We’re regularly asked for advice on choosing the right intranet platform – but given there’s only four of us, we haven’t got experience of the wide range of products out there. So we invited key intranet vendors to answer our questions, to give you a simple way to compare products and features.
Over the past week and half, we’ve had profiles from Thoughtfarmer, Interact, Jive, SmallWorlders, Intranet Connections, Noodle (Vialect) and Plone. Between them they support tens of thousands of intranets, and in turn a wide range of organisations and tasks. But what were the common themes?
Great oaks from little acorns grow
Many of the featured platforms began life as one-off projects to meet a specific need. Intranet Connections, for instance, was developed as an intranet for the District of North Vancouver, while SmallWorlders was developed for one of Ogilvy’s clients. These one-off projects span off from there when enterprising people realised there must be other organisations facing the same challenges and interested in the same solutions.
It’s this same principle that underlines Intranetizen – we’re trying to meet the same challenges, so sharing knowledge and building on best practice helps us all to build better intranets.
There is no ‘typical customer’
All of our vendors talked about the diversity of their client base, serving companies with hundreds of employees to tens of thousands. The key learning here is that technology selection isn’t about the size of your company but the complexity of its needs. As much as there is no typical customer, judging by the rated and under-used features, it also appears there is no such thing as a typical intranet. This won’t surprise many of you. A successful intranet needs to be moulded and shaped by the organisation so it meets their needs. It’s important that an intranet vendor can adapt their product to suit the diversity of their clients.
The same themes cropped up across our profiles, but key to many was the ease of use – both for end users and for the organisation. It was interesting that many vendors noted the ease of back-end authoring but we wondered how often intranet teams had this high up on their wish list of capabilities. It may not be on their critical wish list, but it certainly is a ‘nice to have if available’ feature. That said, many intranet teams put up with terrible authoring in order to secure front-end features that employees will welcome.
By 2015, the intranet will have broken free of the desktop
While many of the vendors interviewed said their mobile offering was currently under-used, there was a widespread feeling that the digital workplace is quickly becoming more important, and mobile was a key component of that. This has huge implications for design and functionality.
Several vendors noted the increasing consumerisation of intranet technologies. As the websites we use elsewhere rapidly improve, our expectations of workplace technology increase too. Improvements in design, functionality and user experience will be driven by these increased expectations, so organisations (and vendors) are trying to evolve their platforms more quickl.
What users really want
While everyone is offering social and mobile, many vendors noted these are currently under-used. The features that seem most popular are more traditional publishing and transactional features. The need to ensure you get basics like content and simple transactional functionality right before focusing on ‘bells and whistles’ is something we’ve noted before on Intranetizen.
Vendor advice for clients: ‘Plan Properly’
Every one of the vendors stated that a clear scope from clients from the start was vital to successful delivery. Common sense certainly, but do we always deliver? Do we, as clients of these vendors, change our minds and the scope? Noodle put this rather well though, “We need to understand what problems you’re trying to solve”. This strikes us as a sensible but all too rare approach. Don’t scope features, scope problems — allow the team to define ‘how’. The very best intranets — and intranet teams — have a sharp understanding of their employee needs. At all times, you should plan and design around them.
Consider aligning intranet plans with those of the business. If the business plan is to drive sales of a particular product, or seek efficiency savings, then your intranet business case should reflect this. Not only will it make winning your business case all the more likely, it will help align employees with the finished product.
Sizing up the competition
While our featured vendors are, of course, directly competing with one another, they all agreed SharePoint is still the number one! (It’s almost everyone’s competitor…).
What struck us was the number of vendors who said they were seeing customers who had already tried Sharepoint but made the decision to move to a different product. Is this the sign of a Sharepoint backlash? And how will Sharepoint 13 respond to the challenge? It will be interesting to see.
(Editor’s note: we did approach Sharepoint, but they declined to participate in the first part of our series. We hope to include them in the future.)
We’d like to thank all the vendors for taking the time to answer our questions. If there are products you’d like to know more about which we haven’t yet featured, let us know in the comments below.