Creating an intranet on SharePoint can be a slow process – six months is good going; 18 months is not uncommon. Shortcutting this process with a readymade solution sounds appealing and a growing list of vendors offer this option.
We recently researched six of these solutions to see what they had to offer.
To test the products, we looked at some scenarios where SharePoint development is typically needed to fill the gap between Microsoft’s offering and full intranet functionality. For example, we asked how well they supported a news publishing process, we looked for enhanced mobile collaboration and we asked if the vendors had done anything to supplement SharePoint’s primitive analytics.
The products we looked at were:
A disproportionate amount of the cost in a SharePoint intranet can go into getting the design and branding right (read: making it look less like SharePoint). As you might expect, many of the products are for medium-sized companies (Bonzai say a typical installation is around 1000 users (pdf) for example), where sharing the cost of this across a wider user base makes sense.
No overall winner emerged. The functionality of the products varies widely, as do the costs. However, there are definitely points where the products offer good value if you are able to match your intranet requirements to what they offer.
Teetering Tech Towers
Potential buyers should bear some of the constraints in mind. You’re buying a stack that may involve constraints from your own systems, from Office 365 and the intranet vendor.
Most of the products we reviewed impose additional restrictions on site design and customization. Given that some companies already feel that the shift from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint in Office 365 imposes too many limitations, this may be a step too far. Those based on a cloud and SaaS model also involve handing over additional control: both the vendor and Microsoft may impose upgrade timetables that are hard to defer.
Finally, as Rich Wood pointed out, some of these products are from consultancies that lack a track record in developing and supporting products. As they tend to be smaller operations, support within your region is also something to consider.
Rather than trying to be a full intranet solution, Attini Comms focuses on the news publishing element and does it well. It would be a good choice where you want to avoid the costs of developing a news center with targeting to different audiences and a mobile-friendly view, but still need flexibility in how the other elements of SharePoint work. It also means Attini Comms is considerably cheaper than some of the other solutions.
Bonzai have some attractive examples of what its product can do. It is one of the more fully-featured intranet solutions and based on mobile-friendly templates.
One of the things we liked is the provision of common intranet modules, such as a page template for events — a little like an internal Eventbrite and an office location directory. There’s also a document portal that can pull together forms and policies from across the business into one place. A lack of built-in analytics is Bonzai’s weakest point.
ElevatePoint, by Coldwater Software, has been available for longer than many of its rivals. Like Attini Comms, it concentrates on being a plug-in for news management. Its forte is in flexible audience targeting and making the job of content management easier for publishers. Its analytics are more powerful than Attini, but it currently lacks mobile support.
Hadron 8020 is a good match for smaller companies that may be using SharePoint to create their first intranet (though they have also deployed it to some very large enterprises too). It has all the basics and its straightforward approach makes it quick to deploy. The makers, Cloud2, are candid that some customization is also involved: the ’80-20’ name comes from the ratio of ready-made to bespoke solution.
Makers Brightstarr market Unily as an "Intranet as a Service." This means regular updates and a cloud-first mindset.
As one of the bigger providers, it is also one of the few to openly publish monthly subscription prices on its site. We liked the visual appeal of Unily, its mobile-responsive design and the scope of what is on offer. For example, the Yammer integration is stronger than many and Brightstarr have even incorporated a translation facility.
Wizdom stacks up well against the competition for its features and large installed user base. Like Bonzai, there are many apps on offer to meet typical intranet needs. For example, it offers a drag-and-drop form designer and an "idea bank" for crowdsourcing solutions (the only vendor in our assessment to do well on this scenario). We were impressed too with how much thought had gone into making content-ownership simple. At the time of our review, analytics was perhaps Wizdom’s weakest area.
Read the full research report on SharePoint intranet in-a-box products here.