As customers embark on their SharePoint Online cloud journey, one philosophical debate always seems to bubble up to the surface: What do we do with the intranet? The discussion swirls around whether or not the intranet should be used strictly for communication, or should it also be used for collaboration. We now have “Classic” and “Modern” SharePoint, which further complicates things. Not to mention all of the other apps within the Office 365 Suite with provide similar functionality to SharePoint.
Given the complexity of answering this question, I try to help our customers rethink how they might solve for the business cases the intranet was built to address.
- Are you trying to boost employee engagement?
- Are you looking for a way to empower employees to have a voice in the company culture?
- Does your communication department need a medium outside of email to share company news?
- Are you simply looking for a place to store links to important company apps and resources?
Depending on the answers to these questions, migrating the intranet to SharePoint Online may or may not be the right decision.
SharePoint has always been a paradox in that while the overwhelming majority of intranets are built on it, there are very few built-in intranet capabilities. This has opened the door for intranet-in-a-box products like Bonzai or Powell 365 to sweep in and fill the gap to deliver compelling, modern intranets on SharePoint Online. Products like these certainly can be the right choice for many customers depending on the outcome they are trying to achieve through the launch of a new intranet.
Microsoft is trying to address this intranet gap through the release of the new Hub Sites. These Hub Sites offer intranet-like features including things like content rollup and news aggregation, consistent site navigation, and company branding. A Hub Site is the glue that holds multiple Modern Communication or Modern Team Sites together. Modern sites can only be attached to a single Hub Site. A Hub Site Administrator determines which links appear in the global navigation, and controls how content is aggregated. You can think of the Hub Site Administrator as the curator of content for all of the connected sites. Hub Sites are only available in Office 365 so on-premises customers can’t take advantage of them.
So the question on everyone’s mind is: Can a Hub Site serve as your company’s intranet?
I think the answer is, “it depends”. Let me walk through how I see Hub Sites playing out for our customers.
Hub Sites by design are Modern SharePoint sites so there will be limitations that exist until the product matures. These limitations may or may not be deal breakers in the decision to use them as the intranet landing page. An example of a limitation is multi-lingual support. Modern SharePoint does not yet support variations nor the capability to be translated without customizations. Another example would be the available modern web parts. While the list is growing, the most common intranet widgets are still not available, nor are they on the roadmap. For organizations without an existing intranet, or with very basic requirements, I think a Hub Site might be able to serve as the company’s intranet landing page. For this to be effective, content must to be curated thoughtfully by the Hub Site Administrator.
Since most companies already have an intranet and are expecting certain key features, the Hub Site will likely not be a suitable replacement. For those customers we recommend taking advantage of all native capabilities first, and only customizing SharePoint where absolutely necessary. If an intranet-in-a-box is the right choice, we suggest choosing a solution that is built with the future of modern SharePoint in mind. So while these products are highly customized, it’s important to select one that won’t impede on your employee’s ability to make use of the latest and greatest Office 365 features.
I expect Hub Sites to act as a bridge between intranet and collaboration spaces. As new Team Sites get created and attached to a Hub Site, that content becomes more visible to the organization and easy to find for employees. Unfortunately, they are not the intranet silver bullet some were hoping for. We will certainly be including Hub Sites as part of the digital workplace strategy, though it’s unlikely to replace the role of the traditional intranet for most organizations.