How we did SharePoint Online 2010 Intranet Project – High Level Items to Consider

Note: This article relates to SharePoint online 2010 version and majority of the items would relates to SharePoint online 2013 as well.

Recently I have worked as SharePoint Architect responsible for highly successful, 2500 seat, Office 365 and SharePoint Online Intranet engagement for one of the fortune 500 companies. Typically whenever you are working on the SharePoint Online projects, there are many factors & moving pieces you need to consider as Solutions Architect. Although I wasn’t involved from scratch/ inception of project, I have been very fortunate enough to join organization as consultant at fairly early stage of SharePoint Online implementation project.

With this article, I am going to highlight some of the major things needs to be considered for real world Office 365 and SharePoint Online projects. This article will provide not only insight into real world example but also provide high level project plan and things to consider while designing and implementing SharePoint Online Intranet. At high level, SharePoint Online projects are very similar to On-premises SharePoint implementation excluding IT Pro tasks for infrastructure planning & deployment (servers, hardware, virtualizations, SharePoint setup, SQL, network, DNS, certificates, backup & restore, DR, high availability etc.) and key SharePoint online limitations.

Preparing SharePoint Online Engagement

  • Understand the Business Requirements
    • It is important to understand why organization has decided to invest in SharePoint Online and implement their business applications & environment in SharePoint Online. You may be lucky if decision is made when you are involved in initial discovery and decision process. If not, it is important to understand business requirements and ask key questions before SharePoint Online deployment & configuration.
    • Some of the key questions you may want to identity or help organization make decisions to design SharePoint Online efficiently are as following.
      • Is organization purchasing SharePoint Online dedicated or SharePoint Online standard?
      • Is SharePoint Online would be only SharePoint environment for Organization? Are there any other SharePoint On-Premises environment which may create Hybrid Scenarios with On-Premises farm?
      • Are we migrating any existing SharePoint environment data in SharePoint Online? Are we migrating as-it-is or taking this opportunity to reorganize the contents and site structures? For our project, we had latter option where we need to migrate content gradually & manually over the period of time by having more freedom of implementing new SharePoint 2010 features and deprecating old features.
      • What SharePoint Online standard plan organization is purchasing? There are various options available from E1, E2, E3 and standalone SharePoint Online Plan 1 and SharePoint Online Plan 2. Please work with your Microsoft rep for detailed features for each plans and licenses.
  • Understand the Office 365 and SharePoint Online Capabilities and Limitations
    • If you are SharePoint Architect designing Office 365 and SharePoint online environment, it is important to understand key features, capabilities, and large number of limitations of SharePoint online. Microsoft regularly updates Enterprise Descriptors for SharePoint Online.
    • If you are looking for quick notes on SharePoint Online capabilities & limitations, I have been also keeping track of SharePoint Online features for On-Premises SharePoint Architects here.
  • Identify your team, roles, and responsibilities
    • Having proper team structure in place is key for any successful IT projects. Key roles we had identified for our projects are Stake Holders/Product Owners, Project Manager, Business Analyst, SharePoint Architect/Technical Lead, SharePoint Developer, SharePoint Configurator, UI/UX Developer, Content Migration Users, Change Management Expert, Communication and Go-Live Temp Support
  • Identify the Project Management Approach
    • Most of the successful projects I have been involved recently has followed Agile project management approach one way or other. It is important to establish project management methodology. If organization has already mature agile project management team, it would be easy to adopt in SharePoint Online project, otherwise plan to add some additional time to educate stakeholders and business users. It also allows you to identify scope creep, efficient communication, manage client expectations, quick feedback on progress, foster team cohesiveness, identify risks, and mitigate them as quickly as possible using iterative approach.
    • Understanding importance of product owner role, product catalog, sprint catalog, daily standup meetings, tasks & hours tracking, retrospective meetings might be tricky if organization never been involved in Agile approach and may require steep learning curve. Plan to budget additional hours for Agile projects by assuming each resource would spend minimum 4-6 Hrs. on project related activities instead of real tasks due to their involvement in the sprint planning, sprint demos, and daily standup meetings.

Discovery Phase

  • Plan to organize initial 2-3 weeks of discovery phase with project stakeholders and map out business requirements with SharePoint Online capabilities. Use this period to evangelize and educate project stakeholders with SharePoint Online capabilities as well.
  • You can use discovery phase to configure proof of concept for some key features and how it would work in SharePoint online.
  • You can use discovery phase to define detailed project plan involving key business and technical activities including requirements workshops, users provisioning, information architecture, platform configuration, sites provisioning and site templates, user adoption, training, change management, and product release support etc. This time can be used to define different resources, project timeline, and project deliverables for SharePoint Online project.

