Many organizations cannot afford $50 to 150 per user for a top flight intranet. Enterprise content management systems (ECMSs) and portals such as SharePoint, and the like, traditionally cost a pretty penny up front, and a shocking amount in annual licensing, support, maintenance and staffing. The costs of these systems have naturally created a niche for small market solutions that have grown and evolved considerably in the past 10 years.

There’s More than SharePoint

“SharePoint is most certainly overkill in most cases,” says Michael Jones, Marketing Coordinator for The ADWEB Agency that produces Intranet DASHBOARD, an Australian-based intranet solution. “It's like using a commercial harvester to prune your roses, or implementing SAP at your local convenience store. SharePoint is effectively a development platform which companies can use to create an intranet, but unless they have complex custom requirements (and a large development budget), SharePoint isn't the right tool to use.”

SharePoint has become the measuring stick, and the whipping boy, by which most all other intranet technology platforms are compared. Microsoft has invested so much into SharePoint (literally billions of dollars), and markets it at so many levels, it is, in effect, a blanket solution that attempts to be everything to everyone:

  • Web content management
  • Enterprise content management
  • Portal
  • Development platform
  • Business intelligence
  • Social networking
  • Enterprise search
  • Etc.

Small surprise then it is deployed in about two-thirds of Western World organizations that have an intranet, even in small businesses (SMBs), but at a price.

“Proprietary portal applications and intranet solutions are overkill for small organizations, not just because of the initial costs, but often ongoing maintenance costs; medium businesses may be able to afford, software costs, setup and support, but is the portal putting money back into the company,” says Gifford Watkins, CEO of Atlantic Webfitters, an Atlantic Canada implementation vendor of open source CMS, DotNetNuke (DNN).

DNN is not a pure, nor as robust an alternative to SharePoint, but it is a gradually more popular choice for many small, and medium size businesses who require web content management (WCMS). DNN allows SMBs to get their feet wet for less than SharePoint (SP) yet shares a common architecture: Microsoft's (MS) SQL Server, MS and Microsoft's IIS are the foundations for both SharePoint (SP) and DNN. However, the similarities chiefly end there as DNN doesn’t have the bells-and-whistles sported by SP, nor is it a true portal or ECMS.

The biggest difference is price: the price tag of an SP intranet for 100 employees is often in the US$ 10,000 to $30,000 range; Atlantic Webfitters typically deploys DNN for under $5,000, and sometimes for under $2,000.

Commercial Alternatives

“SharePoint and other enterprise level CMS solutions can be a daunting task for SMBs, requiring in-house expertise, resources, development and consultants,” says Rachel Lai, Marketing Manager of Vancouver-based Intranet Connections which offers a hosted, proprietary solution with unlimited users that starts at $8,500. “Often these type of enterprise platforms require a lengthy development and deployment cycle and we often hear from our SMBs that their SharePoint project essentially withered and died before it got off the ground.”

While it is possible to deploy SP and other CMS solutions in a few weeks time, a customized SP or ECMS solution can typically require 9-12 months for planning and implementation. Solutions such as Intranet Connections can be deployed in a matter of days.

“Going with a turnkey, out-of-the-box intranet solution like Intranet Connections can allow SMBs rapid intranet implementation so that they can move on to other pressing projects and focus on what’s important in getting an intranet launched, such as "how can we best use this great new tool to communicate and collaborate with our employees,” adds Lai.

Sample home page using Intranet Connections

Tim Dorey, CEO of Vialect, admits that his company’s hosted intranet solution, Noodle, is not too dissimilar from other commercial solutions, but adds that his competitive advantage is speed and customer service.

“It sounds cliché but customer service is as important as our software,” says Dorey. “Our customers love our support and the fact they speak with real people and not call centers. When our clients call they can talk to our developers, trainers or myself.”

Dorey is also quick to point out the obvious: SharePoint does very well in serving its audience, which is typically bigger and wealthier than the SMBs that comprise Noodle’s target audience.

“SharePoint has its place just like many of the CMS on the market but both require time and money commitments,” adds Dorey. “To get the most from SharePoint your SMB needs to know exactly what they need. In many cases it’s difficult to get a SMB to clarify exactly what they need.”

Sometimes, in fact, big business has looked to these smaller vendors to power their enterprise intranet. Both Shell and Panasonic use Intranet Dashboard (iD) as their corporate intranet solution, and yet iD is priced at only $2 per user, per month, for businesses with 250-500 users. At 1000 users, iD’s price falls to $1 per user per month.

Small Intranets Become Social

Following hot on the heels of the bigger platforms many small market solutions have heard the stampede of socially inclined users and have answered by integrating social media tools into their platform: blogs, wikis, social networking, even Twitter-like micro-blogging.

However, it’s a myth that big business is paving the way for social media adoption on the corporate intranet (intranet 2.0); the little guys are more prone to use social media. The results of the Intranet 2.0 Global Study (2010, Prescient Digital Media) found that 56% of organizations with fewer than 100 employees have blogs on the corporate intranet, almost 10% higher than all other organizations combined.

“Two years ago we started adding social networking features that are resonating with customers and indirectly improving the success rates of the deployments,” says Dorey who deploys a 50 user solution for only $2,950 with hosting at $250 per month. “The addition of the social networking pieces like Twitter-like status updates, personal profiles and co-worker lists are advantageous. Noodle also monitors Corporate Wisdom, Corporate Wisdom monitors the content a user creates and reviews providing (reporting with) a live percentage (per user) that tells administrators who are the champions of the site and maybe more importantly who is not.”

Open Source solution DotNetNuke is replete with social media features including social networking, blogs, wikis, even real-time instant messaging and knowledge centers, even a user-driven folksonomy for tagging content with keywords.

Intranet Connections (IC) has become a “social intranet” offering that is now branded as “turnkey intranet 2.0 software” and includes out-of-the-box social features such as employee profiles, blogs, live chat, employee comments and ratings, discussion forums, and even an application that allows employees to share recipes.

No longer is the small business intranet merely a shared drive or an online mash of shared documents; small business intranets are increasingly dynamic, progressively more social, and transformative: evolving from static, corporate-driven newsletters into dynamic social communities.