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Integrate Your SharePoint Intranet for a Mobile Solution to Internal Comms

Watch our webinar recording, and read along to learn how a simple mobile extension of your SharePoint intranet can increase reach and improve internal communication. 

 

We were proud to join our premier partner, KL Software Technologies (KLST) for an exclusive webinar with customer Aditya Ghosh, the Head of Corporate Application Services for the NBA to increase employee communication and engagement for events by integrating SharePoint and Staffbase for an internal comms slam dunk.

 

Transcript

Carla: The title of our webinar today is How to Sync SharePoint & Staffbase for an Internal Comms Slam Dunk. We are joined by our premiere partner, KL Software Technologies (KLST), and a wonderful customer as well, who you'll hear from a little bit later in the webinar. He'll share his story.

A little bit about us, if you are unfamiliar with Staffbase. We are headquartered in Germany and New York. We are about 90 employees strong, with about 250 customers. These are some of our customers right here, some of their logos. We specialize in working with enterprise companies and leaders who want to connect with their workforce. We are an internal comms app, a mobile HR portal, and a mobile front door intranet where you are able to integrate with solutions like SharePoint which we're talking about today.


And our premier partners, KLST, have 15 years of experience and excellence in the space of Microsoft and SharePoint. We are happy to have them with us to talk all things tech today. 

Patrick: I'm the head of product here at Staffbase, based out of our New York office. And I'm responsible for understanding the needs of our customers and translating that into our product strategy and roadmap. And obviously, SharePoint and intranet topics are an important part of that, which is why I'm very excited that we have both Ragav from KLST, as well as Aditya, one of our customers here, and gonna take a deep dive into those topics today.


Ragav: My name is Ragav Jagannathan. I've been in the industry for over 21 years now. I'm the co-founder and president of KLST. We are a very proud Staffbase premium partner. And I'm very proud to be presenting here with our key customer, Aditya Ghosh. We are very excited to share our experience working with Staffbase and how they implemented integrations for a number of our customers and to hear from our customer about how they are using Staffbase.

Aditya: I'm Aditya Ghosh. I'm head of corporate application services for the NBA. And I'm tasked with supporting the internal applications within the league and the teams. We're gonna talk about how we use Staffbase and how we use SharePoint.

Carla: Awesome, I feel like this slide is important. It takes a team for all of us to work together to make things happen. It's also a journey, and I know that we're gonna talk about next steps and how we are gonna continue to work together with partners like Ragav, and with our customers, like Aditya, to take their platforms to the next level. So it's exciting to have them with us and to be on this journey together today.

First, we wanted to take a poll of our participants and see where you are in your journey with SharePoint and where you are headed. So if you could answer this question right now, "Are you using SharePoint today?" it'll help us to understand where you're coming from. All right, so we have 50 percent of attendees in this webinar using SharePoint, and there are about 6 percent that say no. And you can see those results right here. I think that that will give us something to talk about and reference later, as many of you sound familiar with SharePoint and its capabilities.

The next survey that we wanted to throw out there before we start our discussion is, "How big of a topic is mobile for all of you?" Workforces are becoming increasingly mobile, with more remote employees than ever before. We have 50 percent of attendees that say that mobile is very important. About 12 percent of you say that mobile is somewhat important, then 6 percent say not important or maybe not important yet. Thank you for participating in these polls to guide our discussion.

If you are familiar with SharePoint, for the 50 percent of you here, this photo is representative often what we hear from our customers and clients. This is what daily life with SharePoint and the SharePoint intranet can look like. I've been in this fight, so I thought this was applicable. And I hope that we can help to maybe make it look a little less messy for some of you with some of the solutions that we offer today.

 

Ragav and Patrick, I'm going to throw it over to you so you can talk a little bit about SharePoint, what it's good for, what it's a little bit more messy doing, and how Staffbase can work together with your SharePoint intranet to take it to the next level.

 

Patrick: Absolutely. Thank you, Carla. Before we get into the case study itself, let's have a quick look on a little bit of the ground work on why we're even talking about SharePoint and why it is important to have something like Staffbase next to it and combined to it. So we're gonna talk a little bit about the pain points and about the differences. And, you know, as many of you on this webinar are using SharePoint, I guess you will be familiar with some of these, but maybe some of that is new. And for us, really, the most important thing is for everybody to understand that SharePoint, in itself, is a collaboration tool. It's a document-based collaboration tool, and that's what it was made for and that's where it has its strengths.

