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Show Notes

2:08Considerations of Going With Native SharePoint
7:55Yammer’s Rise
8:35Content Rationalization – How Do You Decide On What To Keep?
12:00SharePoint Intranet-In-A-Box Filling in the Gaps
16:103 Current Trends of Microsoft Teams
22:19Sam’s Biggest Fear with Teams
23:45Is Microsoft Going to Buy a SharePoint IIAB company?


SharePoint intranets in-a-box report – The buyers’ guide to intranet products for SharePoint and Microsoft 365

SharePoint intranets report exec summary

Transcript for SharePoint Intranet in a Box Market with Sam Marshall (2020 Update)

Danny Ryan:It’s Thursday, April 9th and today I sit down with Tommy and Sam Marshall and we discuss the SharePoint intranet-in-a-box, changes that have been happening recently in Microsoft 365 and sort of what our expectations are for the year. I hope you enjoy.


Hello and welcome. We have our annual meeting with Sam Marshall. Sam, how are you doing?


Sam Marshall:I’m doing great. Thank you, Danny. How are you guys?


Danny Ryan:Hanging in there, hanging in there. I think the whole world is hanging in there right now, right?


Sam Marshall:Yeah. Holding your breath, quite appropriately.


Danny Ryan:Absolutely, absolutely. And I’ve got Tommy here with me as well, our yearly get together to take a check across the pond and see how things are going and I just love staying in touch with you, I love all the work that you’re doing at ClearBox and I think it’s great just to stay in touch and learn sort of what the trends are recently because you do such a great job with your report, with the SharePoint intranet-in-a-box report. It’s wonderful.


Sam Marshall:I’m British, we don’t say things like that. We say, “Oh, it’s fine.”


Danny Ryan:We’re American. We’re very..


Sam Marshall:It’s not bad. If you’re really keen you say, it’s not bad but, thank you. Thank you for that. It’s lovely to talk to you guys. I think it’s really nice to feel part of this community and stay connected to cross with the US as well.


Danny Ryan:Absolutely, absolutely. So since my internet is going in and out here, I’m going to hand it over to Tommy and myself and just want to do a catch up of this year, really sort of interested in hearing what trends are coming out. And then also, I’d love to hear about what is the latest version of the report and just sort of catch us up on things like that, and that’d just be wonderful to hear from you. I think I’ll kick it off here with a question and Tommy if you want to, we can just take it from there. One of the things I find every year we talk about, which is sort of in the market, what are we seeing with people using native SharePoint and especially with the new modern experience. And I think you do a great job at the beginning of the report.


Sort of like going through the process of thinking through which is right for your organization. And I mean, I think one of the trends that I’ve been seeing with working with a lot of customers has been them wanting to go native. It’s them really taking a very close look at that. And especially for, I mean, we’re working with communities or companies that are in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of users, and really sort of seeing them as, we can barely our arms around what’s going on at Microsoft and the stuff that’s coming that they’re really trying to focus in on the native experience. I was just wondering if you’re seeing the same thing as well?


Sam Marshall:Yeah, for sure. I think that that’s quite a strong sentiment this year. Microsoft has been advancing at such a super fast pace and I’m interested to see how keen Microsoft are to still kind of take on board feedback and keep moving the product forward in a way that I don’t think it was true even like two or three years ago. So now they’re saying yeah, we’re getting this feedback, for example, about everybody wants hubs of hubs. So they said that they’re working on that kind of thing so you can have nested hubs. So that’s very encouraging. And I think the implication that has been that companies have said, well, even if we can’t do it with standard SharePoint, we have faith that that will come eventually so we’re more willing to do without, which for sure in the report that we do look at SharePoint intranet-in-a-box add on products is creating an interesting time for the many vendors that we’ve been looking at over the years.


I do think actually there’s going to be a bit of a switchback next year with companies that try and do it natively and hit the bumpers and step back and say, well, is this the right strategy? I think it’s absolutely right to experiment with it, but you might get so far and say, although we could do this with a little bit of custom code, it then becomes a little bit more custom code and before you know it, you’re back to where you were five years ago. Well, we’ve built our own product and now we’ve got to maintain this thing and every release that Microsoft puts out is at risk of breaking our stuff. And we’re back to being in our software developers, which as a company we never wanted to be.


Danny Ryan:I hear you. I hear you. Yeah, I think it’s that balance. It’s interesting to see and the pendulum might swing back and forth with folks through the years and seeing what they want to do. I think it’s just good for us. I think we’re still doing lots of what we’re calling transformations, in essence is just a migration from different cloud products over to Microsoft 365 where we’ve still been doing a lot of the Jive migrations. And in fact, since all this stuff has been happening in the world, a lot of people are reaching out to us, they’re finally saying, we need to do this. Many companies we’ve been talking to five plus years and every year, they sort of look at it. Now, all of a sudden they’re like, let’s do this now.


