Monday, February 15, 2016

Using Sitecore for an intranet site

In the world of web sites the Sitecore Experience Platform is the market leading CMS, with a feature set that empowers developers, content editors and marketers to deliver optimal results in their relevant areas. However when it comes to intranet sites, SharePoint is still considered the default choice, which only splits the development team and limits the features available for use. This post is going to investigate how Sitecore could be used in an intranet environment, and how it compares to SharePoint in this space.


Key Intranet Features

First of all, the key features of an intranet need to be defined, then an overview of how Sitecore can meet or exceed these features.
  • Forms with workflow: Every intranet site will need to provide forms for a variety of HR and general tasks (such as leave requests, business card requests and even employee satisfaction surveys). Sitecore's web forms for marketers module empowers content authors to create their own web forms with a number of different save actions. By saving the form results to Sitecore items, it opens the door to using the powerful workflows available in Sitecore to workflow form results through any business process(es).

    In comparison, many SharePoint intranet installations rely on third party paid modules such as Nintex Workflows (which also can require training courses to implement the product). 

  • Real-Time data feeds: In the past real time data feeds could have been as simple as news articles/announcements that displayed on the front page of an intranet or departments sub-site. Now intranets are including more social media type interfaces where staff members can share, comment and like on a shared wall in Facebook like manner. This allows staff members to share successes, show what they are working on and have different departments engaging more together. Sitecore can deliver this using a mixture of custom data types/code and it's experience database for a snappy user experience, with all of the data/analytics collection baked in.

  • Content storage/management: Perhaps the most visible purpose of an intranet is the ability to access, manage and update content (whether it be documents or page content). Not only does the Sitecore media library offer a searchable index of documents (and other media types), but you are able to create data structures with complex and even custom data types - and best of all everything is not a list! On top of that is the ability to workflow these content types, even using the same workflows as the form outputs as mentioned above.

  • Security Model: Due to the sensitive nature of content available on an intranet, Security and permissions is an important feature to consider. The HR and payroll departments for example will have data that needs to be kept secure from the average staff member, and executive level managers will also have sensitive information that is best kept safe from leaks. In comes the Sitecore security and permissions model, where you control how granular the security is. It could be as easy as roles mapped to AD groups which then control which areas of the site the user is able to access/manage or an opt-in system where users need to manually be assigned permissions to more secure areas.

The Sitecore difference

Now heres where the sales pitch starts - use Sitecore for an intranet today and you'll get not one, but two content delivery servers for the price of one! Okay, it's not quite like that, but as a Sitecore developer with SharePoint experience, I see a whole lot of benefits which make Sitecore a powerful choice.

  • Experience profiles: Because each user of the Sitecore intranet site is identified (via an AD profile for example), they are known contacts in the experience database and will have an experience profile which can be looked up. This leads to the ability of auditing which users viewed which pages/documents/forms and for how long. Along with monitoring if users viewed key pages (such as health and safety related content).

  • A/B testing: Perhaps not enough staff are completing a satisfaction survey, or they are having trouble finding other key content? A/B or multivariate testing in Sitecore allows content editors to test content to determine which variables lead to more engagement on the web site. Even simple variable such as the color of a button or the text of a hyperlink can affect how many users follow through with an action.

  • Personalization: One problem with intranets is the overload of information, especially when a lot of it is not relevant to a given user. With personalization in Sitecore, you can provide each user with a tailor made experience that is relevant to them. If a user has access to company vehicles, then show them the relevant information, if they are due for a health and safety check, perhaps show a banner ad, and if  a user is a member of a given department, prioritize that departments content (news, documents, events, etc.) on the home page. The benefit here is that the user is primarily seeing content that is relevant to them, so they are getting a better experience out of the intranet and will therefore be more likely to continue using it.

  • Email Experience Manager: Sitecore's email experience manager or EXM, provides email marketing capabilities to Sitecore. In terms of an intranet there are two main possibilities for making use of this module:
    • Triggered email messages can be used to notify users when an action is required on their part. Perhaps an automatic reminder to ensure their details are up-to-date for end of financial year, or notifications of key dates and staff leave absences.
    • Use of templates to create newsletters using the existing intranet content. This allows the company as a whole to send newsletters to all staff, or a given department to their staff. it's simple to use, will make use of existing content and allows for the possibility of personalization as well.

Conclusion

When evaluating which CMS is best for your intranet implementation, Sitecore should be one of the candidates to consider. Not only does it meet the key requirements that an intranet might have, it does them better than other candidates such as SharePoint. For an organisation that has Sitecore development capabilities/experience already it should be an easy decision to use Sitecore, especially when it comes to the content authors that will be using the system day-to-day.

As time as gone on, it's obvious how web content management systems have adapted/innovated to deliver the best value/result to both end users and the development/marketing teams behind them. Can the truth be said about common intranet content management systems?

2 comments:

  1. Hey Ryan,

    I'm wondering, with 8.1, how "out of the box" is the possible intranet solution from SiteCore. Is there a baseline solution that an organization can set up easily, then, based on planning and needs, add to over time? Thanks

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    1. There is no baseline for intranets in Sitecore that I am aware of. However there are a couple of Sitecore acceleration frameworks which provide a general base site for Sitecore, which you could then extend for intranet. These include: Sitecore habitat, launch Sitecore and Brainjocks SCORE.

      I would recommend Sitecore Habitat as it is endorsed by Sitecore and it is free. It is an MVC project which can be a no-go for some development teams.

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