But it's not necessarily made, or not necessarily great, for internal communications. Now, there are lots of add-ons and customizations that you can do to get SharePoint where you need them for communications and also for mobile, but that's not necessarily what it is built for. On the same argumentation, Staffbase itself does not have all the strengths that SharePoint has. So we really think that both tools have their strengths and weaknesses, and that it's necessary for you to have both the collaboration and the communication. You need to combine the two tools, and that's what we want to talk about.

SharePoint Staffbase integration mobile1. Reach - The biggest pain point that we keep hearing from customers is usually reach, that their SharePoint intranet can easily reach all desktop employees and all the employees with VPN access. But usually, customers have non-desk employees on the factory floor and workers that are out in the field, and those people are not being reached very well with some existing SharePoint intranets. And that's where Staffbase comes in, as we are a branded app on your smartphone, on your personal smartphone. That's the first time now that all employees can really access the same internal information. On top of that, we make sure that every employee can join, even if they have no ID access or even if they don't have an email at all. Staffbase offers options for that.


2. Relevance - The second big pain point that we hear a lot is about relevance and sending the right information at the right time to the right audience. That's an issue with SharePoint where sometimes the message is too broadly spread. There's no easy way to send notifications, which means you really just put yourself and the information out there but you don't know how it is consumed and by whom it is consumed. You don't have a lot of control over that. And here we see a real internal communications tool, like Staffbase, offers you things like push notifications, email notifications, and easy ways to target your audience to give them the right information when they need it.

3. User-friendly - The third point where we think a real communication tool is much better than just using SharePoint in itself is the ease of use. As we just saw in that picture before, it can be a real mess to work with SharePoint, not just on the user side but also on the content-creator side. And that's where we come in with the easy-to-use CMS, an easy-to-use app that all your employees can use without finding it too overwhelming, with that "intranet lite" aspect. That's something we can do with Staffbase and, therefore, it's so much easier to build relationships through simple functionality like commenting, liking, or chat. That's usually not included in SharePoint by default. Ragav, do you have anything to add there on the pain points you usually see when you talk to customers?

Ragav: No, I think you covered it well. I think, from our experience, Staffbase has a tremendous REST layer and API layer, which makes it extensible. For the nontechnical folks in the room, SharePoint and Staffbase talk to each other through this web-services protocol, which helps us extend SharePoint, as Patrick said, getting the out-of-the-box responsiveness, getting a mobile app to go. Those are partly available for SharePoint. SharePoint does have a mobile app that needs a lot of work to make things work. With Staffbase, we've seen that we can write a custom plug-in using the Staffbase APIs or to export SharePoint content in a very easy way in Staffbase, or vice versa, which I know Patrick will cover later. So from an extensibility perspective, I think it's great and it's a slam dunk. 

Patrick: Awesome. And that's really...those points are really the ones that we heard years ago when we started out with Staffbase, and that's where we then, you know, said that there has to be a real internal communication solution next to that, that's easy-to-use app for all employees. But now, obviously, right away, when we did that, we saw the requirement to integrate both with each other. And we have three out-of-the-box solutions for that or three ways that you can combine.

1. Embed Staffbase as a Web Part into your Existing SharePoint Intranet

And the first solution that we have for that is embedding Staffbase as a web part into your existing SharePoint. So basically, as you can see here on that picture on the right, you will still keep your SharePoint on the desktop. It will still include everything that you have, but you will just replace the whole news part of your SharePoint with a web part that includes Staffbase. And that's pretty minimal change, because you just replace that one part, but everything else stays the same.

But what you also get through that is that you now have the Staffbase app that you can use on mobile, that includes everything that is within that web part. So you have this lightweight solution on mobile, and you still have your full SharePoint on the web but it's enhanced through these things that Staffbase offers. A great thing that also comes with that is that you now can do the content creation within Staffbase, which has a much easier and more flexible CMS. But you could even do content creation within that web part or within the mobile app. So in all of these different components, it's possible to create a news post, for example, or a new page.

