iD_logo_2010.jpgIf you’re not quite convinced that SharePoint 2010 will be your next technology true love, and are still on the prowl for an intranet solution sporting collaboration capabilities, then Intranet DASHBOARD (iD) could be the candidate you're after. Here's our review.

Overview

Intranet DASHBOARD (news, site), is an intranet software product consisting of a centralized platform combined with a bundle of functional modules used to build, manage and deploy a single Intranet site or multi-site Intranet property.

Developed using Microsoft .NET framework, iD uses a multi-tiered, object-oriented architecture making it "future-proof and scalable" -- according to the vendor. At the moment the company has more than 950 global clients, in organizations that range from micro-enterprises of 10 to others that are genuinely international with up to 140,000 users, including Shell and Audi.

iD is a .NET-based product typically run on Internet Information Services (IIS), using a Microsoft SQL Server or SQL Server Express database.

Product Description

Vendor: The ADWEB Agency
Product Name: Intranet DASHBOARD
Product Category: team collaboration, employee training, document management, intranet
Typical Scenario: Creation of shared work spaces for teams to work and share information.

Company and Product History

Now 15 years old, the ADWEB Agency is based in Melbourne, Australia. It was one of the first multimedia and web-focused companies in Australia, and now has a global clientele with a track record of providing strategic and technical solutions to some of the world's largest companies.

In 2003 ADWEB created Intranet DASHBOARD, which provided an intranet operating system and came bundled with a suite of applications. In October of that year, it announced the general availability of Intranet DASHBOARD v1.0.

iD_Sample Home Page.jpg

Intranet Dashboard -- Sample Portal Homepage

Within six months, ADWEB had developed enough kudos -- and apparently some convincing sales hands -- to pull in clients like Shell, who rolled the product out to 30,000 employees in 20 countries. Since then the company has been busy developing Intranet DASHBOARD with version 4.0 being the latest release. This most recent update comes with a free SharePoint connector, a number of applications and sports the new iD API.

While Intranet DASHBOARD doesn’t really seem to have a single target audience, its pricing and client list indicates that it's happier in the mid-to-large enterprise space than elsewhere, and that the software plays well in a range of verticals including automotive, finance, energy and even arts, with a deployment for the National Ballet of Canada.

Market and Pricing

ADWEB has made much of the fact that iD is an intranet builder and management platform that can be used in global enterprises, from tens to thousands of users. The product's market presence spread quickly from Australia to around the world.

At the moment, the company has partners in the U.S. and Europe, as well as the Middle East and Asia. ADWEB lures their partners with offers of services, sales support, technical training, marketing collateral and seminars aimed at maximizing their sales capacity.

For companies of less than 100 users, the price starts at US$ 4 per user per month and drops to US$ 1 per user per month for companies with 1000-2000 users.

IntranetDasahboard_Pricing.jpg

Business Target and Purpose

Building an intranet is not for the faint-hearted. As internal enterprise resources, intranets evolve rapidly and reflect the changing priorities of enterprises. The result of this evolution is that the IT departments are constantly under pressure to keep up with business demands, and often don't. That is, in the minds of ADWEB execs, IT can't keep up unless they have a rapid prototyping and development tool kit.

This is what ADWEB, with Intranet DASHBOARD, aimed to deliver. iD is used to create intranets and extranets, which using centralized management facilities, can control user permissions and content-centric intranet applications across the enterprise.

The bundled applications include document management, meeting room booking, project workspaces, forms management, digital assets library – in fact, over 40 applications in all. Using iD, intranets can be built using a browser-based tool set that enables you to drag and drop intranet components onto a layout, arrange them as required and publish when ready.

Hierarchical administration enables departmental administrators, as well as users outside the IT department, to make their own changes.

iD Architecture

The core functionality of iD includes sub-sites, users and iD’s multi-tiered security system. Sub-sites and Users are two completely separate entities, each with their own unique set of properties that dictate the way content is presented and shared within iD.

id_Arcitecture.jpg
Intranet DASHBOARD: the iD platform and all external software and hardware requirements.The diagram represents the way the entire environment interacts and does not show a hierarchical structure.

iD’s security system blankets the entire platform, including the new iD API and any integrated third-party applications like SharePoint or internal HR systems. These three elements determine the ‘shape’ of the intranet, and how it functions.

