Building an intranet on SharePoint can be a long and arduous task, which is precisely why so many turn-key SharePoint intranet solutions have sprouted up.

But this increase in choice only makes it harder for organizations to select the one solution that best suits their needs.

To remedy this problem, the UK-based consultancy firm ClearBox Consulting put together yet another comprehensive guide to turn-key SharePoint solutions.

According to ClearBox, “the report contains screenshots, scenario-based evaluations, and our honest opinion. To top it off, we have comparison tables across the board to help you identify options to match your requirements, budget and location.”

I spent some time with the 250-page report (fee charged) to better assess its recommendations.

A Pivotal Year for SharePoint Intranets in a Box

In its previous report — published in January 2016 — ClearBox compared six SharePoint intranet solutions. However, in light of an important year for SharePoint, ClearBox decided to update and expand the document to 26 solutions.

ClearBox’s eagerness to publish another report follows Microsoft’s June 2016 release of the SharePoint mobile app, bringing about a whole new dimension to the platform which turn-key intranet providers needed to react to.

Furthermore, Microsoft’s shift of focus from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online as part of its Office 365 package has given impetus to a market trend whereby turn-key SharePoint intranet solutions are being chosen over development agencies.

SharePoint Intranets in a Box V2: What’s Inside?

ClearBox has evaluated what it considers to be the top 26 in-a-box SharePoint intranet solutions, which includes:

  • Attini from Rapid Circle
  • Attollo Intranet from Red Plane
  • Bonzai from Dynamic Owl
  • EasyShare from Easy SharePoint
  • FLEX from ICS Solutions
  • Gimmal Intranet and Portals from Gimmal
  • Go Intranet Accelerator from Habanero
  • Hadron from Cloud Two

To put each platform to the test, ClearBox allowed each vendor to demonstrate its product. This was followed by a questionnaire addressing topics such as client support, technical requirements and how their product could be launched within a business.

ClearBox also interviewed each vendor, asking it to demonstrate how its product would react to the following eight common scenarios:

  1. News publishing
  2. Branding look and feel
  3. Two-way communications
  4. Mobile access
  5. Community Spaces
  6. Analytics
  7. Transactions
  8. Wildcard

ClearBox then scored the products out of five, depending on how well they handled each of the above scenarios.

The report also contains general insights into the cost of each solution when catering for both 500 and 5,000 users over a three-year period.

A Study of Breadth, Not Depth

ClearBox’s report is wide-reaching, easy to read and provides a solid foundation upon which to compare solutions. However, it won’t give you everything you need to make your final decision.

The breadth of the report covers all the products a major organization is ever likely to seriously consider. But the decision to include such a large number of products has forced ClearBox to economize when it comes to comparative detail.

Learning Opportunities

I also wasn’t a fan of the way ClearBox handled its scoring of costs. Although segmenting the results for 500 and 5,000 was intelligent, the scoring system fails to give the reader any benchmark for what is considered cheap and what is considered expensive.

As a result, the reader is sometimes left to compare two products that both have a three out of five cost rating — a comparison that doesn’t tell you very much at all.

On the other hand, ClearBox did well to include a reader-friendly table that outlines the technical requirements of each product.

Also, the wildcard scenario — which was always chosen by the product vendor — allowed vendors to showcase unique features that might otherwise have gone unnoticed in the report. This was one aspect of the report which I felt worked extremely well.

Uncovered Trends: A Lack of Analytical and Transactional Features

The report uncovered two notable trends within the SharePoint intranet market: a shocking number of solutions fail to deliver any analytical or transactional features at all.

Out of the 26 tested products, 10 of them failed to achieve a score for the analytics scenario, meaning that they don't offer their customers the chance to study the metrics and KPIs that often indicate the success or failure of an intranet deployment.

Furthermore, 15 products received no score for the transactions scenario, which many would regard as a key area for intranets. This essentially means that those products were unable to create things like workflows and absence bookings.

Surprisingly, six of the tested products failed to present anything on either of these two fronts.

Valuable, With Room for Improvement

Although ClearBox’s scoring system does a good job of highlighting the strongest and weakest platforms on offer, their guide abstains from ranking them or identifying the frontrunners, which I felt was a shame.

With that being said, ClearBox’s report is undoubtedly a valuable asset going into 2017, and one which I think is worth investing in. However, had ClearBox shortened the list of solutions and then focused on comparing them more directly, the end product would have been even more helpful.

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