Sam Marshall:Do you think Jive is going to be like Lotus Notes that every time you think it’s dead, you find a new nest of Lotus Notes [crosstalk 00:05:53]. Might just dump it down again and replace it.


Danny Ryan:And there is a bit of like when we meet up with them, it’s a little bit like group therapy where they come in and we’re like, okay, how long have you been hating Jive? Has it ruined your marriage yet. There’s some vitriol where people come into the conversations with where they’re upset and it’s been a really bad experience for many years. And it’s almost like this abuse thing like, you guys really want another year of this? Are you sure you want this? Are you ready to go make the move? So that’s been interesting to see and I think that we often want to bring up the conversation about the experience that they have in Jive now and what the experience is going to be as they move over to Microsoft 365 and Microsoft 365.


We want that to be a positive change. We don’t want this to be all of a sudden, Jive does certain things very well and then once you make the move, we want this to continue to be well adopted and something that they love to use. And as you know with Microsoft 365, there are some things that you need to do to improve the experience. So that’s one of the things that we’ve been focusing in on, so.


Sam Marshall:Yeah, yeah. And I still think that the social element of Microsoft 365 is quite fragmented and relatively immature. And I can imagine that a lot of companies that were early adopters of Jive and really believe that social internet story will miss that because they probably have built up some very active communities, and when you move them over into Yammer or Teams, you know you have a dilemma there in itself, you’re going to miss some of the richness of the experience.


Danny Ryan:Yep. Some of the more recent opportunities that we’ve been seeing there, it’s been many years. It seems like Microsoft has really invested in Yammer and they’ve recently started doing some new things with it. So the set of opportunities that we’re seeing, there seems to be a little bit more interest in that, which is good to see. But we continue to have the problem which everybody has, which is moving content into Yammer, but it’s difficult for us to do. And so you end up coming up with some alternate solutions. And then the conversations, we’ve been doing this thing called content rationalization which is, what’s the value of the content that you have in this other system, and investing the money to move it from one place over to the next place.


And what do you lose because there’s different strategies that you can take. Some people just are like, tell your end users we’re going to be off on this day and you have to get all your stuff off by then to try to move everything over, which we don’t recommend, to taking sort of a hybrid approach, which is, hey, this is a good time to clean up the closet and then make the move. So we’ve been having lots of those types of conversations with people as well. Tommy, I’ve been talking too much. Go ahead. [inaudible 00:09:26].


Sam Marshall:Well, no. This is a really interesting point, isn’t it? About what are your social communities? Because there’s an argument that goes, well, the conversations that the actual social stuff should be transitory and even to the extent someone says, well, someone asked a question last year and they got some loads of answers, but are we sure that they’d still get the same answers this year? Or maybe the advice that people would give us moved on, so it’s maybe dangerous even to archive it because the answer we’ve given as off the moment, and I was thinking if you’ve got a really good community, it should be producing resources outside of the conversations in the same way that if you’ve got a problem with your PC and you search the web and you get one of these end user help site, whether there’s 300 answers and someone finally say, “Yeah, answer 297 was the right one, we’ll pin it to the top.”


You don’t need all the other stuff. What you would really like is a document that extracts the answer and puts into something which is the references, say, this is the recommended answer and that’s probably the only bit you need.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah. It’s interesting you say that Sam. We recently presented on the P&P monthly call or weekly call, where we did a Q&A web part for one of our customers because they were working at the Q&A in Jive, that that is the one thing they couldn’t leave behind. And so we created that Q&A web part and open sourced it because it was the only reason for them to go to Yammer, and they said, “We don’t want to launch another platform just for that question and answer.” So that’s something that I think it would be great if it got brought in as a capability in SharePoint. And we know SharePoint has just been terrible about discussions and rich discussion content and making that modern, there is no answer, no clear cut answer for that.


And so it’s interesting with the community is saying, these things are missing. You start seeing that come up as P&P and then ideally they take that and productize it into platform so people are not stuck with, well, I don’t have a rich discussion capability.


Sam Marshall:Yeah. I mean, one of the things I still notice in the SharePoint intranet-in-a-box products is that they are filling in a lot of the gaps. Microsoft is really good at doing the kind of requirements checklist from a sales point of view and saying, yeah, don’t worry. If you got Microsoft 365, you’ve got publishing, you’ve got use, you’ve got discussions, you got video, which is all true, but it’s not as if it was all designed as one integrated product. For example, if you comment on stream, that common doesn’t have anywhere outside the stream. It’s not like it can then go to Danny’s profile and see that he’s commented on a stream and also responded to an executive blog posts and see the activity.


