Clearbox SharePoint Intranets-In-A-Box 2019 edition

by | Dec 4, 2018 | Digital workplace, Intranets, Reviews

The 2019 SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box report from Sam Marshall and the team at Clearbox Consulting runs to over 630 pages, so writing a concise review of the report is quite a challenge. The 2019 report is the fourth edition, with 39 in-depth reviews and a further 17 short product listings. The report was launched in 2016 with just 6 products. This increased to 26 in 2017, then 34 (and 8 brief summaries) in 2018. The rate of growth of both the SharePoint intranet product and intranet products based on proprietary code continues to be very high, despite announcements and promises from Microsoft to compete more aggressively in this sector.

The main changes to the 2018 edition are

  • 39 products reviewed in depth, 11 reviewed for the first time
  • An expanded listings section with a further 17 products
  • A ‘voice of the customer’ section, giving real-world feedback
  • An explanation of what you get from standard SharePoint compared to add-on products
  • Eight revised scenarios with new criteria for alignment with communication, hub sites and modern
    UX
  • More information on vendor profile and product architecture
  • New ‘Intranet Choice’ categories – signposting for a shortlist

The eight scenarios are News Publishing, Social Experience, Social and Knowledge Management, Search, Analytics, Employee Services, Integration and a Wildcard that offers vendors the opportunity to highlight something that they regarded as a differentiator to other products. Each of the main reviews is around 12 pages long, is consistently presented and there is a good selection of screen shots. The short product listings are just a few pages long but are still of value, especially in identifying new entrants to the market.

The Clearbox team was Sam Marshall, Wedge Black, James Dellow, Andrew Marr, Chris Tubb and Guy Van Lemmput, with Steve Bynghall editing the report. In other words, The Dream Team. Each vendor gave a live demonstration of their product to show how it would fulfil the criteria in the evaluation scenarios listed above.The team made sure that what was demonstrated was available to buy and not a pre-release beta! The team also checked on whether what they were looking at were ready-made features or examples of customisation so that these could be reflected in the scoring. Using scenarios ensured that cross-product comparisons could be made and also that omissions became more visible. I was especially pleased to see a Voice of the Customer feature. Vendors were asked to nominate two contacts which Clearbox then approached directly. The team also spoke to ClearBox’s own contacts where they knew they had been using a product we are reviewing. and put out a public appeal for feedback via a short survey.

As is the case with Real Story Group reports the introduction to the report is just as important as the profiles as trends in the market are considered and the overall performance (or lack of it) in the scenarios is summarised. In particular the charts on pp28 and 29 that show the potential value of intranet products against SharePoint functionality are probably worth the price of the report on their own in terms of making a business case to stakeholders. There is still room for development in these products. The report highlights activity streams, social application support, analytics and search as categories of ‘must do better’.

The quality of the design by Paul B. Florescu is outstanding, and the adroit use of comparison charts is very effective. For me the length of each profile is well chosen and it is easy to identify the differences between the claims of the vendor and the analysis of the team. Initially I was concerned that there seemed to be no easy way to jump to a specific vendor but then I discovered that the vendor list on the contents page offers clickable links.

What I feel is missing from the report is a sense of the professional services support. The product vendors are mainly small businesses, and it would be useful to have an indication of the scope (especially geographic) of the vendor services and the extent to which they might need additional support, not just in terms of technology but of initial design and then customisation. Anonymising the company concerned, my eye was caught by “Anon is a product company, not a services company, so they don’t provide services. If customers require customisations and/or integrations with legacy systems and business processes, then Anon certified partners execute professional services projects. These can vary from weeks to months depending on the organisation size and its business requirements.” That is often where the cost of implementation can increase quite substantially.

An important benefit of this report is to challenge the assumptions made by an organisation considering using a SharePoint intranet product rather than creating one from Microsoft components. The trade-offs are not easy to make and buying a copy of this report at the outset of even thinking of the options will pay dividends throughout the course of the project. Sam Marshall and the Clearbox Consulting team combine a very deep knowledge of SharePoint and of intranet development and yet are vendor neutral. That is what makes this report so valuable. At around £465 plus VAT (the definitive price is US$595) it could save you days of work in the near term and project failure in the longer term. That is a price worth paying to avoid either, or both, of these options. Perhaps the Clearbox team can next consider a similar report on non-SharePoint/O365 intranet products, of which on the UK market alone there are many examples.

Martin White