In the series to make Intranet cool again we have looked at the strategy, design and build (OOB) options in the prior blogs here. In this blog we will look at the options to customise the Intranet and best practices for the same.
With every intranet there are cases, we will need to customize the look and feel. We will need custom components to add to the functionality.
Since there are many aspects where we could add customizations to the Intranet, this blog could become very long. So to keep it of optimal length, I am just highlighting the high level scenarios for customisations. For detail information, either look for other blogs on my site, or please leave a note and will blog the details about them.
So here we go..
We could create SPFx custom web parts for specific requirements for the business. The web parts could scale whole width of the page or section as per requirement. One of the other greater benefit of SPFx web parts is that they are inherently mobile compatible*. The challenge of SPFx is that the client functions run on the client browser so we will need to be sure to that it is light weight and browser compatible**.
For blogs regarding building webparts with SharePoint Framework, please check here.
* Note: When I say mobile compatibility, it means that the webpart as a whole will be able to scale to mobile layout but doesn’t necessarily mean the controls in the web part will scale to mobile layout. Hence the code to scale the controls needs to be added to the app.
** Note: The browser compatibility becomes a key consideration if the organisation’s browser standards still include older browsers such as IE 11. So check here to consider challenges and tips regarding this.
Full width webparts
Sometimes we are given requirements to have full width webparts on Intranet pages. Currently there is no support for full width web parts in section layouts, hence the best way to approach this is using the CSS extender webpart here. In the CSS customiser web part we could provide the path to the custom css file (recommended to store in Site assets so all users will have access) and the webpart applies the css to the page. Easy !!
Provisioning and Branding
Provisioning and Branding are important components of Intranet.
Normally it is possible to start with a blank communication site and then customise it as per Intranet requirements but this process doesn’t provide a consistent pipeline for dev, test, to prod releases. Also this doesn’t allow to add/update items seamlessly in case of a change. Having a custom Provisioning process provides a consistent approach to test and implement changes for custom solutions. This is beneficial in many ways such as access isolation and solution validation prior release.
Tips for custom Provisioning process
1. Use Site Scripts for creating the site and implementing assets. For reference about this process, check here.
2. Site designs could be used to prepare the custom elements for the site.
3. Use PnP PowerShell to apply the scripts. For reference check here.
For other options to create sites using a custom provisioning process, click here.
Branding is another important component for the Intranet. Branding using OOB features is mostly covered in this blog, however sometimes there could be custom requirements for header or footer components. For adding header or footer components, we could use the Application customiser to populate them. Some of the common requirement for a customiser could be banners, company footer sections, contact info etc. For details of using application customiser, check the doc at here.
Note: SharePoint has some default footer components such as Feedback and like sections that’s could overlap with the custom footer sections, so plan for them accordingly.
Content Authoring and Site Management
Another most common requirement that we receive with Intranets is content management such as adding and removing the pages and content. Communication sites provide many OOB features to manage content, some of these are listed in this blog. But we have many custom scenarios that might need to be added. Some of the custom ones are listed below:
1. News approval / Content publishing – There is a OOB approach to promote a page to a News. This can be combined with the OOB Request sign off Flow to add approval flows but what about demotion of promoted pages. If that is needed, then check the blog here.
2. Custom metadata management – The default forms of SharePoint don’t support custom rules. There are only limited choices based on data type. With custom forms we could add our own business rules. This could be done through PowerApps or SPFx List customiser. For more information on SPFx customiser check here.
3. Site hierarchy / Content hierarchy – One of the legacy trend that many of the Intranet leads keep hanging on to is hierarchy of content. Tree hierarchy has been how content was organised earlier and provided a feasible approach for some aspects. Teams are still looking for the same functionality. Instead of walking down the Tree hierarchy path, in my opinion, we could use metadata hierarchy (term store) to provide the same approach. Then Highlighted content or custom SPFx web part could be used to find content.
4. Permissions – This is one important component of the Intranet. Managing permissions in scope of Intranet is challenging as everyone needs access to the intranet. This also needs to be updated with the new employee and exit process of the company. Hence it is advisable to use a Active Directory (AD) security group with all the users of the company added to it. New users/ Exiting users could be maintained using this AD group. For content autors and editors, these could be given contribute rights. For Intranet admins, they could be provide with Edit or Design rights depending on the access they need. The Site collection admins should be maintained with the IT support team, so the Intranet and all custom builds could be maintained properly.
Intranet can also be a Hub for information which allows it to collate information from various locations without replicating all the information in Intranet. This providesd two main benefits – single source of truth and defined ownership. Most of the Hub components such as News, Search are OOB. Some of the custom requirements might be with automatic assocation of sites to the Hub and audience targeting. For more information on SharePoint hub sites, please check here.
In this blog we looked at some approaches for custom implementations and extending the Intranet using custom components. The custom web parts could be managed using the SPFx bulid and release cycle as mentioned here. The other components could also be managed in a similar fashion as per requirements. Again this blog calls out the high level scenario for custom components. Please let me know if there are any specific scenarios of interest.
Happy Coding !!