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PHOTO: David Tostado

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are rolling out Office 365. They're doing so for many reasons, from basic considerations of resolving IT issues through to a strategic focus on collaboration and productivity tools.

Regardless of the reason for deploying Office 365, one of the first things you must bring over to the new platform is the corporate intranet. Moving the intranet to the cloud early in the piece delivers immediate benefits, as well as providing a key enabler for the success of Office 365 itself.

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Is Your Intranet Still Living in the Past?

Corporate intranets don’t have a track record for moving quickly or fully exploiting the opportunities offered by new technologies.

In many businesses, the intranet is still languishing on SharePoint 2013, 2010 or (!) even 2007. Worse still, too many sites are running on products from other vendors that are no longer supported.

This hamstrings the ability of these intranets to provide staff with the tools and capabilities they need. It also leaves intranets with a limited role of providing just content and internal communications, thereby stuck acting just as internal websites.

A key element of Office 365 is SharePoint Online, which is seeing an incredible pace of evolution right now. The Microsoft ‘Modern’ experience is delivering massively better tools, not just for staff but also for authors. New capabilities are being added across SharePoint Online, with enhancements rolling out practically every week.

While SharePoint Online is just one component of Office 365, it can get forgotten during the initial rollout of the platform. In many businesses, the launch of Office 365 may just focus on moving email to Exchange Online, plus perhaps Teams.

This isn’t enough, however. Intranets can't afford to be left behind. Below are just a few of the reasons.

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The Intranet Is an Early Win

Moving email to the cloud is an entirely invisible change. The provision of web-based versions of Word and Outlook is equally hidden unless a staff member chooses to seek them out. OneDrive is an improvement over saving stuff on the desktop, but it requires active behavioral change by users.

Like it or loathe it, the corporate intranet is a highly visible component of the digital workplace. If it’s sitting on a legacy platform, it’s also probably ugly and non-functional.

Moving the intranet to Office 365 therefore gives an early win that delivers an intranet that’s modern in design, and highly capable in functionality. With the help of the internal comms team, the launch of the new intranet can be widely promoted, and with it a positive message about the release of Office 365.

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Providing an Enterprise Front Door

In a previous article, I’ve talked about the importance of providing staff with an enterprise front door. This provides a jumping-off point to all the content and tools that staff will need, not just in Office 365, but also to other enterprise products and platforms.

As Modern shifts intranets to a flat structure, the need for this top-down information architecture becomes critical. As search won’t magically return the right results — no matter how ‘intelligent’ it is — the intranet will need to offer users clear navigation and findability.

The intranet as the enterprise front door also surfaces activity from across Office 365 (and beyond). An activity stream is one such example, as it lists "recent documents" and "my collaboration spaces." In addition to providing productivity benefits for users, this provides a strong framework for promoting greater adoption and use of Office 365 tools that may otherwise be hidden.

In short, meaningful adoption of the broader Office 365 platform is impossible without having the intranet providing a strong front door.

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Fitting the Fragmented Enterprise Experience Together

There is also a very practical reason for moving the intranet to Office 365 as quickly as possible. Without that shift, the fragmented enterprise experience for users will be made worse.

The existing (legacy) intranet will have a staff directory, as well as search. It may have some document storage or even collaboration capabilities. All of which will be duplicated by Office 365 when that’s rolled out.

Users will then be left in a situation where completely different staff profiles and search results will be returned depending on where they start from. This isn’t just a usability issue, it’s a conceptual issue that will inject confusion into every intranet and Office 365 discussion.

Related Article: Adding Value to SharePoint Intranets

Move Now!

The upshot of all of these challenges and opportunities is that organizations should plan on moving the intranet to the cloud as part of the initial rollout (or soon after). This will require allocation of budget and resources, ideally as part of the initial business case for moving to Office 365.

By moving the intranet quickly, staff will see immediate benefits, and the organization will be better positioned to make the most of Office 365. Onwards and upwards!