Design and Analysis Phase

  • Perform requirements workshop
    • Plan to have Business Analyst working with project stakeholders and business users to define key requirements for site taxonomy, content taxonomy, content reorganization, custom applications, look & feel etc. Although it may feel like Business Analyst role may require only during initial phase of the project during requirements gathering, same role can be used to features validation and QA, build training materials, change management, user adoption activities, and bridging gap between business SMEs and technical team.
  • Plan for Office, Desktop, and Browser Support
    • Plan to validate if organization meets all the software and hardware requirements required by SharePoint Online. Office 365 requires specific versions of Windows, Office, and browsers on end-user desktops to ensure all the SharePoint Online features runs smoothly. Please plan to review Service descriptor for exact requirements.
  • Plan for URL Naming
    • It is important to note that SharePoint Online URL structure is based on name of your company provided during tenant sign up. This name can’t be changed afterwards. e.g. if your company name is contoso, URL would be – https://contoso.sharepoint.com. It is important to note that Vanity URLs are not supported for intranet zone sites or SPO private site collection. You can register domain and apply Vanity URLs to only SPO public web sites. e.g. https://www.constoso.com
  • Planning for Security & Authentication – Intranet Users, Extranet Users, Licenses, Administrators, End Users,  Single Sign on
    • Planning of users are one of the fundamental tasks for SharePoint Online & Office 365 infrastructure architecture. Office 365 allows multiple ways to provision users including Office 365 accounts or import existing users from on-premises AD.
    • Planning for authentication also allows you to plan any infrastructure changes required in your organization for single sing on. e.g. AD consolidation, AD cleanup, ADFS installation etc.
    • You should also plan for Office 365 groups if required. Typically Office 365 groups are group of Office 365 accounts which can be used across multiple site collections. E.g. if you have small set of SharePoint administrators, you can group them into Office 365 group called “SharePoint Admins” instead of adding them individually to each site collection as administrators.
    • You should plan for licenses and how many types of licenses required for each Office 365 users in your organizations. e.g. You can purchase mix set of Office 365 licenses to ensure small set of admin users with E3 license for enterprise usage and large set of general users with E1 license.
    • SharePoint Online introduces sharing feature for external partners. SharePoint online allows 10000 partner access licenses free for each tenants. For more information on how external user sharing features works, please plan to read my article here.
  • Planning for Governance – Set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes
    • Plan to define governance team and governance policies as early stage as possible. Having more stakeholders and key business users involved in defining SharePoint Online policies would be really useful for adoption and evangelizing new tool within organization. Having governance committee involved in initial release of Intranet information architecture & platform capabilities would be very beneficial defining policies for future maintenance & growth.
  • Planning for Information Architecture for Intranet
    • Planning for Site Hierarchy & Site Collections Architecture – Plan to have workshop with business users and stakeholders to make decision around how sites will be organized and how different factors like navigation, rolling up/targeting data, storage limitations of SharePoint online, and security hierarchy would affect site taxonomy. Plan to define high level Information Architecture diagram and use as baseline for all the sites vs. site collections discussions.
    • Planning for Navigation – Planning navigation & how users will navigate within and across different organization departments are key factors to identify if custom navigation components needs to be developed. e.g. since we had more than 1 site collections in organization structure and we wanted consistent top level navigation menu across all the site collections, we had to build custom top level navigation menu as Sandbox solution.
    • Planning for Targeting Content & Rollup data – Planning of how data will be roll up across multiple departments or target/consumed by multiple departments provides insight into site collection architecture. In SharePoint 2010 online, search is still limited and provides basic web parts to consume data across site collections. Organizations still heavily relies on Content Query web parts to rollup data efficiently with in site collection. Typically, business requirements like how data needs to rollup, how data needs to be consumed across multiple site collections, how data needs to be stored – centralized vs. de-centralized affects how site collections are organized.
