An interesting situation is brewing for organizations planning or building intranets that already have SharePoint or Office 365 in place as a core technology platform. 

The world of SharePoint intranets used to be divided between: 

  1. those who stuck with a 'vanilla' implementation (and be honest, a vanilla SharePoint intranet might have functional richness, but never looks great), or 
  2. the lucky few with an award winning grade intranet, which required a significant commitment of time and effort to customize. 

But companies today have access to a wide range of intranet add-ons. These solutions provide options not just to configure or build, but to buy as well — and then configure or build further, depending on the solution and the business appetite to do so.

The Tip of the Intranet Iceberg

I recently published a directory of turnkey SharePoint and Office 365 intranet solutions offered by different independent vendors from around the world. These solutions can rapidly deliver a working intranet when added to SharePoint or Office 365. Some offer installation for SharePoint on-premises, but many are deployed in the cloud or specifically as part of Office 365.

The directory was a result of a research project on this particular software market. To the best of my knowledge, the major analyst firms (with very few exceptions) have ignored these solutions, focusing instead on the platforms themselves, not add-ons. 

This comes as no surprise. My research in the last few months identified over 30 different SharePoint and Office 365 intranet solutions. And the consensus of those I spoke with agree that this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Don't Ignore the Turnkey Intranets

Is this a new phenomenon for SharePoint? 

The primary factor at play is Microsoft's cloud strategy, which opened the door for globally available, productized offerings. SharePoint consultancies have taken a product approach in response, and encouraged new entirely product-based entrants to the market. The sheer number of turnkey SharePoint and Office 365 intranet solutions available reflects the international nature of cloud-delivered solutions.

Having spent the beginning of the year exploring the SharePoint and Office 365 intranet solution ecosystem, I am convinced businesses should consider them in decision making. Not doing so would do SharePoint or Office 365 — and your users — a massive disservice. 

Learning Opportunities

While organizations may not save money by using a particular solution over a custom intranet, the potential to implement quickly, to do so in a sustainable way that is easy to upgrade and that provides a superior user experience means that these add-ons are well worth evaluating.

Of course, the downside is that rather than simply assuming SharePoint is the platform and engaging someone to develop a bespoke intranet, organizations will now need to spend care selecting a vendor that can meet all of its required functional, non-functional and commercial requirements — now and in the future.

Goodbye Vanilla Intranets

A number of factors go into evaluating a turnkey solution. When comparing these add-ons, make sure you understand the technical approach each vendor is taking. There is no right or wrong answer to the technical approach at this point, but you must understand the benefits and constraints of a particular solution in your own business context.

Finally, an intranet solution does not absolve you from having a clear strategic vision of what SharePoint, Office 365 and other solutions in the Microsoft suite should bring your business. 

For those already planning on using a turnkey solution to build a SharePoint intranet, compare with other solutions to determine which delivers the best overall outcome. For those whose stakeholders are resisting SharePoint as a solution, these add-ons may force them to reconsider what they thought they disliked.

Either way, businesses win — they don't have to be stuck with a vanilla SharePoint intranet again.

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