A little bit of an extension to that would be that you could then, at some point, actually switch and use Staffbase as the homepage, not your SharePoint anymore on the web. This is what we call the front door intranet, that you start out with something that is more, you know, customizable and more tailored towards your audience. And then you have different points where the user jumps into the actual SharePoint. But that doesn't necessarily need to be the first step. So that's the first solution, where you basically, you take a Staffbase, you edit it, you know, target your mobile audience and you just embed it into your existing SharePoint.
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2. Syncing SharePoint Content to Staffbase

The second solution that we see is syncing your existing SharePoint content to Staffbase, and that's usually the case if you wanna keep your SharePoint on desktop exactly as it is today. You don't wanna change anything with that, you just, kind of, wanna extend it by a mobile application. And here, we have a connector already ready. It's on the Microsoft app store, and you can use it for SharePoint online. And what it does is you can set it up and you can do a matching between your SharePoint and Staffbase. And it will automatically push all the news posts that you have in your SharePoint lists over to Staffbase, and then your employees can see that on a mobile device.

The great thing about this is that it's also pretty minimal in the, kind of, change that you have to do on your site. The content creation stays within SharePoint. You just really get that extension for mobile. And here, on the slide itself, you can see a screenshot of that connector on the bottom left. That's what it looks like, actually, in SharePoint after you edit it. You can do some configuration, say where should the content end up in Staffbase. And then that's it.

3. Custom Integrations

Alright, so those are the two solutions that we have out of the box that you can just pretty much enable as soon as you get started with Staffbase. And the third one is a little bit more custom. So if we switch to the next slide, what you see here is that you can also build custom integrations, obviously. As Ragav previously said, both SharePoint and Staffbase have APIs and software development kits which you can use in order to integrate pretty much any use case that you want, pretty much any use case that those powerful APIs allow you to do.

For example, for Staffbase, that could be syncing content or sending out a push notification, even managing media. If you want certain pictures to be available outside of your intranet, you can use the Staffbase API for that. You can even write a chat bot, if you want certain functionality from your SharePoint available through a chat bot in Staffbase, that's possible through APIs as well. And what we do here in this area mostly is that we work together with implementation partners, such as KLST, in order to realize those solutions. Ragav, maybe, can you quickly walk us through what a process would usually look like in that area?

Ragav: Sure. So if we can go to the next slide, so we have a bunch of things show up there. So the use case here was that...it's a very common use case, where you typically manage events in SharePoint. This could be a corporate event, could be a marketing calendar, it could be whatever. And the idea is that those events would live in SharePoint. They can be edited in SharePoint using out-of-the-box SharePoint tools. But those images may not be very clear, but you might see, on the second image, a "Push to Staffbase" button, and what that does is automatically it pushes that event into the Staffbase through the Staffbase API into the Staffbase CMS.

And now, you have a full-blown mobile view of the calendar through the Staffbase app, using a calendar plug-in within the Staffbase. So we are able to export SharePoint content, which is basically a list in SharePoint, now visible in Staffbase, and vice versa. You can now edit that using the Staffbase CMS, that event, and it'll, kind of, sync back to SharePoint. What's good about this is that right out of the box, as Pat said, you get notifications. They don't have to build anything. Push notification is right there. And many of the other Staffbase features that Patrick has talked about, especially with regards to event management, you will likely get within the app. And all that stuff can be just purely done through APIs. For the technical folks in the call, SharePoint REST talking with Staffbase REST, and the magic just happens.

Carla: I like that. Aditya, we're gonna switch over to your story now. So you can tell us about the magic a little bit and about your slam dunk. What were your challenges as the Head of Corporate Application Services at the NBA? What were your challenges? And how did you find Staffbase as a solution?

Aditya: So the challenge which, kind of, we still are trying to resolve on several times has been mobile, and how we can get, whether it's communication, documents, or publications over to mobile devices very easily, and also not carry forward the heaviness of the content in there. So our goal was to, kind of, find a way to easily create a solution in a cost-effective manner, instead of rebuilding things from scratch or publishing, kind of, mobile app and have a solution that can talk to other systems within our environment and sync it over.

