contextualize recommendations and guidance through the creation of a Program Roadmap and related Product Backlog documentation.
  • Education of modern core concepts such as information architecture, navigation, and search within the context of an intranet within the Microsoft365 ecosystem.
  • Creation of relevant documentation that details the appearance, behavior, and architecture of the proposed solution.
  • Design and deploy a foundational SharePoint Online intranet that aligns with best practices and the customer's immediate needs.
  • Enable the Core Intranet Team to populate, configure, maintain, and expand upon the Intranet going.
  • Educate on how to design, build, and deploy solutions within Microsoft 365.
  • Support Core Intranet Team in migration and pre-launch/go-live activities.
SharePoint Online Personalized Home Page, Shared Service/Division Department Page, and Community Page Layouts
SharePoint Online Personalized Home Page, Shared Service/Division Department Page, and Community Page Layouts

Scope for migration activities as soon as possible

Typically, an intranet project should be scoped to include a staging phase after deployment to the customer's production environment, which allows the intranet team and extended team to populate the Intranet via migration and net new content creation prior to launch. Given the expedited nature of this project, however, we had a 6-week window to accomplish an entire lift and shift. While their team was successful in accomplishing this goal, there are clear lessons to be learned when faced with this type of time crunch with any customer:

  1. Begin migration conversations as soon as possible – ideally when the site topography and architecture are confirmed.
  2. Evaluate which migration tools are viable given time, budget, and technical restraints; however, be open to a manual migration as the optimal approach.
  3. If the migration effort is too great, be pragmatic. Manage the expectations of both stakeholders and end users by utilizing a phased approach for launch. Prioritize the content that is a 'must have' for launch and then batch the rest of the content that will be migrated thereafter. For example:
  • Phase 1 (Launch) – Content ready for the home site, news pages, and events.
  • Phase 2 (2 weeks after launch) – Departmental sites.
  • Phase 3 (4 weeks after launch) – Office sites and remaining sites etc.

Pay particular attention to the News publication patterns

Creating a simple news publication process is typically insufficient when modernizing a classic SharePoint intranet. Their Intranet was certainly no exception! There will likely be required metadata to organize and categorize news pages, like news types, departments, and archived content kept for posterity.

  • Review the existing metadata to understand the use/purpose of each.
  • Remove those that are redundant and/or automatically managed in modern SharePoint sites, like creation date or archived date.
  • Remove those that were created as 'work arounds' that are no longer applicable, eg. 'Promote to spotlight.'
  • Review the remaining metadata to ensure the purpose for each is clear and purposeful –keep it simple!
  • Confirm how older news pages should be handled/displayed. Given that their Intranet has been well-established for several years, there was a substantial amount of news pages to be migrated. We concluded that an 'archive' should be created to ensure that news can still be searchable for posterity but not included within the general news area for regular consumption.
  • Overengineering news publications can quickly get complicated, particularly when dealing with the limited feature set of the News web part. Be sure to call out a complicated publication process early in the design phase and explore options to either reduce complexity or review custom options like PnP Search v4 to meet the customer's requirements.
SharePoint Online Personalized Home Page
SharePoint Online Personalized Home Page

What's next for our client and 2toLead?

While it may be easy to assume that our work is done, our journey has only begun. Our client successfully launched their new Intranet on October 26th, 2022. We continue our partnership through planning and prioritizing opportunities for further investment in the Intranet and the broader Microsoft 365 digital workplace.

Why it matters and how 2toLead can help

Building experiences that ensure employees have access to a well-designed modern SharePoint Online intranet in 4 months is no small feat. It is a true testament to the sustained importance and relevance of the Intranet within the enterprise.

We have been fortunate to develop deep expertise in creating employee digital experiences that lead to real change in organizations. It is our passion.

If you are interested in working together to build a new modern intranet experience for your company, talk to us. We would love to help you with your journey.

Case Study Details
Org Size: 500-999

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