Intranet out-of-the-box products – the ‘not-Microsoft’ options
The benefits of using an intranet software product to enhance the functionality of Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 cab be substantial despite the constant enhancements being made by Microsoft. The list of products has grown substantially over the last few years, as evidenced by the increase in the number of companies profiled in the 2nd edition of the SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box report published by Clearbox Consulting in November 2017. When I updated my directory of intranet products in March 2018 I ended up with 104 products, up from 61 in the previous version of the directory published in early 2017. The scale of adoption of these products can be gained from recent information from Valo Intranet which indicates that the company has 350 customers in 40 countries and a user seat base of over 1 million. James Robertson recently published a good overview of the market.
It is however easy to overlook that there are as many commercial products as there are Microsoft-based products. (Of course Microsoft-based products are ‘commercial’ but I cannot come up with a better tag for products built on other software platforms.) Over the last few months I have been supporting a UK-based global client select a replacement for its current intranet. The client does not use SharePoint and so I asked a number of UK-based commercial vendors to respond to an initial Request for Information. I was equally impressed with the quality of the responses and the functionality of the products. Talking to the vendors it is clear that they are not concerned about the competition from the Microsoft products. Most of these applications also have good SharePoint/O365 connectivity, so there is no reason in principle why they cannot be used as an intranet platform that complements other SharePoint functions.
Among the benefits that these vendors can offer are
– A very clear roadmap based on feedback from customers
– Good integration with other enterprise applications
– People directories that are supported by profile management tools
– A/B testing of changes to layouts and functionality
– Powerful search functionality, often based on Lucene/Solr or Lucene/Elastic open source code
– Excellent support for multiple languages
– Inbuilt analytics across both click and search logs
I have deliberately put roadmap planning at the top of this list. Most of these vendors have a user community that acts as a sounding board for enhancements, and of course it is possible (in principle!) for a customer to talk direct to the software development team. These vendors are acutely aware of the very limited internal resources available to intranet managers and make a point of providing a managed upgrade plan.
There is no doubt that Microsoft is ramping up the rate of release of new features, but can corporate IT and intranet teams cope with this avalanche and how will the Microsoft-platform intranet vendors be able to respond and maintain their advantage? If you are in a Microsoft IT environment I would recommend that you keep aware of the benefits of using a commercial vendor. If you are not then then in most European countries and in North America there are many commercial vendors to choose from.