7 key factors to think about when choosing your intranet supplier
The majority of companies have invested in Microsoft 365 and built a company intranet on top of the suite. Microsoft have made several updates to their services; reviving, adding and removing different tools and features within the suite. This has led many organisations to review their current intranet solution and find new ways to help their business communicate, connect and engage employees and improve company culture.
If you have been tasked to launch a new intranet strategy based on Microsoft 365, you know that it can be complicated and time consuming. In today’s intranet solution landscape, there are many product options with rich and diverse features. It is important to keep your intranet plans in line with your company strategy. Before evaluating a vendor or a product, consider the following points and determine what is important or critical for your overall intranet strategy.
1. Data Storage
The most common approach to data storage is to store your intranet content inside of your organisational infrastructure. This strikes at the heart of security and content ownership. Who best to secure your organisation’s corporate information and communication than you? This usually takes on several forms depending on the infrastructure or content management system already leveraged within your company. The Cloud is by far the way of the future and the most strategic cloud options are Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online.
Some intranet products host content on a dedicated management system, outside of your organisation’s security boundary. Make sure to clarify the security requirements you need in place and what security certifications and competencies the vendor holds. Once security is clear, make sure you fully understand the details of content ownership. Who owns your content if you decide to discontinue the service?
2. In-a-box or Sandbox?
“In-a-box” can be enticing at first sight because it appears easier to implement. However, it is not always the case. Even if the product is simple to install initially, you have to remember that the intranet is not static. It requires change and evolution. What happens when adjustments or modifications are required? For example, what will happen when the IT team need to create new areas and workspaces or build on custom connectors or components? This is a substantial challenge for some products in the market. You need to make sure you have a full understanding of the necessary effort involved to expand and evolve an intranet over time.
Tools that would be considered more “sandbox” tools aim to give the most amount of autonomy and flexibility. Although they can require more effort at the start of a project, it is not always the case. The most effective sandbox tools will allow you to build out your project quickly and enable growth. The most important priority of a great sandbox tool is to solve business needs and provide business agility.
3. Open Platform
Every product has an “extensibility” story to tell. There is not one intranet product on the market that addresses every single need for every organisation. There needs to be a way to engage your IT department to build and extend the chosen intranet platform to meet company needs. Consider which product best compliments your internal resources skill set. Ultimately, your business should own the direction and evolution of a product. If you lack the internal skills to extend the product, it can become quite costly.
In general, 3 strategies can be applied for ‘extending’ the product:
- Extend only through the product provider (closed platform) – This means that your company is at the mercy of the provider’s timeline and cost. The product provider will implement all extensions but dictates the terms.
- Extend through a proprietary framework (mixed platform) – This means that you can extend product potential, but you have to train your team or work through specific partners who already have the proprietary framework skillset. There are two things to consider with a mixed platform. 1: The value of learning a specific framework 2: The time spent learning something that is only applicable to certain scenarios.
- Extend through standard market technologies (open platform) – This means that by extending the product, your internal technical resources leverage the skills they already possess. When a product implements standard technologies, it decreases dependency. This will give you the most flexibility.
The intranet market is quite interesting. You would be surprised how many products do not have a clear roadmap or one at all. There is a lot that contributes to the lack of an effective roadmap. When looking into a product, make sure to explore not only what is on the future roadmap but also how the product has evolved in the last six months. If it’s a closed platform, you should see rich features being developed and released. If it is an open platform, you should not only see new features but also technology alignment based on how those features evolve. An exceptional technology alignment usually means more efficiency, better performance, sophisticated management and development standards that will benefit your organisation overall.
Similar to ‘extensibility’ every product addresses reversibility, some much better than others. If your organisation decides to discontinue an intranet service or product, what happens to your content, extensions, or skilled resources?
Reversibility of content:
- If your content is stored externally – it usually means the vendor stores and manages content. So, you need to ask the vendor: Do you lose your content? Is there migration that is required to move content internally? What is the usability of such content?
- If your content is stored in a ‘mixed platform’ – it usually means that the data is stored internally on products like Microsoft 365, SharePoint Online or other databases. However, it is important to take a deeper look because there might be a catch. Even if content is stored internally, it is possible that without the product the content is almost unreadable, unusable and unrecognisable.
- If your content is stored in a more ‘open platform’ – it usually means that the content is stored in more standard content storage that is usable and recognisable without the proprietary product.
The same concepts apply to any extensions and evolutions you might have built onto a product as well as to your internal resources. It is extremely important to understand your reversibility options when looking into intranet products. It might not be a driving purchasing factor, but it is essential to understand what it means to your content, evolutions and skill set if you decide to discontinue a service.
6. Technical Updates
Roadmaps will tell you how a product is evolving. Updates will show you the costs associated to deliver updates. SaaS solutions offer a very simple ‘upgrade’ strategy that are next to instant. This kind of strategy removes any complex processes and the need for technical/operational outages to install updates.
Other platforms deliver updates through an installable package or update service. Automatic update services streamline and simplify the update process but can produce unwanted outages. The key considerations here are really implementation cost and organisational cost of the service outages they may produce. Manually installable packages require a specific business process, as well as the costs associated with aligning the right resources to upgrade and manage downtimes.
Some platforms operate exclusively through partners and require their partners implement and manage updates. You need to consider the time spent and costs associated with this approach.
For intranet solutions based on a more open platform, it can be difficult to keep up with market standards. Microsoft 365 evolves quickly and does not wait for your intranet portal to adapt. You need to find a solution that will adapt to Microsoft updates efficiently and quickly. There will be disruptions as it is the nature of the Cloud and open platforms. Nonetheless an effective intranet provider will be able to clearly state their implementation approach and contingencies.
7. Infrastructure “hidden/additional costs”
Read the fine print when it comes to infrastructure costs. The cost of hosting an intranet can take on many forms. Hosting additional ‘proprietary’ storage in Azure or hosting a content management system has completely different ‘additional’ costs than implementing Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online. If the intranet solution is hosted on specific platforms, what are the associated costs with managing the hosting infrastructure or cloud services? It is equally important to understand if internal technical resources are needed to manage and maintain any newly introduced infrastructure or services.
It is important for all organisations to review and understand how these different points impact their company strategy. Careful consideration will better align your organisation strategy with key technologies and the best intranet provider for your project. Once you have an aligned strategy, you will be able to focus on use cases, features and functionality to identify providers that are a good fit but more importantly align to your strategy.