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5 Considerations to Buying vs. Building An Intranet

5 Considerations to Buying vs. Building An Intranet

Cara Heimbaugh

5 mins read

Thu, Feb 15, '24  

Shopping for an intranet can be an overwhelming task. In a sea of platform options, it may sometimes feel easier to build your own or craft a makeshift intranet by pursuing options such as microsites, wikis, using website technology meant for external sites, or simply using Drive to house important documents. 

An improvised provisional solution can appeal to an IT leader looking to complete a project in the most efficient and cost-effective way. The option seems cheaper, quicker, provides greater control over the environment, and provides a way for non-IT administrators to help stand up the platform and create content, getting to market without increased complexity. However, most times, the opposite ends up being true. Let’s look at a few key reasons why organizations struggle to find success with this approach.

An Honest Resourcing Breakdown

The average time-to-market for a traditional intranet over the past decade is up to 2 years. This statistic can be scary enough as it is, especially for small to medium-sized businesses that may not have the in-house IT resources to dedicate to the project. Add to that licensing fees and vendor/platform costs, and it can prove tempting to attempt to create a minimum viable product on your own. 

In theory, it makes sense to try to simplify an intranet project, keeping it small and inexpensive to start and scaling over time. But in practice, the scenario rarely plays out that way. Upfront, the costs are low, but in the long-term, the investment sours. 

Makeshift platforms don’t cover the scope of the potential that intranets carry and add complexity for users and for IT as a bolted-on toolset that doesn’t integrate well with the existing tech stack. 

Business leaders will always prioritize application development when there's commercial gain to be made, so while it might be a major focus to build an intranet at the time, the moment that attention shifts in favor of commercial gain, the intranet is on the back burner, where it goes to lose even more value. The good news is that–when rolled out properly–an intranet will not lose relevancy and can support core revenue-generating activities in a way that no other platform can.

Beyond that, adoption is king, so when you can’t provide a holistic, helpful intranet for your employees, any investment at all is a loss for a software that collects dust and doesn’t deliver value.  

Strategic Planning

Building an intranet is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s a process of taking an intranet “house” (the software of choice) and, over time, turning it into a digital home for your organization. So building something on the fly based on what is needed at the moment is not best practice. It’s not best practice for any software addition to your tech stack. 

Short-term planning like this typically leads to buying decisions that have a shallow value depth. Intranets are specialized applications;  to be successful long term, organizations need to have the in-house expertise to build out a clear scope, define requirements, set goals, and chart a proper roadmap. It’s not common for organizations to have the experts to perform the dedicated use case research and development required, but doing so creates a higher likelihood for strong adoption and continued value in their intranet investment.  

Most home-built intranet solutions also don’t offer some of the most important features that intranets provide, with the user experience at the center. Many stopgap solutions are created from a technical point of view, missing the importance of usability. A clunky experience is the fastest route to an abandoned intranet. 

Beyond this, core pillars like structured internal comms channels, along with security features, and governance models for access may not seem like an absolute necessity at the onset, but will be in time. It’s important to have an intranet that is fit for purpose as teams expand.

Modern Intranet Provide the Best of Both Worlds

The word “intranet” often brings to mind a picture of rigid legacy sites that are boring and limited in features with long term rollouts and low adoption. But since then, intranets have experienced significant evolution. And with the desire to replace a legacy intranet, so too have improvised replacement “solutions” been on the rise. It doesn’t need to be this way. Businesses shouldn’t feel forced to create their own solutions when there are better options available.

Modern intranets can provide the features and flexibility that support organization-wide adoption, while also allowing for quicker rollouts, reduced IT reliance, and a higher return on the investment in a shorter amount of time. And with AI features rolling out across modern intranet platforms, there’s an increased opportunity for value from AI-powered features such as intelligent search, page building in minutes, writing assistants, and more. 

As intranet technology is at the threshold of its next generation, it’s the perfect time to adopt a holistic platform that doesn’t solve a few critical problems disparately, but is a complete solution that solves problems, adds value, and creates synergy. 

Maintaining a Strong Organizational Heartbeat

Legacy intranets struggle to deliver the user experience that a modern workforce wants, and makeshift intranets lack the structure necessary to have a useful, organized environment. What they both lack is the ability to act as your organization’s heartbeat. A place that pumps out important information for easy access by users, and where those teams pump back value by sharing knowledge across their teams.

Over time, this shared learning and sense of purpose unites teams, enhances culture, channels information overload, and provides a space for employees to upskill by learning more about the competencies of other teams and how to create synergy as one organization with aligned goals.

Beware of the Sunk Cost Fallacy

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for organizations that take the build route over the buy route comes in the form of the sunk cost fallacy. Organizations feel obligated to remain committed to their decision because they feel as though they are too invested to pivot into a new strategy. But by clinging to that philosophy, they continue to lose value as their solution doesn’t actually solve real world pain points and exhausts time and resources with no return. 

Choosing to take a step back and properly assess your company’s internal communication needs and chart a new course based in strategic thinking, market data, and a clear understanding of what modern intranets can provide takes your business multiple steps forward. And because modern intranets bypass complexity, lengthy roll outs, and lean into dynamic features and experiences, the potential to quickly recuperate any losses and generate value is strong. 

The value of a modern intranet can’t be replaced by any other software, nor can an out-of-touch legacy intranet find success in a world of high user expectations. If you know your current intranet could be improved or you’re shopping around for an intranet that provides the internal comms and knowledge management your teams are desperate for, we can give you a look at what a modern intranet experience looks like and can deliver. 

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