Here’s a paradox for you: although the majority of enterprise intranets are built on SharePoint, SharePoint historically has had few built-in features that perform basic intranet functions. Stand-alone intranet products such as Igloo, Intranet Connections, Thought Farmer and Interact all offer ready-made widgets that every intranet user would recognize, such as news, lunch menu, room booking, job openings etc. SharePoint has only recently added news.
For a long time SharePoint operated under the maxim that it was a “platform,” on top of which such things could be conjured up using secret incantations such as “custom list” and “server-side solutions.” It was a little like the way a can of peas has an appealing serving suggestion printed on it so that it looks like a full meal, but all the tin holds are the peas.
This left the market wide open for the intranet in-a-box products I explored in my last column. But this month Microsoft will start rolling out “hub sites.” Hub sites, coupled with last year’s communication sites, give many features that bring you much closer to a ready-to-go intranet.
SharePoint Communication Sites
Communication sites were launched in 2017 for Office 365 customers. They are much easier to work with than SharePoint sites of old, with a modern editing experience similar to Medium blogs or LinkedIn Pulse posts. Communication sites work best for simple news and visually-rich content presentation (think “digital brochures”).
Adding content is very easy in communication sites, with the ability to select the type of content you want to add (a web part) and then when adding the content itself. The list of suitable web parts is growing, with video, forms, charts and even Kindle books now supported. Note however, you can’t use the older style web parts from previous SharePoint versions.
Communication sites offer some layout flexibility, such as multiple columns and presentation styles for images. The building-block approach allows the pages to stay mobile-friendly, because the blocks move around as the page resizes. Just don’t expect the kind of precise control over layout that you’d get with a web package.