Intranets, Collaboration and Site Templates….and Pizza

21 August 2017 | Chris Marshall

Why pizza?

Who doesn’t like pizza?!

Setting the scene

It’s Friday night, you’ve finished work for the week; a couple of beers down and you and some friends decide to head out and grab a pizza. At the pizza restaurant, the waiter greets you with a smile and tells you all to follow him. However, he walks right past all the tables and leads you into the kitchen.

Confused, you explain that you are just wanting a few pizzas to share with your friends. Instead, you find yourself looking at various ingredients such as dough, cheese, sauces, pepperoni and pineapple, as well as the tools used to make the pizza, such as the mixing bowls, oven and pizza cutters. There are also some pizzas that look nearly ready, but you can’t quite tell.

Finally, the waiter gives you a recipe book and asks you to pick out the pizzas you’d like. You pick the Hawaiian pizza, only to be told that this is an old recipe and no longer available. Getting frustrated, you continue to browse…

Eating or making the pizza?

Publishing vs Collaboration

We need to think of publishing and collaboration spaces in a similar way to the pizza scenario.  A collaboration space is like a pizza kitchen – it contains all the ingredients and tools which help make the final product – the pizza.

The pizza slices are the end product which are consumed by the customers in the main restaurant (i.e. Fresh Intranet). The reason we have the main restaurant is that it draws a clear line between where the pizza should be eaten and the making of the pizza; in the same way a Fresh Intranet environment is separate from a collaboration site.

It’s straightforward to understand this in something we can all relate to such as making and eating a pizza. However, with collaboration, time and time again, companies get the distinction between these two things wrong. Getting this right will lead to the following benefits:

  • Employees are able to find the right information quickly and more easily.
  • There is reduced risk of people making decisions based on outdated information or sources that are misleading when taken out of context.
  • Drive the right employee behaviours when people are choosing the most appropriate place to consume and store their information.
  • A customer enjoying a perfectly made pizza slice which was exactly what they ordered.

Fresh Intranet is a great solution that provides users with clarity regarding the distinction between the restaurant and the kitchen. Built on SharePoint Online and integrating with Office 365, Fresh Intranet joins the gap between publishing and collaboration by targeting and surfacing relevant content and communications to the end user. It’s kind of like going to a one stop restaurant for everything!

But let’s talk a little more around collaboration. Where do the ingredients for the pizzas, the tools to make the pizzas and the pizza boxes fit in? The answer is in using site templates.

Which Pizza to have?

Different site templates for collaboration

Imagine if we only had one type of pizza in the world and every restaurant sold the same pizza made in the same way. It’s unlikely that it will suit everyone. Think of a site template as a type of pizza – Hawaiian, Margarita, Meat Lovers… You name it. These could be thought of as ‘Project Site pizzas’, ‘Contracts Site pizzas’ and ‘Team Site pizzas’. We can order multiple Hawaiian pizzas just like we can create multiple Project Sites.

Each of these pizza types have different ingredients and are made using different tools which can be likened to different items within the collaboration site. For example, a Project Site always has tasks within a task list and calendar events in a calendar, whereas a contracts site has documents in specific document libraries with workflow and permissions. The possibilities here are endless and will vary based on individual business requirements.

Like always though, people can be fussy – and this is fine, to a point! Maybe one person decides they like chilli sauce on their Hawaiian Pizza; it’s still a Hawaiian Pizza at heart, but now it suits them. This principle can again also be applied to an instance of a collaboration site. Project Site x decides that they also need a list to manage risks so they add this, even though none of the other Project Sites have this. Everyone else might later decide this chilli sauce (risk management list) is actually a great idea, so the Hawaiian pizza recipe can be updated, changing the pizza (template) at its sauce (sorry!).

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a pizza without it being placed in a pizza box. Let’s assume that all pizza boxes contain information about their contents. With custom SharePoint templates, we can stamp the pizza box with this information. This allows us to capture specific site information such as the type of site (type of pizza), together with core information such as its owner, status etc (the pizzas ingredients). Doing this ensures clear governance, access control and overall consistency within the restaurant. It also allows us to search across all templated sites and surface relevant information to end users within Fresh.

But how do I order my pizza?

Site provisioning and self service

This depends on where you are ordering from and the restaurant’s preferences and requirements. You might call, order through the waiter, or the restaurant might have a self-service area. With SharePoint site templates, calling the waiter represents requesting a site manually, which in turn will kick off a business process ultimately leading to IT provisioning a site for you with the requested template.

These days companies are more and more turning towards self-service models where users can request a type of site (e.g. Project Site) through a form/area which is easily found within Fresh. This starts an automated workflow for approval based on the information given and when accepted, is queued for automatic creation. This reduces any bottle necks, whilst maintaining governance and an audit trail. We implement this using Microsoft’s Patterns and Practices templating.

Can I share my pizza?

External sharing

Sometimes pizza orders are complex and the chefs need help making a pizza. They have friends working in other restaurants who they invite to bring ideas and ingredients to the table. They only want them to help with this specific pizza though, so they have a special area in the kitchen for doing this work.

SharePoint sites can be configured in a similar way. This can be especially useful when collaborating with a customer or client, but you only want them to access particular areas. Using the provisioning method outlined above, we can configure individual sites and areas within these to only share and collaborate with the people we require.

Summary

So, when your organisation is discussing how best to collaborate and publish content, order a round of pizzas and remember:

  • Restaurant = Fresh Intranet/publishing site
  • Kitchen = Area where people (internal/external) collaborate across multiple sites
  • Pizza recipe = Site template
  • Ingredients = Information and content
  • Tools = SharePoint functionality (i.e. lists and libraries)
  • Pizza = A single collaboration site with a template
  • Pizza slice = Published content.

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