Considering using SharePoint as your intranet? Here’s what you need to know

SharePoint has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and there’s no doubt that it’s better than ever. With SharePoint’s recent innovations, it’s now easy to setup, publish, and manage content for basic intranet use. However, challenges can arise at different times during its use.

Short-term, SharePoint requires you to either fall in step with how it works today or head down the customisations route.

Accepting the available options and configurations, many of which are technical and require good IT support and privileged access to the Microsoft 365 admin centres, can feel constraining.

Opting for customisations also means finding trustworthy and commercially savvy developers who won’t saddle you with risk.

Long-term, challenges in SharePoint can ironically be caused by a successful platform. Without management and governance in place, SharePoint intranets can turn into an unmanageable sprawl, making it difficult for end users to navigate and find things, and hard for IT to maintain.

Tracking and reporting on your data or identifying who’s got permissions, also requires you to dip your toe into more complex Microsoft 365 management and admin, which becomes a challenge for both Comms and IT.

For those working in Comms, who are already familiar with third party SaaS intranet products, or those new to SharePoint, they may become dependent on IT for support and ultimately lack the autonomy they are used to.

For the uninitiated in-house IT, who will inevitably need to customise and extend the platform, they can quickly become overwhelmed.

We’re great advocates of SharePoint. Yet for all its strengths, there are some weak spots, that if you go it alone and rely solely on native SharePoint functionality, you’ll come up against its limitations, which can be highly constraining.

That’s why we believe in the benefits of SharePoint combined with Fresh, an intranet built on Microsoft 365. Our intranet solution takes the best of SharePoint and supplements it with a strong offer right inside the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

Limitations of SharePoint

Let’s take a look at some of the limitations of SharePoint and how Fresh solves these for you.

On-going Microsoft innovation

One of the biggest challenges for IT in any business is not knowing Microsoft 365’s development priorities for SharePoint. Employees are always demanding new services, and if there are tools you need that Microsoft doesn’t currently offer, you’ll have to raise a ticket and ask them for help.

With the best will in the world, it’s pretty hard for Microsoft to respond to every request. So, at this stage, you’ll need to enlist a third-party provider to build something for you, which takes your risk profile from very low to very high in one fell swoop.

If you opt for working with a third-party provider, building a SharePoint component from scratch is not easy to do on its own especially when you also have to factor in things like:

  • Testing on all browsers
  • Checking and validating whether your component meets WCAG standards for accessibility
  • Ensuring it’s built to meet information security standards
  • Whether it also works in the SharePoint app + Viva Connections
  • If it provides a good user experience

This adds additional layers of effort and complexity that those lacking experience in building will not factor in until often it’s too late. With Fresh you get the ongoing Microsoft roadmaps, plus all the benefits of the great innovation that’s happening in our product team.

“Fresh expands SharePoint’s capabilities while keeping the benefits. If you need more power, then Fresh’s SharePoint add-on products will greatly enhance the functionality whilst keeping the appeal of single search, integration with Teams and Viva Connections.” Clearbox 2023

For example, we’re currently working on incorporating our generative AI tool FreshMind, taking the best of Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service and wrapping it into our product. You’ll also benefit from best practice we’ve gained from our hands-on experience working with hundreds of customers.

Scenario based integrations with M365

Another challenge with using native SharePoint is when you want to integrate it into other Microsoft 365 tools. If you want advanced digital workplace capabilities, it’s possible to do, but you’ve got to do the customisations yourself.

Take ‘People Search’ as an example. There’s no comprehensive or powerful search function in native SharePoint Online. If you need that capability in your intranet, you’ve got to build it yourself or commission a third party to build one for you.

We know that ‘People Search’ is one of the most frequently asked for requirements when clients first engage with us. So, with Fresh, this simple but valuable tool, comes as standard.

Scenario based third party integrations

Everyone wants a joined up digital workplace. But in order to provide a smooth employee experience, your intranet needs to be hooked up to various third-party integrations.

Yet, native SharePoint doesn’t offer this functionality. Nor is it likely to be part of the offering further down the line either. So, again you have to build this yourself.

Microsoft 365 has numerous methods, frameworks, and toolkits for integrating with third party tools and services, including Power Apps, Power Automate, and several connectors to a range of third-party apps. The challenge is that it requires you to gather the requirements, scenarios, and make decisions about which route is best in your world.