So if you take...one of the use cases we had is our events team. Our events team have events globally, in different parts of the world, and when they have the key decision point, for example, when the events are happening, key resources, key contact numbers that they need to use, any other communications that they may need, any lite forms that they need to submit for, "Hey, by the way, is everything going great in the event? Is there something we need to do?" Like, all the internal management aspects of the event, we were looking for a solution for that. And, kind of, what's driving towards one, either a communication tool or a full-blown application, if you will, that has other features like workflow and data collection.

So we landed at Staffbase. At the time, I was looking at different solutions, and I, kind of, through reference and through other feedback, I started looking at Staffbase. It took a while because there was a lot of conversations that happened between me and Patrick at the time to really understand the product roadmap, because that was the key for me. I spoke to him about the roadmap, and his feedback on this was, "We can build it for you." And the fact that it fit in the roadmap and really aligned with what we wanted corporate intranet app to look like.

So, fast-forward, we, kind of, had two major goals with this solution. First of all, we realized, considering the nature of our environment, we may have multiple instances of this app, depending on the audience, which is something that came into the process later during the day. The other piece was having a way to integrate it without having to reproduce content on multiple environments. So, as Ragav spoke and Patrick spoke a little earlier, there is a thinking process that's needed, but there are nuances that you need to think through. But, end of the day, that goal will be that...our goal was, if I have seven messages, selected messages, I wanna go into the app and distribute. I have certain resources that I want there. I have events and calendar that I want there, and how can I, kind of, quickly automate that. And in addition, the push notifications have helped, although we, kind of, refrained using it to the extent we needed, for the emergency, kind of, deal. But it worked great.

So we got one step out with our mobile apps, but we were not budgeted to do, full-blown app work on this product. We wanted something that we could quickly bring in, integrate, and deploy. And the white labeling was important for us, as well. We wanted something that could be branded and, kind of, deployed through our devices internally through our MDM or mobile device management solution.


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We launched it for our first All-Star event, and it was very well-received, because for the first time, we got feedback from all of the events folks, even the corporate team managing 2,000 people globally. Some are traveling here, some are there. And I said, "Oh, we got positive feedback as they could do things when they needed." On the flip side, this is not an application that people are gonna see every five minutes and, kinda, say, "Hey, what's going on?" So that's the other side of it. So it was the reason why our investment was low is we want the resources when people really look for it and are able to get to it. So for example, they had events in different hotels and people are, "Oh, how do I get from hotel 1 to hotel 2?" There were the resources for it. Or, "What's the office location near this hotel that has been set up for the league?" They had that info quickly, which was very helpful for them.

So fast-forward, and that was a resounding success in our opinion. That was our first footprint into a lightweight corporate mobile solution. Even though we had data collection solutions, we never had a seamless solution, so that was helpful. And fast-forward that, we've, kind of, started to expand it to now across multiple events, syncing with the calendar, which you worked with us on and then looking at other syncing options in there. And also, the forms engine has improved over these times. We are using that data collection for other things.

We are also in the process of doing a light communication intranet app using Staffbase also. And that would be our, if you call our intranet light, and that's what we are kind of planning is, again, a subset of content that will be provisioned to the mobile device, because we recognized that, you know, while it is great to have everything in your mobile device, probably you will not need it there. That's not possible to have every possible content in your mobile intranet into that environment. So we have to pick and choose. You know, the good thing is the product has evolved from the point we had started to use it, and it is at a point where things are, kind of, syncing and there are much more API touch points in there.

Lastly, I want to leave with this, is we also rolled it out for our teams. And for our teams, previously as well, there's communication between the league and team technology folks from the arena. There's a lot of news and a lot of activities that go on from a coordination standpoint. So they do use that for that as well. But here, you can see, we use the multi-instance feature of this, which is fairly new, I think over a year and a half old, to, kind of, enable us to use this product in different ways that we see fit.

But to recap, I think the lightweight content management system, the fact that you can push certain contents and sync certain pieces of content, even though there is, kind of...what's involved in it is helpful. Push notification is helpful to some extent. Lightweight forms, if you are collecting, like for example, "Hey, I need stationery. Are you going to attend this event?" kind of deal. The forms are good to that extent. Otherwise, you are looking at heavy workflow related matters. You go into an in-depth, kind of, environment there. But it's a quick...it felt like a quick lightweight solution and a quick win for us. And that's where we are.

