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SharePoint vs Viva vs turnkey intranets for enterprise internal communications

Microsoft 365 and SharePoint have become something of an industry-standard in productivity and collaboration tools, but is a SharePoint intranet enough for enterprise internal communicators? And what does Microsoft's latest arrival, Viva, bring to the table? Can SharePoint or Viva deliver as your enterprise internal communications platform? 

Man using enterprise intranet on laptop to communicate with colleagues

Enterprise communications demands reach a peak

Effective internal communications are an essential component of the modern enterprise. As new hybrid and remote ways of working take hold, the need for a central communications platform has moved from nice-to-have to non-negotiable.

The humble company intranet is now a key part of modern business and internal communicators will be working with IT teams to review the technology in place to ensure it can keep up with escalating demands.

A new lease of life for the company intranet

Throughout the disruption of 2020, it became clear that companies that had invested most in agile technology responded best to the crisis. Now, as we emerge from crisis into recovery, ensuring that employees are connected, engaged, and aligned, no matter where they’re working, will be the new priority. Tech investments and agile strategy will again be core to navigating this.

With the modern intranet positioned to resolve some of the most pressing challenges faced by today’s enterprises, internal communicators and IT teams will be asking themselves whether their existing intranet investment is up for the challenge ahead.

Since 80% of Fortune 500 companies are already reliant on Microsoft tools for cloud productivity and collaboration, many will be wondering whether doubling down on Microsoft investments is the right approach. Working this out will require an understanding of the evolution of the intranet marketplace - particularly the merits of an independent turnkey solution - combined with clarity on the changing needs of the modern workforce.

How do SharePoint and Viva stack up against the new breed of employee experience platforms? Let’s find out.

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Starting with SharePoint: A legacy communications tool

In years past, SharePoint intranets were something of an industry standard. Features like communications sites helped communicators distribute basic news and updates to employees, and for those with IT budget and resource, the platform provided flexibility to build custom experiences. As intranet technology developed in the early 2000s, SharePoint was the best of a small crop of options.

Today, though, things are a bit different.

Many businesses still rely on SharePoint as a key aspect of their digital workplace in some part, but now there is more variety and choice when it comes to delivering engaging enterprise communications experiences – not to mention more demand. Microsoft themselves announced a new employee experience platform in February 2021, Viva, which is designed to bring Teams and SharePoint together into some consolidated panes of view.

With so much change in the marketplace, and internal communications and employee engagement challenges now topping the enterprise priority list, the ability of a SharePoint intranet to service enterprise requirements is now firmly up for question.

The pros and cons of a SharePoint intranet

According to Forrester Research’s report, Solid In The Enterprise, But Missing The Mobile Swift, the traditional SharePoint intranet does not meet the expectations of business leaders for several reasons:

  • Businesses don't see the degree of adoption expected (64%)
  • Users find it difficult to use (62%)
  • Users prefer other tools (49%)
  • Businesses don't see any added benefit (44%)
  • SharePoint does not reach functional requirements (44%)

It is important to know where SharePoint has come from and the progress Microsoft has made with it to understand the direction it will be headed in for the future, and Viva is a big part of that future. To summarize what SharePoint can offer today’s enterprise in terms of communications, it’s easiest to list out its strengths and weaknesses: 

What SharePoint does well 

  • SharePoint integrates with the wider Microsoft 365 suite, such as Teams, Skype, and Yammer, offering multiple channels for communication
  • Branded Home Sites provide a central hub for accessing content
  • Teams Sites give users spaces to breakout into with colleagues, share insights, and catch up on updates
  • SharePoint leverages Azure AD data to build out profiles for users, aiding targeting and audience segmentation
  • As a core part of Microsoft’s enterprise offering, Microsoft 365 licensees should expect Viva and future products to integrate and align with their existing SharePoint infrastructure

Where SharePoint is lacking

  • SharePoint isn’t the easiest to learn and use, even for experienced users. Unintuitive user experience and a labyrinthine CMS make driving adoption difficult
  • SharePoint is flexible, but only for considerable dedicated development time and cost
  • Accelerators and plugins for SharePoint can help to bridge the engagement gap with next-gen employee experience platforms, but costs add up quickly
  • SharePoint (and Viva) places integrated applications into consolidated channels and views, but still lack a true single pane of glass experience of the wider digital workplace

IT vs IC: Understanding SharePoint’s history as a communication tool

Traditionally, SharePoint has been a solution more popular with IT departments than internal communications. This is typically born out of the convenience of consolidating investments with Microsoft and of unifying data across Azure AD-based applications. Internal communicators are left with restricted functionality for this IT convenience, leading to standoffs between departments where IT holds the keys – but at the cost of a more engaging digital employee experience.