You’ll immediately need the third-party help to do this. You may have an in-house SharePoint expert in who’s excited about building one for you. But how long will they be in your team? And will they have the time to maintain it? Taking the DIY approach means you’re introducing unnecessary risk to your tenant.

With Fresh, third-party integrations are part of our offering. We’re working with hundreds of organisations providing both complete features covering scenarios or guidance on the best route to take.

Advanced intranet functionality

Searching for content can be troublesome in native SharePoint. As we said before, the sprawl is real. Although Microsoft 365’s search is highly advanced, it’s primarily designed to cater for enterprise search e.g., everything and any integrations across the full product suite.

The problem lies in constraining search to just the content in your intranet, which ultimately leaves users overwhelmed by irrelevant search results. So, if you want your users to be able to search for just published intranet content, you’ll need to customize the platform yourself or ask a third-party to help you.

Audience targeting can also be a challenge. If you have Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) groups set up for audience targeting or an IT department willing to work with you on designing this, then great, otherwise this is going to be tough.

Using native SharePoint means you’ve got to use Azure AD groups to do it. But show me an already stretched internal comms person who actually understands how to use Azure AD and I’ll give you a prize.

If there is one, the chances of them having worked with IT to ensure that the Azure AD groups represent how they would like to target content, is one in a million.

This is why SharePoint gets a bad rep in the internal comms community – the amount of technical complexity needed to understand how to create an experience makes it too hard to use!

Enter Fresh. We’ve done all the thinking for you. Fresh solves common intranet and employee experience scenarios by bundling Microsoft 365 services with specific SharePoint friendly customisations.

“Fresh is the gateway to everything that our colleagues need each day to get their work done and stay up to date. For many of our associates it is already their go-to resource and that’s exactly what we want to see. I don’t know how we would connect without this platform. Already it is overtaking email as the primary source of information sharing.” Colleen Labik, Sr. Supervisor of Internal Communications and Engagement, Wawa

6 reasons to choose Fresh over SharePoint as your intranet

While Microsoft 365 licenses are still required for all employees, Fresh closes the gap between the native SharePoint experience and that of third party hosted intranet solutions.

So, if you’ve a strong desire to align with Microsoft’s vision and want to minimise your IT risk, choose Fresh Intranet.

“Fresh will appeal to organisations that follow Microsoft’s roadmap closely and want to benefit from their investment into Microsoft 365 licenses.” Clearbox 2023.

Built, delivered, and supported by Advania UK, a Microsoft Solution Provider, and its partners, we’re here to help you create beautiful, personalised intranets that empower your people to do their best work.

Here’s why we think you should choose Fresh:

  1. We live and breathe intranets
    Fresh is built with the intranet use case in mind. We think of intranets not from the feature angle but from the intranet scenarios (e.g., departments, comms, and people search), enabling us to help you focus on problem-solving over technical hurdles.
  2. Always aligned with Microsoft
    We align our roadmap plans with Microsoft 365, surpassing feature parity and seamlessly integrating with its evolving technology trends. We manage the evergreen risk allowing you to focus on your needs rather than trying to keep up with Microsoft.
  3. Budget-friendly efficiency
    While Fresh Intranet comes with an additional cost on top of Microsoft 365 licenses, you keep all Microsoft 365 benefits in place whilst benefiting from cost-efficiency, saving you time and effort in custom development as well as through productivity gains.
  4. Optimized User Experience and flexibility
    Fresh adds an extra layer of flexibility and customisation for all that you ever wished in your intranet. Choose from more than 50 SharePoint web parts and Viva Connections cards to build your intranet. We emphasize inclusivity by designing our product with accessibility at its core.
  5. Faster deployment and time-to-value
    Speed up your intranet launch using pre-built Fresh Intranet features and scenarios, accelerating your time-to-value.
  6. Always-on support & upgrades
    Benefit from continuous support, updates, and improvements to keep your intranet up to date. As our customer, we’ll listen to your feedback to enhance Fresh Intranet’s features. Unlike relying solely on enhancements from Microsoft, Fresh gives you a chance to see your requests come to life.

Ask one of our friendly team for a demo and see for yourself how Fresh compares to SharePoint.