 

"We wanted something that we could quickly bring in, integrate, and deploy...we launched it for our first All-Star event, and it was very well-received..." 

Carla: Thank you, Aditya. I think that the response that you heard was overwhelming. And it sounds like you are about to take steps to take your platforms to the next level. But what you experienced may be different, may be a different use case than some of what customers are looking for. I know you started with events and, you know, event communication specifically. But it sounds like you're looking at different use cases moving forward as well, with some of those notifications and those features. 


Aditya: Yeah, absolutely. Because...it varies case by case, but the key thing is a communication tool. It's not a portal. It's not an application. It's a communication tool. And you have to pick and choose your battles. So if you are looking for...in my opinion, for a quick win to have a mobile app in the device way and quickly communicate with your employees, that's the use case we, kinda, picked up.

Carla: Well, some of our attendees might want to share questions with you via chat here below. And then, Patrick, you and Ragav, field these questions kind of all-day every day as well. So if you want to address some of those, that might be helpful for our audience. We'll give them a few minutes. And Aditya too, if you have any questions for Aditya on his story and what he did at the NBA, please ask. I have a question for you Aditya. Was that number 2,000?

Was that 2,000 people that you were connecting with, Aditya, on events?

Aditya: Yeah, close to 2,200. Patrick, you can speak to the scalability of the application, because if it goes 50,000+, that's a different story. But I'll let Patrick speak to that.

Patrick: I mean, actually, when it comes to that data case study that we talked about here, that event central app, specifically, is one of our smaller installations when it comes to that. We are hosted on Microsoft Azure here in the U.S., and that's a very scalable solution. And we have customers with many employees on the platform that use features like push notifications and get the word out within seconds to all of them. So having said that, the scale in that sense isn't as important. It just works, really, for you.

Maybe while we're still gathering questions, please feel free to ask any questions that you guys have regarding your SharePoint intranet and Staffbase. Or even if you have questions for KLST and Aditya, please raise them in the chat. Maybe while we're waiting for questions, we can go through some of the common questions that we see. Maybe you guys in the audience will find that helpful as some guidance.

One thing that we usually hear is, if it's a difference, whether my SharePoint, my intranet is in the cloud or on premise. And that's something that there are subtle differences in between the two of them, but the technologies really are the same. For most of the integrations that we have, it doesn't make any difference if your SharePoint is hosted on the cloud, if you have a SharePoint online, or if you have an on-premise SharePoint. Really, the baseline of those APIs are the same, and all of our integrations generally work with both. That's something we hear a lot. Maybe one question, Aditya, to what you were talking a lot about, what you guys have been doing and the multiple apps that you have, now that you're using. Can you speak a little bit about the future plans that you have, specifically when it comes to SharePoint and Staffbase? Are there any things that you wanna do in the next one or two years? What would be on your list?


Aditya: Yeah. So, you know, we are SharePoint on-premises. We have a very light footprint on 365, so no plug in out of the box, plug-in you have, works with 365. So on-premise integrations are important, because we're looking at leveraging the platform to increase the footprint of content, if you will, and giving each department some granular level of control as to what he can publish at different channels within the app, and then exploring ways to integrate other pieces of content in there. So think about it like an employee briefcase, kind of, scenario. When someone is traveling, besides the corporate news, what else would he need or she need as a resource in there?

And one of the things I had suggested in the product roadmap would be helpful down the line is a very lite offline capability of certain pieces of content. Realistically, you know, depending on where you're traveling, if you're on the airport, if you're in the plane, sometimes that may be useful for very frequent moving folks around. But the goal is to further fine tune our integration and see how we can expand the mobile footprint of content there for users to use it.

We have not explored the forms as much, the reason being the data collection, we have other platforms, but we have explored the fact that we can embed things like web surveys, the SurveyMonkey piece in there within the plugin environment. We can use that, as some of the additional features, as we look to roll out into the system. The other thing that I think is helpful, which is...I think you added this later on to have a little more flexibility on how you can design the homepage of the mobile app. I think that your design looks great. It has, kind of, a structure to it. And having the ability to embed videos, which is something we are planning to use as well.

