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PHOTO: Ricardo Gomez Angel

In my day job, I work with organizations that are planning to deploy new, more modern intranet platforms or build bold new digital workplaces. These organizations range from small nonprofits to large banks, and they are all facing challenging decisions regarding intranet technologies.

Like many other people, I had assumed the technology decision for intranets was clear: Move to Office 365, and then purchase an intranet-in-a-box product to meet standard needs. However, 2018 is presenting a lot of surprises and unexpected challenges, and the intranet technology market is still very active.

Because knowledge about the available options is limited, organizations still need educating in 2018. Otherwise, organizations are deferring platform decisions and frontline environments are being treated in different ways.

Still Not Enough Awareness of Intranet Market

In early 2016, I wrote about a huge pivot in the SharePoint landscape, away from custom-developed intranets and toward a rapidly emerging set of “intranet in a box” products that cover common intranet needs. The move to Office 365 has only accelerated this shift away from bespoke sites to standard solutions.

Much has been written about these new products on CMSWire and elsewhere. Sam Marshall from ClearBox Consulting has produced a superb report that covers these products and compares them with a standard set of requirements.

The vendors themselves have been hyperactive in their communication on social channels, outlining what organizations should be planning to deliver in terms of a modern intranet, and saying how their products can help.

Despite all this, I’m still finding the vast majority of organizations I deal with are completely unaware of the broad marketplace changes. Some may have heard of one or two products, but they don’t know of the many competing options. When working with clients to help them select new intranet platforms, the first step is often to educate them before we tackle the practical steps of identifying specific business requirements and putting together product shortlists.

As professionals in the intranet market, we all clearly need to do more to educate potential customers and help organizations deliver better solutions more cheaply.

Related Article: Ready-Made SharePoint Intranets in 2018

Office 365: Not Now, Maybe Later?

What’s not being discussed when it comes to moving to the cloud, and to Office 365 in particular, is how much “technical debt” often needs to be addressed before any move can be made. For many organizations, even basic services such as Active Directory are often in a poor state and need substantial remediation before they can be used in earnest.

We’re also seeing organizations kick off substantial projects to shape the future of their enterprise IT architectures, covering everything from brands of laptop through to server configuration and enterprise systems.

Of course, the cost of licensing Office 365 is substantial, making some organizations hesitant about making the move, at least in the short term. The migration costs can also be daunting.

The net result is we’re seeing all sorts of organizations say, “Not now, maybe later” to Office 365. In these cases, it can be two or three years before they move to Office 365 and are able to use it to host a new intranet.

For these reasons, a wide range of businesses are choosing to deploy stand-alone intranet products, demonstrating the intranet-in-a-box category is far from dead. Cheap and quick to deploy, these products generally have life expectancies of four or five years, with organizations deferring future strategic decisions for that period of time.

So the rich diversity of product offerings continues, and in many ways increases, even as Microsoft continues to dominate as the big player in the market.

Related Article: User Experience Debt Is Sapping Our Productivity

The Different Needs of Field and Front Line Workers

Organizations such as banks, hospitals, services providers and energy companies have significant frontline and field workforces. Historically, frontline and field employees have often had limited access to enterprise systems, and some don’t even have email addresses. Many of them may be in settings where they and their co-workers share PCs in wards and depots, rather than using their own laptops or mobile phones.

When it comes to delivering a modern intranet or digital workplace to these staffers, organizations immediately face many challenges. The first is cost. It is often necessary to obtain expensive user licenses before an intranet project can even start. This can put a heavy upfront burden on the business case for deploying a new system.

Field and frontline workers have different needs from their colleagues who have desk jobs. For example, it seems unlikely that many of them will be co-creating documents, let alone using many of the other features and functions of a big platform like Office 365. In response to that reality, many organizations treat their frontline and field operations as a different world from office operations. For example, they may deploy platforms such as Workplace by Facebook to frontline and field staff, exploiting low barriers to adoption to build engagement and use.

There is also a growing selection of specialist tools that provide collaboration and communication solutions designed for field personnel. A number of these offerings also provide intranets designed for use in frontline settings alongside the corporate site.

Related Article: Collaboration Matters Most for Front Line Workers

2018: The Year of Transition

For most organizations, the future may be clear. But for others, 2018 is proving to be a year of transition that is presenting them with difficult decisions. The full spectrum of intranet and digital workplace solutions is still very much alive, and in many instances the decision to move to Office 365 is a long way off.

While the intranet market is complex and isn’t always easy to fathom, the good news is the diversity of products available means there’s a good option for every circumstance. Fun times ahead!