You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a great intranet.
SharePoint, WebSphere, Autonomy and other big-name, big-price solutions are rarely the right answer for most organizations. In fact, if SharePoint is being used at 75 percent of organizations, why should it work for your organization? Is your organization not unique, with unique employee needs, business requirements and information needs?
There is a reason why there are thousands of other intranet solutions: they cost less, and they work.
Now, I’m not suggesting that all solutions are created equal and work for all organizations, to the contrary. Most solutions however exist for a reason, and serve a purpose or niche market that is not being fulfilled by other market solutions. And, sometimes you get what you pay for, but what you pay need not be a king’s ransom.
Consider there are six broad solutions categories that comprise the intranet technology platform market:
- Web content management (e.g. Elcom)
- Enterprise content management (e.g. Alfresco)
- Social media (e.g. IGLOO)
- Search (e.g. Autonomy)
- Portal (e.g. SharePoint)
- Hybrid (e.g. Intranet Connections)
Within each category are many different niches and solutions sets (and in some categories, such as web content management, dozens of different subcategories with hundreds if not thousands of solutions) that focus on different industries, functional sets and technology integration (e.g. .NET versus Java).
Each category and subcategory serves a purpose or a type of client or client needs, and therefore exists for a reason. Therefore, why would you automatically choose SharePoint or Lotus Connections when there are thousands of solutions to consider? The answer: only a fool would spend more money than necessary.
Yes, SharePoint makes sense for some, maybe thousands of organizations, but not for all; Lotus Connections works particularly well if you are a Java shop and use Lotus Notes; Autonomy might be great if you already are an Interwoven and HP customer. But your choice should not be based on guesswork and rough estimates, or what some sales rep with an existing relationship with your IT department tells you; your technology selection should be based on careful planning and research.
Once you determine which broad category best suits your needs (e.g. a large portal solution is overkill for our company, which would be well suited by a small market web content management system), then you can develop a plan for your intranet and list all the requirements, and the finer details and criteria for selecting a specific solution.
Understanding your company’s requirements is paramount before any vendor or solution evaluation is even considered. Failure to develop an integrated plan that accounts for an organization’s business, stakeholder and user requirements can ensure failure.
One client, a prominent financial services firm, purchased a content management system for US$ 1.5m. The solution limited the number of publishers, the number of pages published and stored and offered no same day publishing. Even worse, the company that supported the product went bankrupt, leaving the client with no technical assistance. One year after implementation, the CMS was scrapped.
Another client spent US$ 4 million on implementing a SharePoint intranet that crashed on the day of launch; it never launched and US$ 4 million was simply written off as a loss (true story).
When choosing a technology solution, functional user and stakeholder requirements must be clearly defined (e.g. number of required publishers, languages, workflow, templates, etc). A structured methodology needs to be invoked to not only ensure that the proper vendor is chosen, but that the product has a productive lifespan.
Gartner estimates that one-third of IT projects in small to mid-sized companies exceed budgets and schedules by almost 100 percent; an incredible amount of time and money is being wasted due to "scope creep."Scope creep happens when the scope or deliverables of a project change during the project implementation, mainly because of weak planning that doesn’t fully account for the business requirements of the organization.
A thorough assessment and overall plan, along with documenting the needs of the organization and securing the necessary buy-in from multiple stakeholders and business managers will greatly reduce if not eliminate scope creep.
Another way to keep your intranet costs low: outsource the intranet to the cloud. The “cloud” refers to cloud computing that, at the risk of over-simplifying, is simply hosting: computer, server, software and other hardware and infrastructure hosting.
You’re already a cloud customer, probably many times over (someone is hosting your email, website, blog, etc). In fact, nearly two-thirds of Internet users use webmail services such as Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo! Mail (hosted email in the cloud).
In short, hosting is provided as a service over the Internet. SaaS (software as a service) is simply hosted software that could include your website content management system, search engine, CRM (Salesforce.com), etc. The cloud is merely a metaphor based loosely on those computer network diagrams that so cleverly depict little computers with wires running between each other, servers, firewalls, etc.
Hosted solutions can be a lot less expensive than an installed solution (particularly the up-front investment). Even Microsoft is doing it: SharePoint Online is a lot less expensive than SharePoint 2010 installed on your servers (and Microsoft handles all the patches, upgrades and maintenance). SMB intranet solutions providers such as IGLOO Software, Noodle and dozens of others have been offering hosted solutions for years (and saving their customers money).
Title image courtesty of Kitch Bain (Shutterstock).
Editor's Note: To read more of Toby's thoughts on intranets: