An Intranet That Doesn’t Engage Will Grow Stale and Unused. So, the Design Is Worth That Investment
Interviewed by Vishal Gangawane and Mandar Bhagwat
Mark Kashman is a Senior Product Manager on the SharePoint team focused primarily on SharePoint Online, the mobile, and intelligent intranet. Mark has been with Microsoft since 2000. His contribution to SharePoint began when he started building digital asset management (DAM) solution built on top of SharePoint 2007 (IMM, the Interactive Media Manager) before moving to the SharePoint team.
Mark is a speaker at SharePoint North America 2018 being held in Las Vegas. He took some time out to speak to Spadeworx before the conference.
Q. It's a given that Intranets are important communication vehicles for most organizations. What additional benefits will the 'intelligent' intranet bring to the table?
Mark Kashman: Much of what is intelligent is how the intranet becomes more aware of the user who is signed in. It becomes more dynamic as the user moves from site to site, reads the news, and navigates into and out of libraries and lists. Each experience is aware of who the user is working with and what they are working on – which then begins to present content and people to the user before they have to go hunting for it. This equates to an intranet that works for you, once you visit, and rely on more.
Q. You must have experienced and have seen so many Intranet implementations. In your opinion, what are the things common amongst the best-implemented intranets?
Mark Kashman: Engaging design that matches thoughtful information architecture are the first two areas that come to mind. Users should want not only to come to an intranet for what they are looking for but to return as they experience a beautiful site that holds value on a more recurring basis.
Second, it needs to be current, both with functionality and the content itself. This can be highly curated or programmatic based on intranet rules and policies, so people don't see the same content over and over again, and if something gets out of date – that it is removed or disappears from the users' viewpoint.
Q. Could you share your views on how intranets will evolve over the near-long term - say in the 5-10 years. What are the challenges and opportunities that you foresee?
Mark Kashman: The notion of a more connected intranet will evolve to bring in further sources of information that surround us that can influence and help our day-to-day. This could be as simple as external news sources, and it could be services and systems that boil complex scenarios and information clashes into meaningful insights based on all your interactions with the world – your social influences, personal surroundings based on location, awareness of sentiment, and more. The challenge is to refine and have the intranet be helpful without loss on the nuance of what is important for the individual.
Q. SharePoint Hub Sites is brand new and is generating a lot of buzzes. What are the significant strengths of Hub SItes? How do you expect communication and collaboration to change in organizations with the introduction of Hub Sites?
Mark Kashman: The best feature of SharePoint hub sites is that they are simple and powerful. Once established, they allow for easy ways to better organize your intranet. As they are established, we expect that people will experience better access to content that is important to them without having to hunt for it. There are also simple visual cues that one is in the same family of sites, and easy thing to miss if not done right, and the value is confidence passed on to the user.
Q. Being a Senior Product Manager, what are the most challenging and interesting customer implementation scenarios you have come across?
Mark Kashman: Certainly, the move to the cloud adds complexity for customers who need or want to span from on-premises to online. And this can be a moment in time, or established for some time.
Once hybrid is established, the complexity barrier comes down. And then the journey is a mix of using more cloud and less dependence on on-premises. The mid-term complexity is a variance of site types in the mix of the intranet, classic publishing sites alongside modern sites. This is possible, and sometimes poses a variance of feature set and design look and feel. But the challenge is addressable, and for many customers who are planning for a cloud-mostly, cloud-only future, this is a manageable, meaningful step.
Q. We work in a lot of scenarios where the end-users of the intranets we work on are Millennials. These projects are always interesting to work on. Do you any thoughts on how intranets can be made more engaging for Millennials?
Mark Kashman: I don't think of it as age groups, but of new experiences some people prefer, crave, or are used to. And this is something that drives the industry at its core – how can I make my product/service more engaging.
And with SharePoint, we've been on a user interface/user experience journey for the last two years, and have many plans in the works to continuously adjust and refine as we go. We get a lot of signals from a lot of users, of all ages, and we work to refine their collective experience continuously.
Q. What's your take on the voice and conversational interfaces with respect to intranets? Will be seeing mainstream adoption of intranets integrated with voice assistants?
Mark Kashman: There are a lot of chat methods, some human, some not – and all are programmed and interacted with humans from the get-go – so far. And per intranets, they will simply adapt and adopt them all.
We see great progress with how the Microsoft/SharePoint-based intranet interacts with chat systems like Microsoft Teams and Yammer, and of course, email via Outlook. And as our customers and partners bring in bots using the Bot Framework, the service simply provides a method for placing the bot where it needs to be against the corpus of knowledge or actions it's meant to pull from and provide to the user via chat. And these will get smarter, and humans will get more chat savvy in context with their content, and the intranet plays the role of service to all – still keeping the glue that binds people between their content, information, and forward-moving communications.
Q. Intranet sites often don't get enough love from stakeholders when it comes to user experience. What would be your advice to user experience designers working on intranets?
Mark Kashman: It's worth it. An intranet that doesn't engage will grow stale and unused to the degree of which the investment pays back. So, the design is worth that investment – and only has been proven worthy over and over again.
Q. Intranet adoption remains a big issue. We spend a ton of time listening to what our eventual users have to say during the conceptualization phase to address this. What's your advice to organizations planning intranets to help them drive and retain engagement?
Mark Kashman: That same approach, to listen, to iterate beyond initial rollout, to train users, to continuously communicate to them. You'll never reach 100% for some obvious reasons, but you can influence more and more with each simple new feature, with each refinement based on feedback, with each executive support push. And last: content is key. If you don't have good content (and good search and discovery to find or showcase that content dynamically), then there is no good reason to visit the most beautiful of intranets. Cherish the contributor too, and make it easy for them to contribute.