And sometimes I think Microsoft is more interested in that checklist than in doing a lot of the groundwork to make some of these feature sets complete. And that’s where the in-a-box products still come into my mind, that is almost like what you’re buying into is the vendors have anticipated some of the gaps and the awkward bits that are not immediately apparent, but you would start to see maybe six months into an implementation of trying to do things just with standard SharePoint.


Tommy Ryan:It’s interesting you made the comment around social, where that still seems to be one of the gaps and one of the kind of little nooks that people can come in and say, well, you still don’t have a good comprehensive social experience. And Danny and I were just looking at Teams the other day and we were so excited to see tags come in. And I don’t know if you played with the tags that are in Teams, but it’s really like a distribution list-


Sam Marshall:Yeah, isn’t it? Yeah. You can target your alerts to people. Yeah, but it’s not target like you get in Slack, if we could mention Slack.


Tommy Ryan:Yeah. It’s like a Slack-


Sam Marshall:Or [inaudible 00:14:05] Yammer. Yammer has quite nice hashtags now and you can follow a hashtag as a topic interest.


Tommy Ryan:Right. And so that common concept of a tag that is there in Yammer, but it’s not in Teams, it’s not in SharePoint, having that holistic experience that you’ve got cross cutting, stainer concepts that can be surfaced across the platform. And that I think creates that opportunity where you still see third party and say, well, we can kind of glue it together for you. We can have these concepts to be similar across your user experience. What have you seen with Teams in terms of how has that changed the landscape for the intranet-in-a-box type companies? Because Teams really seems to be something that has got quite a bit of traction and I think a lot of success with conversations around content that for us, it’s increased our productivity quite a bit to be able to have that context of a conversation that lives with a document.


And so when our intranet-in-a-box as I’m seeing some of them, they’re putting a lot of emphasis on how they cooperate and enhance the team’s experience.


Sam Marshall:Yeah. I mean, Teams is getting 90% of the love at the moment and even through March, I think it’s more than double its daily user base just in one month because of the sudden interest in working at a distance, which I think is great and I hope that people learn good habits from it and take them forward. For the in-a-box vendors, they’re seeing opportunities there because Teams is a relatively new product and there’s kind of three trends. So one is how do you take an intranet and put it into Teams? Because [inaudible 00:16:16] that you’ve got the Team’s application up on the desktop, so wouldn’t it be great if on the left hand rail, you saw an icon for your company intranet and then you could see, for example, news which is published in a more visually appealing way than just doing an announcement as opposed within the normal Teams streaming.


One is how do we take Teams and put that into your intranet, because the other big challenge routines is that the navigation is really pretty lean. So yeah, you’ve got your long list of Teams that you’re part of, but if you want to go through an application or indeed if you only part time go to Teams because you’re perhaps a stakeholder in it and once a month you want to be part of a steering group, but you really don’t want to fill up your left hand list, the discovery part of Teams is pretty hard. And then the third one is more around the governance of Teams. So we’ve all got the gray hairs from SharePoint sprawl and team sites, terrible naming conventions and terrible security, so we know what good information hygiene looks like.


Teams has kind of gone back to that free for all of you click a button and suddenly you’ve got a whole set of features deployed because you’ve got the group, you got the SharePoint team site, you’ve got the Teams’ interface, our mailbox that nobody really knows about.


Danny Ryan:It’s almost like they mean to do this thing. It’s almost like they mean to do this.


Sam Marshall:Surely it’s like that brilliant scientist that creates a monster inadvertently whilst trying to invent a carrot that will feed the world. But the governance split side, a lot of companies, although they want some interaction, they don’t want to let that whole genie out of the bottle. So things like a naming convention or just saying, you created a team called Phoenix project, but did you know there’s already five teams called project Phoenix one project Phoenix five? Are you sure you want to do this? And that I think is a great contribution to getting your arms around not just the team development but thinking again about the whole digital workplace experience that you create in teams. That is all good.


So far, I haven’t seen any fantastic examples of bringing in an entity that feels a little bit like you’re just using Teams as a web browser on an intranet, which is still pretty much a standard web based paradigm. My dream is that one day, we’ll have more or less the ability to put web parts into a team space and kind of mix up a little more the conversation element and the curated publishing element.


Tommy Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.


Sam Marshall:[inaudible 00:18:54] develop software, so I can dream big and have no comeback.


