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SharePoint vs Intranet: What's Best for Your Business?

14 Feb 2024

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How do you keep everyone in your organisation not just connected but actively engaged and moving in unison towards common goals when they're working across various locations?

The answer lies in enterprise intranets. This digital backbone does more than just store files; it's where collaboration happens, information and resources are found, and a vibrant company culture takes root.

The debate often circles around SharePoint vs Intranets. That is, choosing between SharePoint, renowned for its deep customisation and seamless integration, and a variety of independent intranets, each with their own set of advantages tailored to different organisational needs.

What is SharePoint?

Diving straight into the nitty-gritty, SharePoint is a platform many of you are familiar with.  

At its core, SharePoint is engineered to enhance collaboration, streamline document management, and consolidate content into a centralised, accessible location.

This platform empowers users to create sites that can be used as a secure place to store, organise, share, and access information from any device, provided there is web access.

Advantages of SharePoint

There are several advantages of using SharePoint as your intranet.

Integration

First off, SharePoint plays really well with the rest of the Microsoft family. It streamlines how your team collaborates and manages content, all while keeping the user experience smooth and familiar.

Customisation

Whether you’re after a bespoke intranet site or a complex document management system, SharePoint can be customised to your needs.

Collaboration

At its heart, SharePoint is all about bringing people together. It’s the place where documents live and breathe, accessible and up-to-date for whoever needs them, whenever they need them.

What is an Independent Intranet?

So, what is an intranet? An intranet is an internal site to foster communication, collaboration, and information sharing among employees. It serves as the digital foundation of a company’s internal communications, knowledge and tools, providing a centralised portal where staff can access company news, resources, department-specific information, and tools necessary for their daily operations.

An effective intranet is user-friendly and accessible across devices, ensuring employees have the information they need when they need it, thus supporting a more informed, engaged, and productive workforce.

Central to its purpose, an intranet enhances organisational efficiency by improving business processes and enabling easy access to company documents, policies, and guidelines. It fosters a culture of collaboration by offering integrated communication tools such as forums, chat functions, and social media features, which encourage interaction and teamwork among employees, irrespective of their geographical locations.

Modern intranets offer the above functionality, as well as a range of additional tools such as Learning Management Systems and onboarding hubs out-of-the-box. However, they are also highly customisable and scalable, allowing organisations to tailor the platform to their specific needs and objectives.

Key Differences Between SharePoint and Intranets

When comparing SharePoint to independent intranets, there are key differences that you can often find.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Some independent intranets often adopt a model of unlimited user licensing, which is a significant advantage for organisations aiming to include every employee in the digital workplace. This model allows accounts to be created directly in the platform, ensuring that all employees, including those without a company email address or specific software licenses, can gain access. This inclusivity is crucial for organisations with a diverse workforce, including part-time workers, contractors, or those in roles not traditionally desk-based, ensuring that everyone is connected and has access to the same resources and information.

Contrastingly, access to SharePoint is tied to having a Microsoft 365 account. This dependency can create barriers to full participation for employees who are not equipped with such accounts, potentially leading to a fragmented internal communication landscape where some team members are less informed or engaged than others. For organisations where a Microsoft 365 subscription for every employee is not viable due to cost or policy, this could significantly limit the effectiveness of SharePoint as a comprehensive intranet solution.

Customisation vs. Configuration

In order for SharePoint to be used as a true intranet, it requires customisation. The good news is that SharePoint offers extensive customisation options, which can be both a strength and a complexity, depending on the organisation's resources and expertise.  

Independent intranets typically come out-of-the-box with the functionality that is required of an intranet and can be deployed once branding and content has been added. Similarly to SharePoint, independent intranets can also be customised further to meet the distinct needs of organisations.

Integration with Microsoft Ecosystem

SharePoint is tightly integrated with the Microsoft 365 suite, providing a seamless experience for organisations already embedded in Microsoft's ecosystem. This integration includes out-of-the-box functionalities for collaboration, document management, and communication.

While this is a clear advantage for SharePoint, independent intranets are not without their strengths in this area.

Many independent platforms offer robust integration capabilities with SharePoint, as well as with a broader range of business tools and software, not limited to Microsoft products. This flexibility can be advantageous for organisations seeking to maintain a diverse digital toolset.

Deployment and Scalability

SharePoint can be deployed either as an on-premises solution or via the cloud with SharePoint Online. This flexibility supports organisations with specific compliance or data sovereignty requirements. Scaling a SharePoint environment, particularly on-premises, will require additional cost and complexity.

Independent intranets, especially those designed with cloud-first approaches, often provide more straightforward scalability options. These platforms are designed to grow with the organisation, ensuring that increasing user numbers or content volume doesn't degrade performance or user experience.

User Experience and Adoption

The success of any intranet depends heavily on user adoption, which is directly influenced by the platform's user experience (UX). SharePoint's UX can vary widely depending on how it is customised and deployed.

In contrast, independent intranets often focus on delivering a consistent, intuitive user experience out-of-the-box. This focus on UX can lead to higher adoption rates, as users find the platform easier to navigate and use for their daily tasks.

Challenges of Using SharePoint as an Intranet

While SharePoint offers a comprehensive platform for intranet development, it's not without its challenges.

When considering whether SharePoint is right for you, understanding these hurdles can help organisations weigh their options and consider the broader landscape of digital workplace solutions.

