O365 Architecting SharePoint – Connecting The Dots: Part I

Reflecting On The Problem

Our best intentions may be a combination of fun and frustration without the following:
– Knowledge: Thorough Awareness
– Skills: Trained Experience.
– Intelligence: Executed Application.
– Wisdom: Insightful Intelligence.

Knowledge is awareness of the dots
Skill is experience with the dots
Intelligence is applying the dots
Wisdom is connecting the dots

As a child, I always enjoyed the coloring books where the exercise of connecting the dots was required to fully understand the picture of the person, place or thing prior to performing the next and final step: coloring the picture! I think this is somewhat a lost art; and frankly, one that is simply missed during the typical SharePoint implementations.

What do I mean by that last statement?

Executive Strategy

The resource creating a measurable intranet strategy provides some great details towards ensuring the right things are being worked on for the right reasons by the right people with the right goals and smart objectives that align to the business strategy and value, etc.

I am often as guilty as the next person in my myopic perspective of blindly following the crowd more times than naught just because sometimes I get tired of being blindly hit in the face by the successive waves that often follow those that blaze the pioneering trails. As a friend of mine often stated, you can pick out the pioneers in company X because they are the ones with arrows in their a**. Blazing a trail is not easy and often goes against the tide; but, it is necessary.

I would have to say that in my consulting role, talking with the executives, major/minor stakeholders and various business entities is the easier part of the journey along with documenting the said results. The next phase is where the rubber hits the road and all hell breaks lose and the decision about what technology is needed to make this engine run and run well can be formidable.

Technology Choice

Microsoft has made the decision of deciding which technology to use for the enterprise intranet an easier task. There are numerous businesses that have chosen the Office 365 platform and then sided with SharePoint for their enterprise content management platform due to the integration points available. The integration tools start with the office tools but then quickly expand to about 20-30 additional apps depending on the E1 through E5 subscription level and licensing that was purchased from Microsoft.

So the tough part is no longer deciding how we are going to accomplish X, it is often simply a matter of subscribing to the level of Office 365 performance and support you want for your enterprise.

The Intranet Is A House

The next major hurdle that often trips up enterprises in the trek for the intranet nirvana is letting go of the old mindsets that have been established and embedded in the organization up to this point. The traditional SDLC model often required the very useful DEV, TEST, CAT, PROD but now this environmental structure has for the most part been relegated to the attic lined with moth balls. To be blunt here, EVERYTHING in Office 365 can be accomplished with simply a PROD environment when the “new” Configuration Model code named “OUT OF THE BOX” is enforced. What do I mean by that?

Microsoft did mountains of research and customer experience trials in its journey to the Office 365 nirvana. This means that Microsoft constructed Office 365 with its apps, configuration settings, environments, site collections, sub-sites, project sites, groups, communities, exchange, planning, yammer, etc. etc. to be the MOST FLEXIBLE for the broadest set of clients, businesses, enterprises, government entities, etc.

Let me dig into this analogy of the intranet being a house; especially, as it pertains to Office 365.

There is a reason why the TASKS app is a separate app within O365.
There is a reason why the PLANNING app is a separate app within O365.
There is a reason WHY every app that is within the Office 365 platform is separate for the same reason there are rooms in your home that are separate. Are you ready? They each have a unique purpose. BOOM! They each have a unique purpose. Too simple I know. Let it sink in.

Let’s think about this a bit more.

Let’s recap …
On the home page of your Office 365 intranet, I don’t want to see my inbox, my tasks, my calendar, my whatever …. in Office 365, IT DOES NOT BELONG THERE. That type of content living on the Home Page and in my face when my browser loads will NOT fulfill the greater strategy of Executive Leadership. It will not. Here’s why. Because the Strategic Vision of the Intranet (aka. what’s on the Home Page and the important Top-Level Navigation Links) as defined by the Executive Leadership should not be confined to my inbox, tasks and calendar.

“There had better be a larger vision for the Intranet Home Page than displaying my Inbox, Tasks and Calendar.”

Let me say that again.

“The content in my Inbox, Tasks and Calendar DO NOT belong on the Intranet Home Page.”

I have heard the arguments such as “we want our employees to understand what tasks they are to work on next, what their calendar looks like and how much time they have open between their various calendar events for each day” and that’s great. BUT here’s what’s wrong with that argument. In the context of Office 365, that information does not belong on the home page.