    • Planning for Storage and Resource Quota – SharePoint Online limits 100 GB per site collection and this can be one of the key decision factor while designing single site collection vs. multiple site collections for the intranet. e.g. If you have business department with potentially more than 100 GB storage requirements, it must require dividing department site into multiple site collections. In our case, we went with multiple site collection for each major departments like HR, Legal, Supply Chain etc. for many reasons including storage quota.
    • Planning for Authorization & Security Groups – User and Site Membership – Planning for site security, security inheritance, and private/public sites are key for any well planned information architecture. Typically security and how users access the sites impacts how you would design site hierarchy. Site Security Groups are scoped at the site collection level. You must plan for security groups and how users will be authorized in the sites including custom site security groups. In our case, we have worked  multiple sessions with our stakeholders to understand their needs of locking down sites at IT level without taking away SharePoint features freedom from the end users.
  • Planning for Platform Configuration
    • Since there are no need to plan for servers & infrastructure in SharePoint Online, SharePoint Architect typically focuses on the some of the key tenant-level platform configurations like User Profiles, BCS, Secure Store, Managed Metadata, Search services etc.
    • Planning for User Profiles
      • Once Office 365 users are created, SharePoint User Profile Sync Service provisions SharePoint User Profiles which can be managed from SharePoint Online Administration Site. Tenant administrators can’t manage SharePoint User Profile Sync service in Office 365. At time of written, User Profile Sync service runs automatically every couple hours.
      • It is important to understand that only Office 365 basic user properties are synced with SharePoint User Profiles.  Since there are no user profile web service or user profile CSOM API available for SharePoint Online 2010, these custom properties must be filled out manually.
    • Planning for Audiences
      • You can create custom audiences in SharePoint Online based on User Profile properties for audience targeting. There is only one web part – Content Query web part supports audience targeting out of the box.
      • It is important to understand that audiences are compiled using timer job and tenant administrator has no control over when this job would run. At the time of written, audience compilation job runs once a week.
    • Planning for Social Capabilities & My Sites
      • Each tenant in SharePoint Online comes with pre-configured site collection for My Site Host. You can optionally disable My Site creation or enable My Site News Feed if it’s not activated. There are various options available under User Profile section of SharePoint Administration site for My Site settings.
      • By default, each my sites has 500 MB storage quota. It is important to note that tenant administrators can’t adjust storage quota for my sites and My Site storage not added to overall tenant’s storage pool.
    • Planning for Metadata, Corporate Taxonomies & Folksonomies
      • Managed Metadata Service provides taxonomies and folksonomies configuration from tenant-level Term Store service. SharePoint Online doesn’t allow administrative interface to the Managed Metadata Service. Managed Metadata service has been partitioned and pre-configured for each tenant.
      • Each tenant will receive 1 Term Store. Term store can be managed from SharePoint Online Admin Site or delegated to the Site Owners to manage term set from the Site Collections. Plan to work with stakeholders or business users to define the corporate taxonomy, managed metadata term set & terms.
    • Planning for Corporate Content Types
      • Enterprise Content Types across multiple site collections can be created from pre-defined content type hub. You can’t define site collection as a content type hub in SharePoint Online because it doesn’t provide administration page for managed metadata service. By default, Microsoft created content type hub at https://{rootsitecollectionUrl}/sites/contenttypehub
    • Planning for Search and Best Bets
      • SharePoint online 2010 doesn’t have any tenant-level search administration capability. Enterprise Search is partitioned for each tenant and it works as it is. Typically incremental crawl runs every 2-4 hours and it supports cross-site collection level search. You can also configure best bets for search results at the Search Site Collection level. You can’t create additional tenant level Content Sources, Search Scopes, Crawl Rules. Each tenant in SharePoint Online comes with pre-configured site collection for enterprise search center – https://{rootsitecollectionUrl}/search
      • As far as planning Search for SharePoint Online, one of the most important decision you need to make is to change the look & feel of Search to make it consistent with overall intranet branding.
      • It is important to note that SharePoint 2010 online supports only Enterprise Search, not FAST search. Additionally, SharePoint Online 2013 introduces capabilities for SharePoint Online administration.
