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Modern SharePoint vs Classic - an info architecture disruption story?


ClearPeople's Head of Development compares Modern vs Classic SharePoint Information Architecture.


From early 2017 all SharePoint users and administrators started to deal with new major updates to common SharePoint experiences. Since then, Microsoft has been releasing chunks of the new Modern SharePoint user experience that started with Document Libraries and progressed up to the status we have today with full Modern based Team Site and Communication Site templates supporting new Information Architecture based in Site Collections through Hub Sites feature.

It's here and now with the Hub Sites feature being released over the last month to the first release tenancies where the story about SharePoint Modern becomes so relevant and consistent that it's worth starting to talk about it for wider production scenarios. Now for the first time since we had the first Modern features in place we've got an answer to the key question. 


How do we deal with Site structure and Information Architecture if the current hierarchical site structure paradigm is replaced with a Site Collections only structure?

There are many pros and cons to both ways of structuring your information architecture in our Intranet. However, we won't get deeper into that within this article as this was greatly covered within the blog post Advantages of a flat SharePoint Site Architecture from Joanne Klein covering this topic very well. Instead, we'll try to respond to the key question for existing Intranet administrators around getting into Modern without ending up with an inconsistent and so on inconsistent user experience.


Apply a consistent UX framework to your Intranet

We need to put in place a UX framework to make sure our user experience is not massively damaged when introducing Modern elements to your Intranet. This essentially means providing your current sites that are not ready to be migrated into Modern with a consistent branding and experience that brings some of the principles from the Modern UX into your current classic SharePoint site, let's list some of the most important:

  • Responsive design: Modern is fully responsive and your users will expect the same great experience across different devices (Mobile, Tablet, PC...) to happen in all over your Intranet, not just in those modern bits.
  • Clean and neutral design: Crowded designs are not in line with modern web design and theming so we need to make sure we have some sort of alignment to the design principles applying to modern SharePoint so we can provide a degree of consistency.
  • Theming Modern sites: We'll need to take care of having a theme consistent with our brand and classic sites applied to all our modern sites as well. This way we'll achieve a consistent brand experience for our users.
  • Global Navigation: With the introduction of the new SPFx Extensions framework as well as Hub Sites feature, Microsoft has enabled both the capacity to have an OOTB global navigation in Modern as well as the possibility of creating your own bespoke mega menu to use it consistently across Modern and Classic experiences. This essentially brings a sense of consistency across your entire Intranet no matter you are landing into a Modern or Classic site. Obviously this requires some work and governance to ensure the experience is the right one.
  • Default to Modern Web parts: Microsoft provided with a great backwards compatibility the SPFx framework web parts providing the ability to use SPFx based Modern web parts in Classic sites, this should be your default choice when it comes to develop key web parts that could be relevant in the long term for your Intranet as this way you will be able to use these web parts seamlessly across different types of sites with very little effort implication in development.

Define an Information Architecture approach

As mentioned before in this article, Information Architecture approach changes dramatically when using Modern sites as Microsoft does not fully support the sub sites experience as of today within the Modern experience, focusing mainly on Site Collections based architecture (each site should be a Site Collection instead of a sub site).

This approach is heavily enforced through the integrations with SharePoint at different levels within Office 365 (e.g. each time you create an Office 365 group you get a Modern Team Site Collection created and associated to that Group, same applies for any "Groupified" workloads like Microsoft Teams or Yammer Groups). If you want to know more about Office 365 Groups and how you can deal with governance and discovery when your Intranet gets flooded by hundreds or thousands of these groups I recommend you to look into Atlas ConneX here.

You will need to assume that you will face a hybrid environment with some classic sites having sub sites in it, while others are linking to different Site Collections in a Hub relationship. Don't worry, all of this can be consistent for the end user by taking care of the Global Navigation as well as using some tools for keeping the house clean with governance and automated provisioning tools providing a consistent experience. Please leave a comment below if you are interested in looking into options in this space.


The roadmap to Modern SharePoint

At this stage we've covered the main points you need to take care of to ensure you get a consistent and smooth feet into Modern SharePoint in order to enjoy all the advantages of this new version of SharePoint including fast site provisioning, enhanced editorial experience and massively improved performance in your Intranet. It's time to start thinking on mapping your Intranet and what are the joining dots from your current existing sites to new modern collaboration spaces like for instance Modern SharePoint sites attached to a Microsoft Team.

There are a few opportunities to start cross-linking the different collaboration and communication workloads happening in your Intranet, the same Yammer and Teams links associated Office 365 resources like SharePoint sites from their interfaces you should start doing something similar by linking consistently, not only through the Global Navigation but also from other areas and pages like "Quick Links", "Personal Links" or similar the Modern experiences that will replace existing sites in your Intranet. If you take care of all the topics covered above in this article your users will just be grateful to enjoy the new Modern SharePoint enhancements that are massive when it comes to User Experience increasing the engagement of your Intranet users dramatically.

I hope you enjoyed the reading, if you are interested in getting more insights in Modern SharePoint and how this can help driving your users engagement for your Intranet I recommend you consider joining us at our coming event Can Modern SharePoint modernise your digital workspace?

Author bio

Guillermo Bas

Guillermo Bas

I enjoy sharing my thoughts as a Product Manager in a Microsoft Teams world. Personally, I like to play in local table tennis leagues on the weekend.

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