The HOME PAGE is for content that relates to the HOME PAGE.
Analogy: I park my car in my garage every night because that fulfills the purpose of the garage in the context of my relationship with my car. My car had better not be parked in the kitchen, the living room or the basement OR we have a big problem.

What Content Should Reside On The Intranet Home Page

The content to be managed by the Enterprise Site Owners and surfaced on the Home Page of the intranet should be used to inform, educate and engage the employees across the enterprise.

This is where Executive Leadership again says that “the intranet Home Page is about helping employees get work done.” The problem with that response is that the objectives around getting work done already exist with other apps within Office 365; such as Outlook Email, Tasks, Calendar, Projects, etc. The intranet Home Page is about “Informing, Educating and Engaging” the employees from the perspective of the Executive Leadership group.

From new employees to veteran employees, the intranet Home Page should be “the front door” to experiencing [your business] from the INSIDE. What does that look like?

  • an Enterprise environment with News, important projects, important deadlines, important events, important … etc.
  • a Top-Level Navigation that provides an intuitive flow through the proverbial aisles of those business groups, departments, etc. (navigation similar to the grocery store signs above each aisle)
  • a structure that resembles USA Today newspaper where the front page shows the Top Stories, Top Sports, Top Weather, Top etc. and employees can click on those articles of interest to navigate to the full article, related articles and the archive of articles, etc.
  • a series of links in the Footer and Header that highlight the most used links across the major areas of the company

Three C’s: Content, Clients and Context

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”

There are multiple levels to the intranet house. The simplistic version is this:

  • Enterprise level
    [Ownership: Executive Team and Corporate Entities]
  • Collaboration (Group, Community, Project, Event, Team)
    [Ownership: Site Owner]
  • Personal (My Site, Delve, One Drive)
    [Ownership: Employee]

Each environment has it’s purpose as well.

  • an overarching strategy of what goes in each, who can do what, etc.
  • an overarching governance plan for managing security/permissions
  • an overarching governance plan for managing branding
  • an overarching governance plan for managing features
  • an overarching governance plan for managing content
  • an overarching governance plan for managing communities
  • an overarching governance plan for managing records
  • an overarching governance plan for managing metadata
  • an overarching governance plan for managing external access
  • an overarching governance plan for managing visibility
  • an overarching governance plan for managing search

But What About Branding The Intranet

As the intranet does not need to be “sold” to the internal employees who will be using it day-in and day-out, branding can be synonymous with the broader external branding themes … but why go to all of the work internally for no additional value.

Value? What do I mean by that?

What happens if I don’t brand the internal intranet? Will employees leave? Will employees buy fewer products or more? Will employees feel better about working at the company or worse? Will colors make the difference between staying or leaving? Will branding make we work longer each day? Will branding the intranet reduce project cost? project hours? project paperwork? Will branding make me like what i do more? Will the intranet branding help me think more or less of [your business]? Will the intranet make me like Marlin or Jim more or less?

In my eyes, the answer to each of the prior questions is a resounding “no”. If no additional value is gained, then why do it! Why waste precious time, money and resources?

If you are thinking of branding the Intranet, my experience has resulting in 2 conclusions:

  • the color/style theme should be unique to the intranet; intentionally make it obvious to the employees that they are on the intranet versus the internet site
  • name the intranet so people can label it and refer to it (just “Google It”)

Stop Recreating The Wheel

I may have mentioned this before but I think it’s worth stating again. If an app within the Office 365 platform already exists, don’t recreate the app or duplicate its functionality in whole or in part within the Enterprise environment and especially NOT on the Home Page.

Worth repeating …

If an app within the Office 365 platform already exists, DO NOT recreate the app or duplicate its functionality in whole or in part within the Enterprise environment and especially DO NOT surface that content on the Home Page.

How Do We Get There; or, Are We In Kansas Yet !

Continue with Part II.





This entry was posted in Information Architecture, Office 365, SharePoint. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to O365 Architecting SharePoint – Connecting The Dots: Part I

  1. Pingback: O365 Architecting Sharepoint Connecting – The Dots: Part II | The SharePoint Effect

  2. Margaret Lim says:

    Excellent article, Kerry! Looking forward to Part 2.

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