  • Planning for Branding, Style Guide, & Navigation
    • Plan to have multiple workshops with stake holders, business users, and UX designer to implement multiple visual design mockups & UI/UX wireframes to demonstrate visualizations of key functionalities in early stage of the project.
    • It is also important to bring dedicated UI/UX developer working along with dedicated UI/UX designer (if they are different resources) to ensure visual mockups has valid components and can be easily implemented in SharePoint. Having both UI/UX designers and developers working in tandem would be foundation for successful branding implementation by ensuring knowledge transition from design phase to development phase.
  • Planning for Customizations & Development Environment
    • Plan to identify any custom applications needed to either configured using browser or develop using SharePoint designer or Visual Studio. SharePoint online standard enforces lots of limitations on what kind of customizations can be deployed to the SharePoint environment. Since developers/tenant administrators don’t have server access, farm level solutions are not supported. You must develop Sandbox Solutions which are scoped at the site collection level.
    • Plan to build development and staging environment along with Production environment. Since you can’t perform any Visual Studio development in SharePoint 2010 Online (SharePoint 2013 online support NAPA development tools for Apps), each developers must either need their own VMs or shared VMs for visual studio solutions development. SharePoint development environment standards for SharePoint Online are same as On-Premises environment. You can visit my article to gain more insight on different types of SharePoint development environment. Since you can’t have non-production tenant for staging environment in SharePoint Online unless you want to pay extra, plan to configure one or more site collections in production environment for dedicated staging environment. It is important to note that Search will crawl both staging and production data if both production and staging environments are in same tenant. In most cases, search is security trimmed so, it doesn’t expose staging data to the end-users in production environment.
  • Planning for Change Management
    • Depending on how organization will be moving to the new SharePoint online environment, there are various kind of change management activities might be required. Some of those activities can be Administrators Training, Site Owners Training, End-User Training, User Adoption Workshops, and Communication at different stages of the project. You can use different approaches like announcements on current Intranet home page, corporate Communication emails during and after release to communicate upcoming platform changes for the SharePoint Online based Intranet.
  • Planning for Backup and Restore
    • Since you don’t have access to any SharePoint Online databases or can’t run any backup PowerShell command to export site collection or sites data, you must rely on Microsoft to ensure your backup & restore strategy is implemented correctly. Since everything is managed at Microsoft data center, Microsoft is responsible for backup & restore and DR strategy for SharePoint Online. Based on most recent service descriptors, SharePoint Online data are backed up every 12 hours and retained for 14 days.
    • In addition to Microsoft controlled backup and DR strategy, each tenant have three level of recycle bins – site level recycle bin, site collection level recycle bin, and tenant level recycle bin. Both site and site collection level recycle bin allows you to restore any deleted sites or contents. As a tenant administrator, you can use Site Collection recycle bin to restore any accidental deletion of site collections.
  • Planning for SharePoint Online Support
    • Since you don’t have access to the Microsoft data centers, it is important to plan and educate tenant level administrators on how to contact Microsoft support. Although Microsoft guarantees 99% uptime, 6 hours RTO, and 1 hours RPO in their SLA, it is important to understand different channels you can take to contact Microsoft Online support. Typically Microsoft suggests to create ticket on Office 365 Admin Site to reach out to the first level support for any issues.
  • Planning for Ongoing Maintenance
    • One of the greatest benefits of cloud and SharePoint online architecture is you don’t need any extensive plan for ongoing maintenance for servers, patches, service packs. Since Microsoft data centers hosts most of the SharePoint backend components, Microsoft is responsible for server patches and SharePoint service packs. For tenant administrators, majority of ongoing maintenance tasks are related to site collection management, allocation of storage and resource quotas, and platform level services configuration on the SharePoint Online administration site.
  • Planning for Monitoring
    • Unfortunately SharePoint online doesn’t provide any capabilities around web analytics, SharePoint activity reporting, mass site management, mass permission management etc. You can purchase third-party vendor tools like Axeler’s Control Point to manage, monitor & govern SharePoint online sites.