As indicated, the iD API comes bundled with the platform. Any new applications or components created using the iD API also reside completely within iD, as an extension to the existing functionality. Content from iD API apps can be stored in either Persisted File Storage or the App Database Schema.

iD’s Enterprise Search engine is designed to search iD Content Storage, the storage system for all content created within iD using the existing suite of business applications. The environment referenced in the diagram relates to the minimum server software required to successfully install iD. The entire installation can sit on either a physical server or a virtual machine.

Key Features

iD’s functional domains can be divided into four groups with about ten different apps each:

  • Business Apps
  • Communications Apps
  • Content Apps
  • Engagement Apps

2010-12_iD-Apps-01.jpg
Intranet DASHBOARD - Add-on Apps by Category

In total customers have access to more than 40 iD platform applications, all of which we clearly can’t assess in this review. So, let’s have a look at some that we consider of primary interest.

Content Management

iD comes out of the box as a kind of WYSIWYG Web CMS that allows for front-end inline creation and editing of web pages supported by a drag-and-drop interface.

iD_content management_2010.jpg
iD Web CMS Functionality

The Web CMS functionality is based on components and governed by templates, and multiple levels of security and publishing rights that include editing, viewing, deleting, creating and approving.

Publishing and approval rights can be customized on a per page, per folder or per sub-site basis. In iD, CMS full control can be given to all users to publish on specific pages.

iD_CMS_Template selection.jpg
iD Web CMS Template selection

Intranet DASHBOARD Wikis

Let’s look at how iD CMS can be configured as a wiki -- where end users can create, edit and link between pages online. The iD wiki, which is also powered by the iD CMS application, gives users the power to contribute and collaborate directly on pages, enabling them to publish and edit content in accordance with the permissions they have been given.

To do that and to demonstrate the ease of use let’s take a quick step-by-step look:

Step 1: Go to 'My Tools' in the top left hand corner of the page as seen below:

iD_Wiki 1.jpg

This toolbar provides users with several options for creating, editing and saving content in your Wiki. Depending on your content creation rights, you will now be offered a range of editing options:

Step 2: Select 'Live'

Editing a 'live' version means enabling users make changes to the content.

iD_Wiki 2.jpg

Step 3: The page you see above demonstrates 'inline editing' meaning you can see all your changes in the context they will appear on the finished page.

Using My Tools you can now begin editing and exploring the functionality of your wiki. Click on the 'Insert' tab to begin adding components to your page.

iD_Wiki 3.jpg

Add an image, embed a file, quick links or even company news using simple drag-and-drop tools.

Document Manager

Running in tandem with the iD CMS is the document management component. Document Manager is a storage system for documents that are cataloged and organized in a central repository. Functionality includes:

  • Document editing in catalogs
  • Load of files into repository, or link to repository from existing location
  • Multiple category levels for cataloging documents
  • Support for all standard documents
  • Function to specify document language
  • Addition of file metadata

iD_Document Manager.jpg

Built-in components include Image Maker, Formatted Text, News, Quicklinks and Word Publisher, while governance is offered on templates, styles sheets and permissions. There is also version control, tracing, page ownership and creation, as well as an approvals workflow.

SharePoint Connector

Developed using the iD API, the SharePoint Connector is a free add-on app that enables SharePoint content to be surfaced within the iD intranet. It’s hard to demonstrate this as we did not have a SharePoint instance in our testing environment -- both Intranet DASHBOARD and SharePoint need to be present before you can access it -- but here's the gist of what it does.

iD_SharePoint Connector.jpg
Intranet DASHBOARD -- Integrated Documents from a SharePoint Library
 

Added at the beginning of October 2010, iD's SharePoint Connector acts as a window to your SharePoint implementation.

Enterprise Search

Enterprise Search is also a new iD application, reflecting the size of some of the Intranets that the company is expecting to build. It allows search for: 

  • Content contained in the iD Intranet
  • Other data sources including network drives and SharePoint sites, websites and legacy CMS

iD_Enterprise Search.jpg
iD Enterprise Search -- Tabbed Interface Allows You to Specific Data Sources to Query

To initiate a search, users can input simple terms or complex searches that allows them ‘construct’ a more detailed search. Boolean searches can be conducted using the “AND” and “OR” operators and wildcard searches can be conducted using the “*” symbol. It also offers customizable Search Tabs that allow the user to refine their search by logical and relevant groupings of content within the index.