Over the years, SharePoint has been adapted again and again to try and fill the evolving role internal communicators have needed it to. In the meantime, independent platforms, built from the ground up to serve as a dedicated communications hub, entered the market. 

The custom-built intranets and bespoke platforms of years past could leverage early SharePoint’s flexibility to support their communications, but today more enterprises are recognizing the need for a distinct home for content and communications over a more mix-and-match, patchwork platform. 

Where SharePoint users bolted-on communications tools to a technology developed for a different use case, the new generation of employee experience platforms are designed from with internal communications at their heart. 

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The arrival of Microsoft Viva

Microsoft’s newest addition to the digital workplace, Viva, essentially brings some new features and an update for Teams that adds a new tab to the navigation menu, taking users to a branded SharePoint Home Site from within the Teams environment. It is the next step in Microsoft's overall digital strategy to align SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, and Stream into channels built on the SharePoint framework.

With Viva, Microsoft has introduced 4 key features: Connections, Topics, Insights, and Learning.

  • Connections is the new tab in Microsoft Teams that gathers content and resources into feeds, replacing branded SharePoint Home Sites
  • Topics provide a light-touch knowledge wiki, while Learning is set to offer training and development support
  • Insights introduces a site for remote productivity tracking and monitoring employee behavior patterns that repackages information from Microsoft’s existing MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics

What does Viva offer IC?

Viva offers internal communicators a plugin on top of the Microsoft stack and SharePoint infrastructure that surfaces existing information more intuitively. To help visualize what adding Viva to your digital workplace could look like, it's best to think of Viva as a network of integrations pulling SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, and Stream into some consolidated, customizable panes of view.

While Viva certainly develops SharePoint’s ability to bring Microsoft tools together, should you be looking to Viva as an alternative to an independent intranet or employee experience platform? 

Can Viva replace your intranet?

In the words of Clearbox Consulting founder, Sam Marshall, "From what Microsoft has revealed about Viva so far, I see a mix of elements, some of which are better suited to smaller companies, and others that only really deliver at an enterprise scale."

While Viva gives employees that work within Teams a convenient home for SharePoint content, how it stacks up against more mature turnkey solutions needs to be considered. For organizations with complex workforces, high volumes of communications, and a need to integrate more than just one suite of third-party systems into a seamless digital experience, both SharePoint and Viva pose limitations.

How to determine if Viva is right for your enterprise

Working out if Viva can deliver as your enterprise internal communications solution, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

#1. Will you need to provide intranet access to any stakeholders who are not licensed for Microsoft 365?

Today’s enterprises are highly complex in their structure, so no two organizations need the exact same thing from their digital workplace. Where intranets form a central hub for employees and internal stakeholders; extranets provide your partners, alumni, and even customers with self-service portals, knowledge hubs, and private branded extranets. Not forgetting frontline workers who seldom have need for a Microsoft license but certainly have a need for enterprise communications. With a turnkey solution, all this access can be provisioned securely and untethered from Microsoft licenses, so you can bring your own LinkedIn, Google, or OAuth 2.0-compatible identities to your digital workplace.

#2. Do you have development capability?

Custom development for SharePoint platforms is notoriously costly. Over the past decade, entire sectors have popped up in the market dedicated to taking SharePoint and bringing it up to date. The trouble is, this development takes considerable time and, as a result, is typically very expensive, especially for global enterprises. These costs are becoming less acceptable as the modern employee experience platform demonstrates what is already possible with an out-of-the-box, turnkey solution. 

#3. Will you need to integrate third-party systems into your platform?