Technical Complexity and Resource Requirements

One of the most significant challenges of deploying SharePoint as an intranet is its technical complexity.

Customising SharePoint to fit specific organisational needs often requires a high level of expertise in both SharePoint development and the broader Microsoft ecosystem. This complexity can lead to extended deployment times and increased costs, as organisations may need to hire specialist developers or consultants.

Additionally, ongoing maintenance and updates necessitate dedicated IT resources to ensure the intranet remains functional and secure, adding to the total cost of ownership.

User Adoption and Training

Despite its powerful features, SharePoint's user experience can be daunting for employees unfamiliar with the Microsoft ecosystem.

The platform's extensive functionality, while beneficial, can overwhelm users, leading to low adoption rates.

Organisations often need to invest in comprehensive training programs to help employees navigate the platform, find the information they need, and utilise its collaboration tools effectively. This training requirement can be a significant hurdle in realising the intranet's value quickly.

Integration with Non-Microsoft Products

While SharePoint integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft products, organisations using a diverse range of software solutions may find it challenging to achieve the same level of integration with non-Microsoft products.

This limitation can lead to siloed information and workflows, hindering efficiency and productivity. Independent intranets, in contrast, often offer more flexible integration capabilities with a wide variety of business tools, making them a more suitable choice for organisations with Microsoft only IT environments.

Scalability and Performance Issues

As organisations grow, their intranet must scale to accommodate increasing numbers of users and content.

SharePoint, particularly in on-premises deployments, can encounter scalability and performance issues as demand grows.

These challenges can affect the user experience, leading to slow page loads and difficulty accessing content, which can frustrate users and reduce engagement.

Independent intranets typically offer more agile scalability options, allowing organisations to adjust their resources dynamically as their needs change.

Alternatives to SharePoint as an Intranet

Exploring alternatives to SharePoint for an intranet solution provides a variety of platforms, each with its unique strengths and capabilities.

These alternatives cater to a broad spectrum of organisational needs, from enhancing employee engagement to improving internal communication and collaboration.

Here’s a closer look at some noteworthy options:

Elcom

Elcom offers an all-inclusive modern intranet, tailored to user roles. With its unlimited user licensing model, all employees, including those without company email addresses or Microsoft 365 accounts, can access the platform. The platform can also be extended to power Learning Management Systems, Partner and Supplier Portals, and Websites, offering a comprehensive suite of tools for creating a range of digital experiences.

Jive

Known for its robust community and collaboration features, Jive facilitates dynamic internal communication networks. It offers a range of social intranet features designed to enhance employee engagement and foster a strong corporate culture.

Oak Engage

Oak Engage focuses on enhancing employee experience with an intuitive interface and personalised content. It provides tools for internal communications, employee engagement, and recognition, making it easier to build a connected and motivated workforce.

Blink

Blink targets frontline workers, providing a mobile-first intranet solution that delivers effective communication and operational efficiency. Its emphasis on accessibility ensures that every employee, regardless of their role or location, stays informed and engaged.

Assembly

Assembly is designed to boost employee engagement and productivity through a suite of recognition and rewards tools. It encourages a positive workplace culture by making it easy to celebrate achievements and milestones. 

Happeo

Happeo integrates with Google Workspace, offering a unified intranet and collaboration platform that enhances productivity and communication. Its strengths lie in content management and social networking features designed for the modern digital workplace.

Jostle

Jostle aims to simplify internal communications with a clean, easy-to-navigate interface. It supports a variety of content types and integrates social features to foster a vibrant community within the organisation.

Firstup

Firstup focuses on employee communication and engagement, offering tools to reach every employee with personalised content. It supports a data-driven approach to internal communications, helping organisations measure the impact of their efforts.

Choosing the Right Platform

Choosing the right intranet platform for your organisation involves a nuanced understanding of your unique requirements, objectives and organisation. It's not just about selecting a tool with a comprehensive feature set; it's about finding a solution that will deliver business value and ROI by fostering organisational culture, enhancing productivity, and improving collaboration and engagement across all levels.

  1. First and foremost, consider the user experience. The platform should be intuitive and accessible, ensuring high adoption rates among employees. A user-friendly interface, personalised content, and easy access to essential tools and information can significantly impact engagement and productivity.
  2. Integration capabilities are also crucial. The chosen platform should seamlessly integrate with the existing tools and systems your organisation uses daily. Whether it’s Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, or any other enterprise software, the intranet should enhance, not hinder, your technological ecosystem.
  3. Flexibility and scalability are key. As your organisation grows and evolves, so too will your intranet needs. Opt for a platform that can adapt to changing requirements, from adding new users to integrating additional functionalities or custom applications.
  4. Finally, consider the value of inclusivity. An effective intranet connects every member of your organisation, including those without company email addresses or specific software accounts. Unlimited user licensing and easy account creation are significant advantages, ensuring that everyone, from office staff to frontline workers, is part of the digital workplace.

Conclusion

The decision of SharePoint vs intranets uncovers a spectrum of possibilities, each with the potential to cater to distinct corporate needs.

The crux of the decision rests on aligning with your unique corporate narrative, considering factors such as user experience, integration ease, and growth adaptability.

Need more help with choosing an intranet? Check out our guide with 80+ resources on building intranets that are truly valuable or download The Ultimate Intranet Buyers Guide. This guides you through the key elements of evaluating and buying an intranet solution that truly meet the needs of your organisation, with a bonus checklist to help you evaluate different solutions.

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