Resources to help you modernize your SharePoint intranet

Thinking about converting your classic SharePoint intranet to modern? Use these great recent resources to guide and inspire your planning.

Resources to help you modernize your SharePoint intranet
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Based on the exciting changes that are rolling out for modern SharePoint, I think 2019 is going to be the “year of modern” for SharePoint intranets. Within the next few months, most of the key barriers to “going modern” will have been removed the point where many more organizations will jump in. There are still a few big rocks that I know several of my clients are waiting for — including the ability to easily schedule the publishing of pages, multi-lingual sites, and audience targeting in navigation — but we know these are either planned or top of mind for 2019. (See my summary of all the roadmap slides from Ignite 2018.)

If you are thinking about redesigning your intranet — either as you plan your move to modern, you move to the cloud, or if you just want to “hit refresh” on your aging user experience, it’s helpful to see what others have done, along with what is technically possible.

Below are some great resources to guide and inspire your planning efforts. Keep in mind that just because something is relevant for one of the organizations featured in these "top intranet" lists, it doesn’t make it relevant for your organization. The features you need are the ones that drive value for your organization and your users. That said, these are all incredibly helpful resources to guide your approach, get ideas, and benchmark.

Intranet Design Annual 2019 from Nielsen Norman Group

Each January, I look forward to the announcement from Nielsen Norman Group of the Intranet Design Annual. The Intranet Design Annual presents the “The Year’s 10 Best Intranets.” It’s a bit of a misnomer because entries for this award are submitted in May of the previous year, so the winners announced in early January are really the 10 best intranets submitted as of May of the previous year.

The report year notwithstanding, the Intranet Design Annual 2019 includes 690 pages of analysis, summaries, screenshots, explanations of screenshots, and detailed information about the 10 winning intranet design projects, including extremely valuable information about team size and composition, as well as launch and adoption strategies. The report also includes helpful guidance and best practices about intranet planning.

Since I’m “all SharePoint all the time,” the first thing I look for each year is how many solutions are based on SharePoint. This year, it’s six-ish. The “ish” is because two of the solutions leverage SharePoint for collaboration, but the intranet pages are not SharePoint-based. At least one winner leveraged an “intranet-in-a-box” solution reviewed in the ClearBox report discussed below. None of the 2019 winners leverage modern SharePoint — they are all based on the classic SharePoint experience. (I am aware of at least two companies that submitted their modern SharePoint intranets for the NN Group award, but neither made it to the top 10.) It’s exciting to me that all but one of the SharePoint-based winners are cloud-based — a big win for Office 365. It would be great if an intranet based on modern SharePoint wins for 2020.

In addition to looking for SharePoint solutions, I’m also interested in navigation approaches. About half of this year’s winners leverage mega-menus as part of their global navigation. Mega-menu navigation was one of the Ignite promises that I am most looking forward to seeing.

Intranet and Digital Workplace Showcase from Step Two

For the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to judge the Step Two Intranet and Digital Workplace innovation awards. Like the NN Group award, the Step Two submissions were submitted in May of 2018. Judging happened early in the summer of 2018, and the winners were announced this past September. The full 2018 Intranet and Digital Workplace Showcase is available from Step Two.

The Step Two report winners include solutions that cover a broader scope than just intranets. Like the Intranet Design Annual, the Showcase includes screenshots and detailed overviews of the winners, key lessons learned, and adoption and governance strategies, as well as a summary of the feedback from the award judges.

My favorite entry this year was an incredible digital assistant solution from Liberty Mutual. This solution complements Liberty Mutual’s intranet and intelligently manages employees’ to-dos, notifications, approvals, workflows, messaging, social collaboration tools and more — based on each employee’s personal needs, as well as personas defined by role, department, and location. Usually, I’m the queen of snarky comments when I review submissions. However, I was quite literally gushing about the Liberty Mutual entry. There were some other entries I really loved, too, including an especially engaging video about information security created by the team at Scottish Water that was one of several very clever training and adoption strategies featured in this entry.

SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box Report from ClearBox Consulting

Are you looking to quickly get an intranet deployed and interested in a turnkey solution based on SharePoint? If so, the first thing you should do is invest in the 2019 edition of the SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box Report from ClearBox Consulting. This comprehensive resource provides fantastic advice about choosing both a product and a vendor. The team at ClearBox not only gathered data about each available solution from multiple sources, but they also had each vendor provide a live demo — so they did not just rely on marketing blah-blah to make their evaluations. They also talked to customers to get “voice of the customer” feedback.

The evaluation methodology used for the report is outstanding. Instead of scoring each vendor against each other or using a “weight and score” approach, the team at ClearBox came up with a set of representative criteria against which to evaluate each product. The criteria included important intranet capabilities, such as news publishing, user experience, social and knowledge management, search, analytics, employee services, integration, and a category they call wildcard. The wildcard category allowed the vendors to showcase an area of strength that may not have been covered elsewhere in the criteria. The selection of the criteria to evaluate focused only on areas where SharePoint out-of-the-box has gaps, which allowed them to focus on features that might help you fill gaps you may identify as you determine the features and capabilities that are important to your organization.

Each vendor was evaluated objectively against the criteria with essentially a 0 to 4 dots scale (with partial credit in some cases). Vendors received 4 dots if the product performs the scenario exceptionally well and only 1 if the product offers very few enhancements over standard SharePoint. As a result, multiple products got exactly the same “score” if they fulfilled the criteria to the same degree, even if their approach is different. This methodology for evaluation allows you, the decision maker, to determine the importance of each criteria for your organization to make the right choice for your business needs.

I am impressed with much more than just the evaluation methodology used for the report and the comprehensive content. I also appreciate the hyperlinks helpful resources that are sprinkled throughout the report. The report, which includes full reviews of 39 solutions and short product listings for an additional 17, is an incredible value. Sam Marshall and his team have done a lot of your research for you, and this report will save you hours and hours of effort if your next intranet might be coming in a box.

SharePoint in Office 365 Lookbook

At Ignite in September 2018, Microsoft shared some aspirational examples of what a modern intranet based on SharePoint in Office 365 could look like. Some of the capabilities were available at the time, but many examples featured upcoming capabilities that were announced at Ignite but not yet ready for “prime time.” A month or so later, Microsoft released a showcase document that included screenshots of the examples featured at Ignite, along with explanations of which web parts and features were used in each example.

You can download this useful “lookbook” at Some of the featured capabilities — such as background shading on page sections and the countdown web part — have started to roll out, but not necessarily to all tenants or all users. (For example, I have background shading and news pinning only in my Targeted Release tenant, but I have the countdown web part only in tenants where I’m a Targeted Release user in a regular release tenant. Go figure.) Even if we’re still waiting for some of the features to roll out everywhere, this is still a great resource to use for inspiration and a glimpse at what features are coming soon or soon-ish.

Happy New Year, and Happy New Intranet!

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