Best practices for a planning and building a modern digital intranet -- Shire customer deep dive
Published Jul 20 2017 04:11 PM 38.9K Views

On July 13th, Microsoft held a panel webinar with their customer, Shire – a recognized leader in rare diseases, along with numerous Office 365 MVPs (full panelist list below). We got to hear how they planned, built and use their beautiful and engaging digital workspace – The Hub – to help inform and engage everyone throughout the company in a consistent, sustainable way.


The panelists highlight the importance of governance throughout the project, describe numerous business cases, and cover the use of innovations including SharePoint communication sites, leveraging the SharePoint Framework (SPFx), multi-column page support, new web parts and page capabilities – all used to create rich and compelling sites to achieve their desired outcomes. 


I was fortunate enough to act as Mark of Ceremony (MC) for the webinar and hear first-hand how they achieved the rollout AND the successful use of their modern, functional intranet. Below you’ll see both the full, on-demand webinar video (a fun, informative 60 minutes), plus expanded written thoughts across some of the top-level items covered, with links provided by our MVPs to additional materials to further your learning.


The more we facilitate our employees to get information faster, to be more productive, the more that they can do to push therapies towards our patients."

-- Nicole Rojas - Head of Digital Communications, Shire.


Intranet strategy & planning

With Office 365 and SharePoint, Shire built their digital workspace with a key focus on content governance. Their goal was not to limit and secure the content, but to ensure it is curated in a consistent, compelling, discoverable way. They recently completed their largest acquisition to-date, quadrupling the size of their global workforce. Thus, they needed an intranet that worked for them during this expansion and beyond to keep everyone productive and connected.


Their vision is to provide a modern, secure communications and collaboration platform to their mobile workforce; this was their North Star – something they could use to guide change for how people work at Shire. They then chose to embrace the leading edge – to use the latest releases from Microsoft.


Here are their key approaches to strategy and planning:

  • Governance First: The core project team articulated roles and responsibilities, platform support, application development, and tools and resources. They also established an Office 365 Governance Team that would maintain, and review, items related to Office 365.
  • Strategic line of site: They align their initiatives and efforts with the strategic drivers of the company. How would the digital workspace enable and further those initiatives? Before meeting with business leaders, the team made sure to give real examples of how the digital workspace will help achieve their goals. 
  • Office 365 and supporting Vendors: Shire knew that Office 365 was a robust, plentiful productivity toolkit. They also knew and discovered areas that they wanted to do more than just the standard offering.  So, they identified early on other vendors to help them take Office 365 even further – again for the areas they and their leadership agreed upon to invest time and resources. 
  • Build a great team! This includes vendors and consultants – aka, the panelists in the webinar+++.  Shire worked hard to identify the right mix of talented resources, some of whom are in this webinar (full panelist list below). And it was not just technical IQ, it was important how everyone worked together throughout.
  • Don't underestimate the amount of time, resources, and budget needed. Things change, and things changed throughout this project. Their feedback to themselves and others going forward, “Account for the unknowns in your planning and budgeting.”
  • Change Management and Training are key enablers to success of any project. Know what’s coming from Microsoft, and prepare people for use, configuration and development. Make sure plans incorporate these pieces. Not just for the project but post project implementation.  Businesses are still going to need to manage changes/updates and provide training, after go-live. 

Below are two screenshots from Shire’s intranet:

Shire's 'The Hub' portal on SharePoint in Office 365Shire's 'The Hub' portal on SharePoint in Office 365Shire's 'Policy Center' within The Hub takes an approach to house all policies in a central location, and create search-based views across different sites.Shire's 'Policy Center' within The Hub takes an approach to house all policies in a central location, and create search-based views across different sites. 

SharePoint communication sites use within the overall Shire intranet

Alongside modern team sites for collaboration, Shire is an early adopter for the new SharePoint communication sites in Office 365 – to help tell their stories to each other, with broad reach built in. In the webinar, they describe sites that are “fit for purpose” and could easily adopt the evolving technology. Every site, and the information within, is then accessible via the SharePoint home in Office 365 and the SharePoint mobile apps. These both offer good user experiences and increase visibility and engagement.


