Custom Intranet vs. Intranet-in-a-box

Why ‘easy’ with SharePoint does not always lead to success

“Cohesion and team work positively influence work behavior within companies.”

We have all heard this mantra on many occasions. And still, many companies fail to provide a usable platform for employees to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong, your intranet might be alright and a good foundation, but it is just that: alright.

Why not making it good, even outstanding? In this article, I want to give you some inspiration and tips for getting a step closer to a top-notch intranet using SharePoint and fitting frameworks.

“Do we need a new Intranet?”

SharePoint is not a newcomer and has become, thanks to constant improvements, one of the most popular and richest intranet platforms in the world over the last decade.

Nowadays, SharePoint and Office 365 offer many great features and building blocks for building your intranet.

That said and as surprising as it can be, SharePoint won’t be a turnkey intranet and you will have to design and build it by yourself using the offered building blocks! As you can imagine, making it happen won’t just be realized within a day.

Your organization might already have an intranet which you can improve, or you might decide to make an entire overhaul and start from scratch. In either case, the goal should be a user-friendly, practical, good-looking and manageable collaboration-platform – the New Intranet!

Let’s build our new Intranet

Now that we are clear on „what“ we want to achieve, let’s decide „how“.

Option 1 – SharePoint out-of-the-box:

SharePoint Out-of-the-box: Build your intranet with little components like Lego bricks

You can use SharePoint out-of-the-box to define a nice new layout and to provision new sites on-demand, to manually create libraries, pages, add web parts, … and redo the same things manually again and again. In the end, you will likely reach the SharePoint out-of-the-box limits and not getting the users acceptance as processes are slow and high in maintenance.

Sounds like a newly created no-tomorrow intranet doesn’t it?

Option 2 – SharePoint custom-coded solution:

As SharePoint out-of-the-box isn’t enough by itself, companies always added custom code. That’s not an easy way to go but a viable option. One new feature/customization after the other, the solution is becoming harder to maintain and understand (especially for newcomers entering the team). And it always adds to the operational costs.

Therefore: Think ahead and stay flexible.

Option 3 – SharePoint intranet-in-a-box:

Here we are! „Intranet-in-a-box“ is indeed a trend expression but it really helps filling the gap. Many organizations you should definitely consider this approach when planning a new collaboration platform.

How are other companies realizing their intranet?

I will tell you: They are doing an interesting mix. By leveraging on an „Intranet-in-a-box“ framework (e.g. Powell 365), you can heavily speed up the deployment of your new fancy intranet with the offered building blocks and features. In a second stage, think about some “Custom-coded” components. Because yes, most of the Intranet-in-a-box frameworks give the opportunity to mix the best from the two worlds.

What does that mean exactly?

Tell me more about Intranet-in-a-box

Every intranet project is different, but they all share major features and user-requirements, for instance: having a corporate identity, publishing various kind of pages, sharing and managing documents, multilanguage & search functions, communicating on company matters, and displaying all this in a consistent way to users.

The market for such turnkey intranet products is growing and is bringing a lot of nice features:

  • News publishing process, social media capabilities, Business Intelligence reporting functionality
  • Integrated connectors to external tools (Google, Dropbox, Salesfoce, …)
  • Designed for enhanced mobile collaboration.
  • Rapid deployment: you can be up and running in a few weeks (or months).
  • Additional overlay for a smaller (less technical) team.

How did it work for other companies?

We had really nice stories with various customers while using Intranet-in-a-box frameworks (and that’s not marketing 😉)!

On one hand we work with small companies having a configured SharePoint environment and Powell 365-licenses but not the expertise to fill the gap that would allow them to start designing and roll-out their new intranet. Within 2 workshop days we were able to define the required components (News, Articles, Events, Documents, …), the Site Templates / Designs, the permission concept and to make all that stuff available for them to go live.

On the other hand, there are SME’s going live with up to 60.000 employees in a few months only. This is possible by leveraging on the reusable artefacts „Intranet-in-a-box“ frameworks are offering to automate the recurrent deployment like 20+ different countries using the same Site Template / Design.

Is intranet-in-a-box the perfect solution?

Intranet-in-a-box can definitely help building your intranet quicker! But there are important points for you to consider:

  • No solution will avoid a mature project approach (whatever it is). Therefore, define your platform governance, implement trainings, develop a launch plan, etc.
  • SharePoint Online and Office 365 are a long-term strategy and the new intranet has to embrace this strategy.
  • No solution will tell you what you need. It’s up to you to prepare this before implementing the project.
  • Be prepared for the 80/20 ratio! You will never find a tool answering 100% of your expectations and you still may have to develop features with the good old „custom-code“ model.

Are other companies well prepared to handle the workload?

Most decision makers think “Our internal IT team can do it; we don’t need anybody for those tasks!” That’s true for some companies but not for the majority. Starting an intranet project without being crystal clear with this will lead to difficulties in one point in time. From my perspective it’s definitely useful to discuss this topic in detail before starting off a project like this; I’ve seen multiple projects not being finished or gravely delayed while waiting on such decisions.

For those well prepared, intranet-in-a-box could indeed be the perfect solution.

Where does that leave SharePoint out-of-the-box and custom-coded solutions?

In many cases and depending of your company culture, building your intranet directly on SharePoint and adding some custom code on top will remain a good solution. It will certainly take longer until you are live but also brings its benefits:

  • Build it as you want and close in on the 100% (or nearly 😉) of your expectations.
  • Keep the full control on what you are deploying.
  • No dependence of an additional solution update cycle.

Moreover, Microsoft is trying to fill the gap and to answer to this growing demand of intranet-to-go with new modern features. SharePoint Modern Team and Communication sites for instance offer different but fast and simple ways to connect and communicate with employees.

Innovation doesn’t sleep.

I could go on and on – there is so much to say about this topic! But I prefer to make it short: To make your Intranet a great success and whatever approach you will choose (Intranet-in-a-box or not), stay true to your company’s culture and focus on your employee needs!

We at innobit are closely working with our clients to find the best solution for their IT-project. Feel free to reach out to us – we are looking forward to hearing from you!