Configuration & Implementation Phase

  • Provision SharePoint Online Tenant
    • Configure TXT record and verify domain name for tenant to add domain in Office 365
    • Purchase licenses for tenant – You must purchase license before creating users and assigning them to the users
  • Implement Authentication & Authorization
    • Either create Office 365 Users manually or using Office 365 PowerShell or Import users from AD & Configure ADFS for Single Sign on
    • Assign licenses for each users & Office 365 Role, if applicable
  • Configure SharePoint Online
    • Configure User Profiles
      • Depending how your Office 365 accounts has been created, you may able to see all the User Profile properties are populated.
      • Populate user profile properties like picture, office location, and other custom metadata manually if not automated.
    • Configure Audiences
      • Create Audiences for audience targeting based on user profile properties.
      • Plan to configure audiences at least one week early to ensure it is available to test the functionality after audience compilation job runs once a week.
    • Configure My Sites
      • Since My Sites are enabled by default, you can optionally disable My Site creation.
      • Additionally, you must enable My Site News Feed since it’s not activated by default.
    • Configure Tenant level Term Store
      • Configure term store & terms used by the organization based on content taxonomy. You can work with content owners to create terms in pre-defined excel format and import Excel files to import terms into term store.
      • Define the administrators for term store or delegate any permissions to site collection administrators if needed.
    • Design Site Templates (e.g. Department Sites, Team Sites, Project Sites etc.)
      • Since you can’t create custom Visual Studio based site definitions or site templates for site collections in SharePoint online, it is important to create browser based site templates and use them while provisioning site collections and sites in SharePoint Online. It is important to note that you can still create Sandbox Solution to automate sub-site provisioning process with in Site Collection based on site templates stored in Solution Gallery.
    • Deploy Site Collections and Sites
      • Provision Site Collections and Sites based on Site Templates
      • Assign Site Storage, resource Quota, site Collection Administrators if needed.
  • Implement Branding & Navigation
    • Implementing branding and navigation experience for SharePoint online is key for quick user adoption and allowing users to navigate through the Intranet. Some of the key decision involve around navigation between site collections (typically done by common top level navigation menu), navigation with in site collection (typically done by folder tree navigation), navigation within site (typically done by quick launch bar & bread crumb)
    • Since SharePoint branding solution typically gets deployed at the site collection level, if you have multiple site collections in your environment, plan to create custom sandbox solution for SharePoint Online branding. This would allow you to standardize the deployment process of common look & feel across multiple site collections. You can optionally use SharePoint designer if you have only 1 site collection in your environment.
  • Implement Governance
    • Since SharePoint Online doesn’t have any inbuilt capabilities, you must implement in-house custom solution or purchase third-party tools like Axceler’s control point for activity reporting (e.g. number of sub sites, what user has access to), mass permission management, mass site management, auditing etc. In our case, we proposed our client to look into Axceler’s tool.
  • Custom Applications – Browser Customizations, SPD Customizations, and Visual Studio Solutions
    • Implement any custom applications required by business requirements. In our case, we have built custom corporate no-code news application based on publishing infrastructure and custom corporate no-code policy center based on enterprise search, ECM, and managed metadata features. We built custom visual studio based Sandbox solutions to consume news articles across site collections using SharePoint ASMX services and SPServices Codeplex solutions.
  • Content Entry/Migration
    • Depending on how your content needs to be populated, plan to involve champion end-users to populate or validate site contents. If data needs to be migrated as-it-is, it may require additional planning and migration activities using third-party tools like Metalogix, Metavis, or Dell/Quest migration tools for SharePoint online. If data needs to manually populated due to either reorganization of contents or rebranding of sites, plan to involve key stakeholders from each business areas. This may be longest phase of the project along with customizations and any custom applications needs to be built in previous step.
  • Testing, Validation, and UAT
    • Any SharePoint implementation is incomplete without unit testing, functional testing, user acceptance testing, and validation.

Go-Live Phase

  • Pilot
    • Pilot phase is one of the industry standard to showcase application to select set of users before going live. Depending on the project type, pilot phase can be used to get early feedback from select set of users. In our case, we had identified key champions from Corporate Communication and HR team to test our Intranet site before releasing to all employees.
  • Organization Effectiveness – Change Management, Training, End User Adoption, and Communication
    • Create Training & User Adoption training materials. Training materials should be targeted to Administrator training, Site Owners Training, and End-User training. Additionally, Perform week-long, non-mandatory end-user workshops leading up to Go-live date to highlight key functionality and one-on-one walkthrough of key features of new sites.
    • Configure dedicated SharePoint Site for FAQs and known issues regarding your environment and make it available to the end-users. Provide mechanism for end-users feedback.
  • Go-Live and IT Support
    • After release of SharePoint Online environment, provide mechanism for IT support or any guidance required by end-users.

Hope it helps someone to see what it takes to design and implement SharePoint online intranet and what are things needs to consider!!!

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4 Responses to How we did SharePoint Online 2010 Intranet Project – High Level Items to Consider

  1. Really nice article with lot of good information!
    Keep up the good work!

    -Sarathi

  2. Hi there – writing from Santa Monica, CA. This is an incredible article. Thank you so much!

  3. Bjorn Houben says:

    Great article, thanks a lot.

  4. Tori Brey says:

    Practical article . I learned a lot from the facts . Does anyone know where I might access a template form to work with ?

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