Danny Ryan:What I find kind of interesting and sort of back to… One of the benefits should be that if you’re using sort of Microsoft and their product should be the integration between, you were mentioning this earlier before, should be that there is integration between the different services that provides and it just seems strange where it seems like the real opportunity for Microsoft is the integration between all these different products, yet they still feel like each group is developing their own thing, and that’s a challenge because they’re a large organization, they do have their own development groups. They’re sort of their own thing that they’re trying to do.


And I do think Microsoft is getting better at it, but I think that is probably one of the things that internally, their challenge is to get the different service. You have mentioned earlier about stream and if I leave a comment and it’s nowhere else, it’s not visible anywhere else. That’s the challenge to Microsoft, is the integrated experience, which it’s typically the reason why you go with the one vendor solution is that it’s integrated. That’s typically why you do it. We know it’s not the case right now with Microsoft, but that could be their advantage and right now it’s not. As we know, once you see the features, but then once you dig into it, you see that they’re missing something with the integration piece, so.


Sam Marshall:I agree. If you major on innovation, then the integrate has to come later, because if every time you try and move forward, you’ve got to align with five other things and you’re going to get more turgid. And I think we should acknowledge that Microsoft do a fantastic job in integrating what they do with the things like Word and Excel and PowerPoint. I’m really impressed sometimes when they announce a feature and they say, “And now we can also do this within the web version of PowerPoint.” So some of the things are so much better than the last three or four years ago, but so swamped with announcements. I lose track sometimes of, gosh, it’s only coming in the last three weeks because it feels like I’ve been using it for ages already. Yeah, there’s some very good stuff on the personal productivity and…


Danny Ryan:I’ve probably mentioned this in past years and we talked about Jive earlier, the reason why people originally went with Jive was because they outpaced Microsoft with the three year product cycles. Now the reverse is the case. Now Jive’s not putting any updates out and they’re outpacing them. So the original intent, which was to stay innovative has now switched. I mean, so it’s fascinating to see how that happened over a course of time. And a lot of our customers, I think right now, instead of them just saying the cost; I don’t need to pay for two things that do essentially the same thing, or they look like they do the same thing, now, it’s an innovation problem.


Yeah, there are things that we don’t have that we want and it’s stopping us from innovating. So it’s interesting to see that come along too.


Sam Marshall:My biggest fear with Teams is that because people see it as the place to be, they’re starting to stuff in everything they can think of. And a lot of people say, well, should it be your digital workplace launch pad, should you do your expenses through it? Is there a place where you see all your calendars and so on? And the risk is that it loses some of its current appeal, which is that it’s relatively simple. So the affordance of what do I go to Teams for is, while I collaborate with my team, I have conversations. I can have a video, I can see documents. And the more you load extra stuff into it, actually the less clear it becomes to your average user about what Teams is for and why it’s meant to be in there, or indeed, learnability becomes harder as well.


So I think it will be good actually if Microsoft pulled back a little bit at some point and didn’t try and make Teams [inaudible 00:23:12] into all things. There was an interesting study from SWOOP Analytics because they do an analytics login for Teams, and 70% of all the traffic was chat, ad hoc chat groups, which surprised me because I do everything with channels. To me, that makes sense. It’s such a collaboration. But most organizations have deployed Teams and said, “Here’s what’s up for the enterprise. Off you go.” They’re probably just sharing puppy pictures and really ignoring a lot of that functionality, which I think is a really missed opportunity if that’s the case.


Danny Ryan:Yeah. Yeah. I have to ask this question every year since Microsoft this past year bought Movere, a migration tool, so that was a product that was out there. Any thoughts on whether Microsoft is going to buy one of these and then the rest of them go away? Or you can say no thoughts, but I’m interested to see whether that’s going to happen.


Sam Marshall:Are they going to buy migration tool, are you asking?


Danny Ryan:No. One of these SharePoint intranet-in-a-box sort of like is-


Sam Marshall:Oh, okay.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Sam Marshall:No. I think if they were going to do it, they would have done it two years ago-


Danny Ryan:They would have done it, okay.


Sam Marshall:Yeah. They’re just going their own route and I can see them buying a team’s governance tool and working some on that end. I’d love it if they bought an analytics tool that was other than the Microsoft 365 analytics which basically says, look at how many licenses you’ve gotten, and look who’s using their licenses and buy more licenses, but doesn’t really give you any insights into how you might want to change your engagement tactics as a communicator, for example. Yeah. I think the in-a-box market, it’s going to become more specialist and it’s great that people have different ways of solving the problems they have that aren’t solved by native SharePoint. But I think we’ve hit peak in-a-box diversity at the moment and we’re seeing, for example, some companies consolidating.