Carla: I know video is something that we get a lot of questions about as well, Aditya. Patrick, are there any other common questions you guys hear about the roadmap and about what we are planning to do next?

Patrick: Maybe one of the most common questions that we hear, let me just cover that one as well, is now that you already have a SharePoint, usually that means that you have an existing, you know, you have an existing login, how your employees get access to that SharePoint. And a common question that we get is whether it's possible with something like Staffbase to use that same login or do my employees have to create a new account? Do they need to, you know, remember just another password? And that's actually something we do. It's called single sign-on. We support a couple of standards here, which makes it possible for employees to use the existing login that they have with your SharePoint and be automatically logged in then to Staffbase already. And it's also a more secure solution, because there's not as many accounts out there in the wild. So that's, maybe, just something interesting for all of you to know.

Aditya: So I have a question, actually, while we're at it, Patrick. While you speak around the fact that, you know, certain consumer base would be intranet and sometimes may be outside your corporate environment, and now, I know we do it with some of our team who use this, where you can segment and actually reach out to multiple and mixed authentication mode where a certain group of people...I mean, one or another, can still, kind of, revisit the same account. In our case, we had the internal people going to our ADSS, active directory single sign-on, but there's the use case, we also plan to use their customer authentication model. And so that also. I think that would be...it's a common challenge, because we're talking about mostly content that resides behind the network. And then, when you expose it outside, you have to go through certain challenges to ensure they have the same login, there's analytics in place to look at usage and how we can monitor security teams like that.

Patrick: That's a great question. We tackled that problem, actually, on multiple levels with releases earlier this year in Staffbase. We introduced something that we called combined login methods, which means you can have that single sign-on that I was talking about earlier, and you can combine that with a custom authentication, where you then, for example, can also invite people that do not have access to your active directory, also to the app. For example, a partner or selected customers that are about to join your organization but they are not part of it yet. So that's all possible.

And then, as soon as they're in, you have various measures of targeting, where you can then make sure that only specific people see specific content, where you can then, you know, make sure that all this content that is available outside of your intranet, that that's only the content that should be available outside there. And maybe you have some more sensitive documents, sensitive news streams, and you can tailor those only towards the people that also have access to your intranet. So that kind of flexibility is available now, both on the access level as well as the content and targeting level. Does that go in the direction that you were heading, Aditya?

Aditya: Yeah, yeah. So one is your login piece, one is your targeted content, if you will. The other piece we have is we have certain pieces of content only available to a handful of people that we wanna target, while others have access to the channels that we use. I think that's an interesting use case, because you may have a vendor or a partner or a particular group that you want to give access to just one piece of content, which is a common use case in corporate intranet as well.

Patrick: We just recently introduced a feature called "Spaces" for that, where you can...and not just on an individual content level, say, this is visible for someone or visible for someone else, but you can actually group contents into a whole piece. You can say, "Those are all the contents that should be visible for my employees, and that is just the one content that should be visible for our partner." That's now possible through spaces. I think that's what we're touching on there.

Carla: Alright, anything else? Any other questions out there, Patrick? I know that we get a lot of them when it comes to SharePoint and Staffbase and how they work together.

Patrick: I could probably keep going for a few more hours when it comes to the questions that we usually hear, that we answer, and the needs of the customers. But really, I think, at that point, it would then make sense to get into a closer conversation, see where, you know, if any of you has deeper questions to talk to us. And then we can figure out where you are and how Staffbase can help, how KLST can help.

Carla: Absolutely. I think, save that hour for a demo with us. If you would like to talk all things SharePoint and Staffbase for internal comms, you could sign up for a demo at staffbase.com/demo, as well as reach out to KLST for SharePoint consulting. We're both here for you. We are partners, and we work together all of the time to help customers, like Aditya, and to hear from customers, like Aditya, who are looking to do new things.

And as we grow our products, I think that's also a very good practice. Thank you very much for joining us today.

 

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Written by Julianne Longman

Junior Editor Julianne Longman is a Senior at The University of Connecticut majoring in Marketing and minoring in Digital Arts. Her passions are filmmaking and writing. She is thrilled to be a part of building internal harmony for companies looking to make culture change and is enjoying her time as a Staffbase intern.