Search refinements include:

  • Advanced query syntax with AND, OR or phrases
  • Data Source: All or specific contexts like a file system share
  • Data Source: Specify all of the intranet or specific sub-sites
  • Data Source: Specify all apps or specific apps to search
  • Document type by extension(s)
  • Content author
  • Content date modified

Enterprise Search is highly configurable, allowing users to refine search results by searching within result sets, and empowering administrators by enabling them to configure and tune the search ranking algorithms.

The Enterprise Search component is an independent piece of the iD system. Whilst it is integrated into iD, it can be installed on separate infrastructure hardware

Intranet DASHBOARD API

The iD API is also a recent addition and enables developers to build on iD's existing platform and develop new apps to customize and extend the intranet. From a content point of view, its most useful feature is that it enables users to build new CMS components that can be integrated into iD CMS and which enable users to customize the way content is presented.

Based on Microsoft's .NET framework, new iD API-based applications can be easily placed into the existing infrastructure. The API is able to integrated content or data from other systems -- including SharePoint via the iD connector -- and use it in a composite manner, melding enterprise information from CRM or HR systems, for example, addressing specific line of business requirements.

All apps have the visual appearance of native iD apps, and in turn, via access to iD namespace, also have access to users data and content that is stored within iD. This includes details about the current intranet users, the current sub-sites, as well as many of the entities that are stored within the Intranet DASHBOARD hierarchy.

Alternatives

iD places itself the group of enterprise collaboration platforms that can provide alternatives to SharePoint. How many platforms fall into that category is like asking how long is a piece of string.

However, there are a number that constantly show up. These include:

  • Glasscubes.com
    Built for the SMB market, it provides document and contact management, along with an intranet. Also an online solution, Glasscubes comes close to offering  SharePoint capabilities but for a small business.
  • Google Sites/Docs
    Google is another alternative to SharePoint. Google Sites, in combination with Google Docs provides a lot of capabilities for collaborating on documents, including building team sites/intranets.
  • HyperOffice
    Markets itself as a SharePoint alternative, HyperOffice is a hosted solution that offers an intranet, document management, team and project collaboration and more.
  • Lotus Quickr
    Quickr is IBM's document collaboration solution. It's a place to organize and share content, and collaboration on projects.
  • SharePoint Online
    A Microsoft hosted version of SharePoint, SharePoint Online offers all the same document collaboration features as the online version without the customization capabilities (although that is changing when it moves to SharePoint 2010).
  • Alfresco Share
    This is Alfresco's, an open source enterprise content management provider, alternative to SharePoint (or WSS). It is focused on collaboration and mirrors the functionality so closely that you may need to look twice. Share is not a standalone solution however.
  • Zoho Office
    Zoho has mentioned SharePoint like features in some of their releases and there are a number of similar features (Zoho Share is a good one). Another cloud-based service, Zoho offers a number of office productivity and team collaboration services.

There are many, many more alternatives (from Atlassian Confluence to O3spaces), but if you want a more comprehensive list check it out here.

Summary

ADWEB positions Intranet DASHBOARD as an easy-to-use platform for building flexible intranets economically. With this position, we cannot argue. And while there are many software packages that claim to be directed at business, rather than IT, many of them require IT help before business users can get anywhere near them. Now iD is not necessarily an exception to this rule -- the software is typically installed on your hardware infrastructure and configured for your environment -- but it does show its strength by enabling less technical users from that step forward.

The platform arrives with many useful applications. This is not in dispute. However, in my opinion it would be desirable to see stronger document management functionality, given that collaboration for most business users still means collaboration on documents. But this is an intranet solution, not just a document management system, so you have to keep the context in perspective.

For those with a close eye on SharePoint, despite a .NET infrastructure and a platform API, iD is not in the same league in terms of being an enterprise data and development platform. While tipping our hat to the evolving API and the development of connectors, we acknowledge that this is not really ADWEB's play here. iD accommodates developer whim, systems integrations and presentation customization, but this is not its strongest point.

For those watching Yammer, Jive and the like, iD is not as advanced down the social enterprise route. But the product does offer a category of apps called Engagement apps, and this is an area where energy is being invested.

As always, when selecting a new platform it's mostly about your organization's prioritized usage scenarios, technology comfort levels and budget. If your IT department is stressed, strapped and sluggish, and if iD's apps resonate with your needs, then you should take a closer look. The respective roadmaps for the product's evolving API and Engagement apps should be closely examined as well. One has the potential for relative future proofing and the other to make your execs look hip to the latest buzzword storm.