So when we first did the report back in 2016, Hadron was one of the original products, I think even claimed to be one of the first intranet-in-a-box products. And they’ve now become wisdom partners. So even they’ve had to rethink about the market potential now. They were never a massive player, but in the US catapult, for example, they’ve become valor partners and they, I think, did have infused client life product. But they did move into, if you can’t beat them, join them tactic.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you think any of these companies are going verticalize, try to come up with instead of trying to go into certain industries? Have you seen any of that at all?


Sam Marshall:There’s already a few of those. So Hadron specializes in medical and in our National Health Service, they really understand that business. There’s a couple that are already majoring on the law side of things because the discovery angle isn’t something that most of the standard in-a-box products would cover. And probably yes, that is a good strategy because if you really know an industry, you’ll say, a dozen things that Microsoft just doesn’t seem to understand about this industry that we do, so let’s focus on developing tools for them.


Danny Ryan:Yep. Yep. That makes sense.


Tommy Ryan:So Sam, how does the shape of your report changing for this year? What do you see that’s becoming different and things that you want to highlight that you think are relevant to the market intranet-in-a-box?


Sam Marshall:Yes. So since we last spoke, the exciting change for us is that we’ve moved to a quarterly update model. So we found with an annual update, there just been so many of the changes happened, not just to the product but also to SharePoint itself. So now we do a quarterly update. We just released version 5.1 last month, heavily into version 5.2. And it means that whenever a product has a major update, we’ll review it then rather than making them sit six months or so before we come back to them. So that’s one thing that we’re changing. I’m sure the scenarios will evolve to focus more on the team’s angle and the team’s integration. And what else I think is a very interesting move by, for example, Beezy and Akima is integration with non Microsoft 365 services.


So really trying to create an employee experience where you don’t care what’s happening behind the scenes in terms of booking your travel or updating your HR profile because they are acting as effective [inaudible 00:28:01]. But we’ve got two other products in the pipeline as well. So we’re going wider, loads of exciting changes in what we’re calling the employee app space or SocialChorus, Dynamic Signals, Staffbase started off as mobile, were first line worker oriented tools. We’re going to be doing a similar with [inaudible 00:28:22] around that. And for years people have said, well, if we’re not in the Microsoft world, what are our alternatives? So independent internet space will be doing another report around for example, Igloo, Interact, GlooMaps and all the other great products that deserve some lime light too.


Danny Ryan:Good for you. That’s great.


Sam Marshall:Yeah. One of the narratives that’s happening is to say, well, if SharePoint is becoming more like the reference content repository, but we don’t consume it from within a SharePoint interface, we consume it within Teams, then do we actually have to use for example, hub sites or communication sites to access the news and stuff? Or maybe we can have a standalone application that pulls the news from SharePoint and understands the document in Microsoft 365, and then has its own presentation layer, which maybe gives us more flexibility around the look and feel and the branding, and more integration options than we’ve had before.


Danny Ryan:Excellent. We’ll wrap it up. Any thoughts to wrap this conversation up at all or?


Sam Marshall:So we’re in changing times. There’s this massive uptake in Teams adoption. And I guess if you’re listening to this, just really think about the mid to longterm as well, and one of the things I’m really kind of pushing this year is to talk about digital literacy for your employees. It’s not just about giving them Teams, think about how you get them doing more than it being a corporate WhatsApp and understanding for example, mute and notifications and how it can actually enhance the life rather than just be one more thing to look at.


Danny Ryan:That’s great. That’s great. Well, we’ll see you in a year. Maybe [crosstalk 00:30:08].


Sam Marshall:Be my pleasure.


Danny Ryan:Thank you so much for meeting up and yeah, if you’re ever here in the States or wherever you are, I’d love to meet up in person would be good, but that won’t be happening [crosstalk 00:30:19].


Sam Marshall:I was going to say that invitation sounded less likely. [inaudible 00:00:30:26], I’ll buy you a beer. Hey, but it sounds like you guys are doing great work. It sounds like you’ve been really successful, so that’s fantastic to hear. Keep it up. [inaudible 00:30:36].


Danny Ryan:Thanks. Yep. Thank you so much and thanks for staying in touch. Thanks everybody for listening and have a wonderful day. Thank you. Bye bye.


Thank you for listening to the Work Together Better Podcast. We’re available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn. If you’re looking for a partner to help you craft a modern digital workplace in the Microsoft cloud, please come by and see us at That’s the number three spelled out, Thank you and have a great day.



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