Intranet products – are they right for you?

by | Sep 14, 2016 | General, Intranets

Last week intranet consultant Sam Driessen blogged about a number of intranet technology trends.  I was very interested in his comments on the rate at which intranet platforms were emerging, many on SharePoint. Sam Marshall has published a research report on some SharePoint products (in the process of being updated) and the Intranetizen team provide profiles on some intranet products. Over the years a number of my clients have adopted intranet products with success. In one case we got a proof-of-concept intranet up and running in Kuwait in three days.  In each case the process of writing the statement of requirements and then selecting the vendor was carried out with considerable care. Last week I had a discussion with one of the many SharePoint product vendors which was, shall we say, interesting. Over lunch in London this week with James Robertson we spent some time discussing the development of the vendor market and the license basis (often per user per month) that they adopt. When Sam Driessen published his blog I added some comments to his excellent post. Following my discussion with James I thought it might be a good time to put some comments on my own blog

For many organisations these intranet products make good sense, but I wonder how many implementations are a reaction to small intranet budgets (because the organisation has no commitment to information as an asset), wanting to pull back control of the intranet from IT, frightened by the stories about SP development costs or wanting to have a product for which they feel they have a chance of influencing the development roadmap. In themselves good tactical reasons but not strategic.

Here are 12 of the issues that you ought to work through and be very certain you have good answers. To many of these questions the vendor may respond that this is information they do not disclose. Ask them why? You are betting your reputation and career on this decision, especially if you are trying to get around the IT strategy and procurement rules.

  1. Does the license model make sense? Read the small print and cancellation clauses, and make absolutely sure you know what is not included in the base price.
  2. What is the product development road map for the duration of the initial contract and will you be able to suggest new functionality? How much notice will you get of changes?
  3. How much professional service support will these vendors be able to offer within in the price point? If the vendor gets very busy (and the best of them will) where else will you get support from? Scaling professional services support is a cash-flow nightmare as you need to have the people in place before there is the revenue stream to support them.
  4. Will you have a named person as your link with the client post the implementation? If so, can you meet them before the contract is signed? If not, why not? It might mean they are not yet on the payroll.
  5. What is the procedure for escalating problems that the vendor needs to fix?
  6. If you need some customised code (you will!) who will develop and test it, and who will actually own it? It may not be you. The vendor may want to offer it to other customers.
  7. If you operate in more than one country who is going to provide country-level support, such as contributor training?
  8. If not now then at some time in the future you will want to link to other enterprise applications, for example for employee self-service. Exactly how will that be managed and has the vendor experience with the specific version of the software your organisation uses?
  9. A core element of an intranet is search, and all of the products I have seen (especially those based on SP2013) have poor (I’m being kind!) search implementations. Remember you cannot check search is fit for purpose until all your content is loaded. So have a get-out clause if it is not fit for purpose. Don’t assume that the search application you have bought can be extended to other (even SharePoint) repositories.
  10. Is there an active user group which is not under the direct control of the vendor? If there is, can you go along to a meeting? If you can’t, then why not? And if there is no user group then ask why.
  11. What happens to your content when you either cancel the contract or the vendor closes down or is acquired?
  12. What User Acceptance Testing will be carried out, who decides what the pass/fail criteria are, and what happens if there are too many fails? Will UAT include verification of the security model?

This is not a new approach to intranets.  OrchidNet has been around for 21 years and I installed my first intranet product in 2003. So I know there are in fact more than 12 issues but there is a limit to my generosity 🙂 Some of the products I have seen are very good, and I’m sure that they will evolve into widely adopted products. However the market is going to be very competitive on price as the OOTB functionality is pretty much the same. Probably the most important, and difficult, question you need to have an answer for is what happens if your vendor runs out of cash.

Martin White