When employees are given digital tools we empower them to produce quality wherever they are, but when we give employees too many tools, we begin to hinder productivity and engagement. A seamless, single pane of glass experience produces significant ROI in the form of streamlined access, reduced cognitive load on the employee, and most importantly, reduced time-to-task. Unily clients have seen productivity gains of up to $41.6m every year thanks to a flexible integration framework. With plug-and-play integrations available from the Feature Store and access to our secure APIs for work on custom integrations, Unily is one example of an employee experience platform that allows global enterprises to truly unite their digital workplace into one. 

#4. Will you need any of the following capabilities?

  • Highly granular user targeting
  • Multi-brand experiences
  • Ideation
  • Staff recognition tools
  • Mandatory reading
  • Targeted email newsletters
  • A full multilingual experience
  • Digital signage solutions
  • Front end publishing and user-generated content
  • Platform targeting and custom experiences for every device
  • Robust information architecture

#5. Do you want control over what content employees see?

SharePoint Home Sites, and by extension the Viva Connections feeds, make use of Microsoft’s AI and algorithms to populate sites with content for your users. What this means is if you want control of your intranet homepage’s content feed or user targeting and personalization, SharePoint and Viva are not the intranet your enterprise needs. Without this granular level of access to user targeting and content recommendation, you cannot specifically define what content you are pushing to your audiences.

In summary, if the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then exploring the merits of a turnkey intranet may be the best route forward.

Turning to the turnkey employee experience platform

Unlike SharePoint, and even Viva, the modern employee experience platform is designed to specifically solve core enterprise-scale employee experience challenges. Rather than patchwork quilts of products – enhanced with bolt-ons, accelerators, and custom development – the modern EXP provides a complete, ready-to-go digital architecture that global enterprises can rely on to take employees into the future of work.

Over several years of development, products like Unily have emerged from the SharePoint development space to provide a suite of Out-of-the-Box functionality developed specifically to engage employees and optimize employee experiences. The reality is that Microsoft's innovations are arriving in a marketplace that has already undergone significant evolution.

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Where SharePoint has previously been able to fall back on its synergy with the Microsoft stack, today that competitive advantage has been erased. There are far more digital workplace solutions on the market, with several employee experience platforms capable of seamlessly integrating and driving use of Microsoft licenses, but now with more options to configure and customize your hub to reflect your enterprise.  Further benefits of a turnkey platform include:

  • Out-of-the-Box functionality allows for rapid launch in as little as 8 weeks
  • Evergreen SAAS product roadmap ensures your platform remains current
  • Around the clock support from dedicated experts
  • Flexible to personalization and customization to further extend your platform
  • Proven, engaging UX
  • State-of-the-art security

Where the more holistic platforms we see today will excel lies in having built themselves around the Azure and SharePoint framework to unite this fragmented environment and bring siloed experiences together into one hub for your people, for your tools, and for your content. 

Microsoft 365 with an intranet guide pages

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Viva, SharePoint, Microsoft 365 – better with an intranet

If not a SharePoint or Viva intranet, IT teams will ask themselves how any new employee-facing technology will play with these existing systems. How will adding another solution to the fray aid in the mission to decrease digital complexity? And perhaps more importantly, how will any new solution help leverage existing technology investments, particularly with Microsoft?

The truth is that a properly implemented employee experience platform should enhance your Microsoft investment by bringing it in line with all your other core business systems, and putting the power of Microsoft into the context of a dedicated employee experience tool.

Some examples of what this might look like:

  • Bringing SharePoint sites and documents into a single view with site rollups and search experiences
  • For critical updates and sharing insights, comms integrations allow users to share information to external channels such as Teams and Slack
  • Integrate Salesforce into your platform to bring key sales data into your intranet that allows users to search across your entire database from a single, global search

Earlier, we touched on how Viva, and by extension SharePoint, draws content from Microsoft applications into consolidated views – picture the Viva Connections’ dashboard or the hyperlinks to Topics pages. What next-gen platforms like Unily do instead is integrate 3rd party applications directly into your intranet, allowing for a wider range of use cases and configurable features. 

Learn more about powerful Microsoft Office 365 intranet solutions.

Intranet search flyout

So, what does all this mean for your enterprise?

In short, deciding whether SharePoint, Viva or a turnkey solution is best for your enterprise internal communications will depend entirely on the size and complexity of your workforce. For those organizations with more complex intranet demands that involve multiple locations and divisions, turnkey solutions offer a more robust and dedicated feature-set to cope with these demands.

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