Independant Intranets – a new report from ClearBox Consulting on intranet products

by | Jan 12, 2021 | Intranets, Reviews

When I started out in the intranet business in 1997 intranets were being lovingly handcrafted in HTML4 which was just in the process of being released. Looking through the conference brochures for the intranet conferences that took place in the USA between 1997 and 2003 there were virtually no intranet product vendors in the exhibition area. However, in the UK intranet products were already under development by (for example) Orchid Software. Another pioneer was Intranet Dashboard (based in Melbourne) and I installed Intranet Dashboard in a company in Kuwait in 2005 in around a month.

At one time I offered a list of around 60 independent intranet products on my web site but many of these started to have a difficult time competing with notionally free SharePoint intranet applications build within SharePoint and from 2016 onwards the deluge of products based on a SharePoint/O365 platform.

Nevertheless, many organisations do not want to entrust their intranet to the Microsoft platform. One of my last major projects in 2019 was to select an independent intranet product for a small but international engineering company with around 2000 employees that was emphatic that it wanted a vendor that understood its business model and could provide excellent support after installation. Both client and vendor are very satisfied with the outcome.

I am delighted to see that ClearBox Consulting has now published a report on independent intranets that uses the evaluation methodology that has been fine-tuned with its SharePoint intranet report. ClearBox makes the point that the decision to go with an independent product is not an easy one – the decision to do so has to be made on a very thorough understanding of user requirements. The differences may be less to do with the feature set and more to do with the level of support from the vendor and the ability to influence the development roadmap, as just two examples.

This 400page report provides in-depth reviews of 16 vendors and short reviews of 7 more. The scenarios are different to the SharePoint report which shows how well the ClearBox team understands the intranet business.

The report overview indicates several areas where independent intranets offer some benefits against SharePoint, including

  • News publishing is a consistent area of strength
  • Support for non-traditional intranet structures
  • Strong and pervasive social experiences
  • Extensibility in delivering wider digital workplace capabilities

However, publisher and admin experiences are inconsistent, out-of-the-box integrations are lacking, analytics are generally poor, and support for enterprise scale or complex businesses is variable.

In the final analysis the elements that could made the difference in a business case are

  • Potentially a lower cost of ownership
  • More diverse options for navigation (such as search-based navigation)
  • Very effective people search, a core requirement for intranets
  • A much wider range of branding options
  • Better integration outside of the Microsoft application sphere

The quality of the product analysis is exemplary and very consistent for each product. The comparison charts across the products are very well presented. All this takes a great deal of patience and expertise! As with all ClearBox reports the production quality is extraordinarily high and that makes it easy to read and appreciate both the reviews and the insights on generic strengths and weaknesses of these products.

If you are reviewing your intranet roadmap strategy as your organisation adapts to new ways of working in the wake of the Covid pandemic then this report is an essential read. If you are already committed to a SharePoint-based solution then the report might well cause you to consider whether what you have (or are being promised) is what you actually need, a situation that mirrors exactly my experience with Microsoft 365 search! The launch price is $395 – just under £300 at present. Set against the investment you have already made in your intranet this is a small price to pay for being well informed about the options for the next stage of your intranet deployment, especially in small-to-midsized organisations which are the target market for these independent intranet vendors.  

Martin White