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4 reasons the standalone intranet is dying out

2/23/21 11:45 AM

None of us could have predicted the seismic changes in how we work today compared to just one year ago. Now that the dust is settling, though, it’s possible to make some predictions about how those changes will affect the intranet market moving forward.

Most organizations have had to jumpstart their digital transformation. They’ve adopted tools to make secure communication and collaboration possible from anywhere. For many, the top priority has been evolving or replacing legacy intranets with a modern and robust digital workplace. To future-proof that investment, companies shouldn’t just be looking for good intranet design, but a digital workplace approach that’s most suited to the way enterprise technology is heading.

Standalone intranets, a once popular choice for a digital workplace, weren’t designed for today’s enterprise realities. They were designed for a world where organizations avoided SharePoint at all costs as they found it too difficult and complex to use, had no clear strategy for how it fit into their technical landscape, and were begging for an alternative. In a nutshell, those standalone intranets were designed in an era before the Microsoft 365 experience we now know today.

There are great companies creating great standalone products. But the reality is they can’t keep pace with recent shifts in the enterprise environment. None of them were prepared for the rapid adoption of Microsoft 365 across the globe. And with Microsoft’s recent launch of employee experience platform Viva, the stakes are even higher.

The entrenchment of remote work is the single most influential change of the past 12 months. A recent Gartner survey found 82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time, even when they can safely return to the office. Standalone intranets are struggling to meet the digital workplace needs of today’s workers for several reasons:

  • Enterprises globally have increased their reliance on Microsoft productivity tools
  • Tight integration with those tools is now essential for the digital workplace to be collaborative and intuitive
  • Remote workers require a digital workplace with a rich, ever-growing feature set
  • Organizations want to maintain control over their data for better performance, security, and search capabilities

Why standalone intranets are falling behind

I’ve been in the digital transformation and mobile industry for over 16 years – long enough to see trends come and go, and witness major changes – and my views have evolved in step. Based on these observations, I see four main reasons for the demise of standalone intranets:

1. Transformation of the enterprise tech landscape

Two key developments that started pre-COVID have been fast-tracked during the pandemic:

The growing domination of Microsoft cloud in the modern workplace 
Ongoing advances in Microsoft tools and the pivot to remote work have propelled adoption in organizations worldwide. SharePoint and Teams are now the go-to tools for internal and external collaboration. With Microsoft Viva in the mix now too, it’s more important than ever to have a digital workplace built for Microsoft 365, so you can leverage all of the new capabilities that Viva will bring.

Microsoft SharePoint 
In the past, SharePoint was sometimes thought of as the tool companies got stuck with because it came free with Microsoft Office. Still, SharePoint intranets are the starting place for many companies.

I’ve always had reservations about using SharePoint out-of-the-box as an intranet, and I stand by those opinions today. The pitfalls are well-known to any SharePoint user, including complex customization requiring specialized skills, expensive professional services, and it’s anything but intuitive for end users.

But my thoughts on how SharePoint can be part of a modern digital workplace have grown along with the platform itself – and that growth has been pretty extraordinary. Gartner continues to give SharePoint top scores for content services, and rightly so, as this is the basic foundation of the product. SharePoint also recently passed a new milestone of 200 million monthly active users in the cloud so it’s the perfect building block for an improved social and collaborative experience.

Microsoft Teams 
Microsoft Teams users used to be just a few pockets here and there inside large organizations as Slack was dominating the scene. But since COVID, Teams has been the leading choice for enterprises to standardize on because it’s easy to deploy and use, it’s central to the collaboration experience in Microsoft 365, and can be scaled up as needed.

A recent report from ZDnet shows that Teams now has more than 115 million daily active users, up from 75 million in April 2020. Teams is Microsoft’s fastest-growing business app ever, used by 500,000 organizations worldwide – including 91 of the Fortune 100 companies.

And here’s a fun fact: the average Teams user likely isn’t aware that when they share a file through Teams, they’re actually using SharePoint. So it’s secretly become a key part of organizations’ infrastructure, whether they knew it or not.

Shift to the cloud 
The events of 2020 accelerated cloud adoption to the point where it’s business-critical. According to Gartner, architecture and technology innovation leaders should reject any new project that doesn’t follow “cloud first” as a guiding principle.

2. Lack of integration in standalone intranets

Most standalone intranets are limited in how many tools can be integrated, and how well, in their solution. The issue is often rooted in a lack of development resources, since developers are absorbed in the tasks of replicating and maintaining all the complex file storage and document sharing capabilities to try to meet the minimum standard of SharePoint intranets, plus whatever social and culture features they want to build.

A lack of tight integration with Microsoft tools has two main negative effects:

  • Existing Microsoft investments can’t be maximized
  • Employees may abandon the intranet for their preferred tools, leading to information silos and inefficient collaboration

3. A growing gap in available features

As I mentioned, standalone intranet developers have enough on their plates duplicating the document storage and version control features in SharePoint. It leaves little time for adding extra features – let alone continually improving them based on user feedback. The result is often a shallow feature set and an incomplete user experience.

Yet today’s remote users need and expect consumer-like features that deliver ease, efficiency, and a positive experience. New business challenges are cropping up all the time, and standalone intranets lack the resources and agility to quickly deliver features that can keep work moving.

The features and capabilities of today’s modern digital workplace tools are extremely complex – far beyond the single focus and simple line of business apps we’re used to. How can we expect standalone intranet developers to compete with the scale and sophistication of Microsoft developers?

4. Where and how your data is hosted

In a time of escalating cybersecurity threats and more stringent information privacy regulations, organizations understandably want maximum control over their data. Yet standalone intranets often host some or all of your digital workplace in their shared Azure tenant. That presents several potential problems:

  • If one customer in the shared Azure tenant goes down, your organization likely will too
  • Some multi-tenancy architectures come with increased security and privacy risks and your vendor has full access to all of your data if they want to
  • Your search capabilities may suffer, making it harder to find what you need quickly and easily

At this point, you may be wondering if I’m saying that a SharePoint intranet is the way to go. While it’s true that SharePoint out-of-the-box has come a long way in terms of usability, many of the reason's organizations looked for a SharePoint alternative before still hold.

The solution? A digital workplace that fills all the gaps in SharePoint but doesn’t try to replace its core feature set with a sub-par product. In short, an intelligent workplace that’s built on a SharePoint foundation. 

Choose a digital workplace solution that helps you get the most from SharePoint

It’s tough for any intranet to be everything to everyone, especially in our unpredictable, complex times. Not surprisingly, standalone intranets are losing their footing in a market with more intense digital workplace requirements and demands. In the years ahead, the most sustainable intranets will meet those demands by maturing alongside the most commonly used productivity tools in the world today.

As you’re looking beyond standalone intranets to a comprehensive digital workplace, be sure to evaluate solutions that will support your dispersed workforce and boost future business resilience. They should be able to:

  • Maximize your investment in Microsoft 365 with a single, integrated system
  • Deliver a customized destination with the look and feel of your brand
  • Improve collaboration, communication, knowledge management, and processes
  • Offer a simple, intuitive UX based on market-leading usability insights
  • Include all the best features from familiar social media
  • Invest in new and refined features based on user preferences, such as video content
  • Allow you to own your content and data
  • Be proven to scale to organizations as large as 300,000 users and more

Do you have Microsoft investments, but no cohesive digital workplace? Are you ready to get the most from those investments? Beezy is an all-in-one intelligent digital workplace with architecture that remains 100% native to your organization’s own Microsoft 365 and Azure environment.

Request a demo and see what Beezy can do for your organization.

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