Intranets-in-a-Box: Are you paying big money for what will be available free next year?
By Darrell Trimble
A lot of new Intranet-in-a-box offerings for SharePoint are flooding the market that promise businesses a vibrant intranet that employees will love and use. These Intranets-in-a-box promote an enhanced interface, responsive design, content targeting, and social features.
As with any technology or software purchase, it’s important to educate yourself on what you are actually paying for. SharePoint, especially SharePoint Online, already comes with the features mentioned above as part of its base platform.
So, what are these new Intranets-in-a-box really providing, which can cost businesses close to $50k? To be straightforward, they are putting a new face on what some people consider “old and ugly” SharePoint. This scenario is similar to paying for a complete kitchen remodel when all you’re really getting is kitchen cabinet refacing.
Even more interesting is that with the announcement of the new SharePoint user experience, the need for “refacing” will soon go away. The Intranet product-specific user experiences will collide with the common user experience Microsoft is releasing across Office 365 components, such as Groups, Planner, and email.
Your Intranet should share this common look and feel with the rest of Office 365; otherwise, it will stick out like a sore thumb, leading to inconsistency with other Office 365 services that users traverse each day.
Here at SP Marketplace, we offer an out-of-the-box Intranet that is part of a suite of operational portals and business applications. By following the trends, listening to our clients and partners, and continually educating ourselves from the first day we started business, we have anticipated Microsoft’s direction toward a common look and feel.
As a result, we chose to invest in adding value to process automation and not re-inventing the user interface. From this came SP Intranet, which uses a native SharePoint and Office 365 user interface. Rather than coding, we use simple CSS to enhance the user interface that now will take advantage of the new UI. Our clients pay for function, not a cover-up.
Intranet Features: Standard Office 365 and SharePoint platform versus third party platforms
An Intranet serves as an organizational hub consisting of the following elements:
• Information: News, events, and announcements
• Collaboration: Discussions, communication, ratings and feedback, blogs, communities
• Resources: Documents (policies, procedures, forms), videos, links
• People: Employee directory, groups and teams, recognition
These elements are presented within a website structure and site pages that should be intuitive and easy to navigate. Below is a feature list of all the elements that Office 365 and SharePoint currently support out of the box as well as the identical features that third party providers are charging you for.
What SharePoint did not support though, up until today, was an intuitive, mobile responsive interface. To solve this problem, several vendors chose to reface or even recreate elements in the feature list above. By using their own custom-coded branding or look and feel, they attempted to better present elements like New Items, Announcements, or Employee Directories.
But, by going outside the Microsoft architecture with their own coded branding, these Intranets-in-a-box vendors created few new features and little functionality. Essentially, these vendors used existing SharePoint and Office 365 features but presented them with a prettier face, jacking up the cost in the process for something that in reality comes free of charge. While there is value to this approach in achieving user adoption, how much other value does it truly provide, now and in the future?
The new SharePoint user experience integrated with Office 365 Services
Microsoft’s announcement in May of SharePoint 2016 and the new SharePoint framework and user experience addresses several issues with SharePoint. First, the look and feel is completely redesigned, and is responsive and intuitive. Second, this new look and feel now provides Office 365 users with a more consistent yet modern user interface across Office 365 services.
Office 365 and SharePoint users can expect its full capabilities to be available next year. The integration of SharePoint and Office 365 goes beyond just look and feel by supporting Office 365 Groups, in SharePoint Team Sites and One Drive.
What does this mean for value and what you should be paying for?
So, what does this mean for your business in implementing or purchasing an Intranet? Should your business purchase a “refaced” out-of-the-box Intranet solution? Or, is the wiser decision to implement a solution that uses the new “native” SharePoint user experience?
It really comes down to the value of covering up SharePoint versus providing real functionality and features that will provide your business with current and future value. Take a look at some screen shots below from a couple third-party out-of-the-box solution providers that "refaced" SharePoint versus what is now available in Office 365 and the new SharePoint.
Pay for real value and function that is provided in the context of your organization
Here at SP Marketplace, we think the real value of an intranet is what it provides: An affordable out-of-the-box solution using standard Office 365 services, the common user experience, placed intuitively in the context of your organization.
It makes sense to pay for a site structure that includes a home page, employee central services (processes), and a consistently designed set of department portals for HR, IT, Finance, and Marketing. It also makes financial sense to pay for a corresponding service portal to provide employees access to services and resources (MyHR or MyIT).
These portals leverage and integrate Office 365 Group services like Planner, Skype for Business and Yammer in the common user interface, rather than covering them up. There also should be a common service request system (help desk) and an Employee Central to access documents, Help Central, people directories, and common business processes like time-off, expenses, and more.
The value of paying for an Intranet-in-a-box comes from providing pre-built portals and processes that have workflows, forms, and other features that extend the standard Office 365 and SharePoint platform to become an “operational” workplace rather than a “refaced” News homepage.
Don't pay for something double that you will very soon receive for free. Invest in real value and not a short-term fix on what your business already is paying for with Office 365. To see an example of an operational Intranet visit www.spmarketplace.com.
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