Shire saw communication sites as a great solution for IT business partners, too, to present to their clients. They give various business owners something beautiful, that allows them to focus on the content in a timely fashion without worry to design or development. They noted that the consistency with web part usage across team and communication sites was important – for consistency of how people used the tools to achieve what they needed. And for the budget side of the business, a resulting high return on investment.


Here are two in-production communication sites at Shire – each a great use cases:

'Fueling Growth' on the left - used to highlight growth investments, 'WeLearn' on the right - used for internal career training.'Fueling Growth' on the left - used to highlight growth investments, 'WeLearn' on the right - used for internal career training.

Mobility, too, was a key portion of what they wanted for their internal communications - to broadly reach their users across devices without a ton of work to make pages and web parts responsive, it just all works and reflows on mobile out-of-the-box so users remain productive and up to date on the go; you can install the SharePoint mobile app for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile.


You can read more about Sue Hanley’s thoughts and guidance on communication sites in her two related articles:

Design and development considerations

In the middle of the webinar, we turned to discuss their approach on design and development. And per their governance practices, Shire first looks to see if the desired functionality is provided by Microsoft out-of-the-box AND is it worth spending time and budget with clear ties to a key business outcome. Once decided, they aim to align with user interface patterns found throughout Office 365, to facilitate a consistent end user experience.


It, too, was important for them to be able to create highly reusable components. This not only made it easier to scale and futureproof, it also allowed them to thoughtfully include legacy applications, on-premises development and even considerations for hybrid – mapping to the what’s possible in the cloud, or for future app migration.


Shire's custom 'Featured Content' web part showing the edit pane.Shire's custom 'Featured Content' web part showing the edit pane.

Hope and dreams for what comes next…

Shire approaches the now and the what’s coming with an evolutionary mindset. They evolve not only with what tech is rolling out, they assess and reassess business priorities on a consistent basis. This helps ensure good adoption and alignment across the teams. Knowing what’s coming next from Microsoft and what’s needed next by the business guides the internal solution delivery list.


With their future in mind then, toward the end of the webinar, we focused on what each panelist saw as a personal hope and dream– aka, their asks to Microsoft to further round out The Hub through continued value and use of SharePoint and Office 365; I can tell you the engineering ears back in Redmond perked up at this section 😊.


Here’s a quick summary of their asks:

  • Improve ‘how to’ developer & design documentation, plus examples. They have had fun reverse engineering off of some of the first-party Microsoft web parts, but more of the how would help speed development via supported patterns and practices.
  • Bracket, bracket link'bility “[[pageName… ]]” - the ability to link to a page to tell a story by using better connections, ala wiki-like gestures.
  • Provide the ability to aggregate content from across sites, news items, sites and pages – they like the capabilities within the site, and as they grow, they see the benefit and value of being able to rollup information across sites.
  • Company news– team news is great, and in use at Shire, but to further support broader news and announcements, they asked that Microsoft expand the news service to be able to more centrally manage and curate news out to specific groups or all company – a top-down approach with audience targeting.

Panelists extraordinaire

A huge thank you to our panelists, for their time, expertise and willingness to share. Each brought a specific talent, each complimenting each other to the benefit of the project and their working environment. If you ask me, all are worth following, to learn more from people who know what they know (and have taken some bumps and bruises so you don’t have to), and are good at sharing:

  • Nicole Rojas (Head of Digital Communications, Shire) [@LucyinBoston]
  • Carlos Pelayo (Lead IT Business Partner, Shire) [@CarlosPelayoMA]
  • Sue Hanley (SharePoint Consultant (MVP)) [@susanhanley]
  • Dave Feldman (Architect (Shire & MVP)) [@bostonmusicdave]
  • D'Arce Hess (SharePoint Developer (MVP)) [@DarceHess]
  • Mike Tolly (SharePoint Developer, Blue Metal) [@mptolly]
  • Scot Hillier (Independent consultant (MVP)) [@ScotHillier]
  • Mark Kashman (Senior Product Manager, Microsoft [host]) [@mkashman]


Related resources

#SharePoint <3 Shire = #SPShire#SharePoint <3 Shire = #SPShire

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