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6 things to scope before buying or building an intranet

6 things to scope before buying or building an intranet

Jonathan Davies


See how an intranet works

Learn how an intranet works with this short video.

13 mins read

Wed, May 27, '20  

You’ve decided that your organization needs an intranet, and rightly so.

Modern intranets come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s one for every organization. You’re probably left with many questions, ideas, potential meetings, but one big question is keeping you scratching your head, wondering about the future of your organization - should my organization build an intranet, or buy it? Is it better to keep everything under control, or to trust a vendor?


First questions first - do you have a team of developers? 

A team of developers is the first obvious step to building your intranet. If you’re planning on building a fully functional platform that could compete with providers, and your IT department is the size of the offices in The Wolf of Wallstreet (with matched dedication), then you’re on a good track to build your intranet. The next question you need to ask yourself is whether they can dedicate a substantial amount of time to its development, which takes between six and twelve months to get ready. That’s development time spent on an in-house solution, not on a product that will net your company revenue or increase its market share. Down the road, maintenance and continuous development is no easy task. When you have started your intranet, you will find that, like everything within an organization, it needs to be kept up to date. New needs will arise among your employees, and your developer team will have to step their game up along the way. Make sure to keep them happy. 

If you do not have an army of developers, are you willing to outsource the work? That means that you will need to have a hired team at hand for technical support and development. In which case, the question arises – what’s so different from choosing a vendor?  Buying a platform off the shelf gets your platformyou up and running in one -to -three months. This gives a competitive edge in comparison to slower developing in-house intranetsThat’s a serious time-to-value advantage over building something in-house. Understandably, you want to maintain control over what’s happening along with the development, particularly about saving money, and maximizing the creative development of your platform, so we’ll get into it before you dive into the deep.


How far do you want to go?

It’s good to start with the basics. What are you expecting from your intranet? Chances are you’re not too sure what you want from it. Do you want a simple piece of software that allows you to post monthly information on a few channels, or would you like a digital workspace that enables you to take your office into the digital realm? Building the latter is probably not going to happen, due to the costs, the maintenance, and the scope of skills and knowledge your developers would need. Not to mention the amount of time that would go into it. Buying Even a simple intranet will probably take you further, with less effort. 


Let’s talk about (saving) money.

No matter what your choice ends up being, you will have to invest big on an intranet. Depending on your situation, you might be able to save a few digits on that check. 

We all want to save money AND make the most of our investment. The bad news is, we’re unlikely to do that.

Nobel-awarded psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote extensively about the deceptive capabilities of our brains. Among his findings, he explains that humans have an urge to avoid threats, rather than being on the lookout to maximize opportunities. We are more likely to over-invest in what we first consider to be the safest option and try to justify our decision, rather than taking all available information and then making a choice that will maximize benefits in the long run. Like that double-decker burger you chose over the tuna salad. 

In intranet terms, consider that an investment that might seem cheaper, more convenient, and customizable at first, might end up being a hassle your organization will end up learning from. Building an intranet from scratch might seem tempting, and is well worth looking into, but don’t forget that you need a big budget, both for the initial investment and later on for maintenance and creative development. We will talk more about that as we keep going.

Another point worth noting is that your intranet’s hosting can get expensive. The two main options are on-premise hosting and cloud-based hosting. On-premise hosting, as its name indicates, is a physical, on-site server. On-premise hosting is closely related to building an intranet yourself. Cost-wise, on-prem usually needs an important investment for hardware installation. Support and maintenance are required, and they bring along their share of costs with them. On the bright side of things, data is technically more secure as it’s only available on your network, but that comes with its complications. What if you work remotely? You have to dial-in through a VPN with a security token – a huge hassle that leaves most employees thinking they shouldn’t bother. It also adds extra costs, and is generally slow and cumbersome. Cloud-based options are paid with a monthly fee, maintained by a third party and generally accessible from anywhere, with the proper log-in credentials. Data backup is automated, and it's much simpler to expand your storage over time. If you choose to host your self-built intranet on a third-party cloud service, expect your IT department to go through rigorous audits and checks. Also expect to pay a premium for more secure services. Your run-of-the-mill WordPress host won’t make it past your CSO’s desk. 

Buying an intranet normally guarantees that all of your needs are met, depending on the provider of your choice. The price tags might be a bit higher than the initial (and idealized) prices of building your intranet, especially when you compare the features gap between the two. It’s important to remember that buying an intranet also means hiring some of the most talented people in the industry. A developer specialized in intranet development has a much stronger grasp of the needs of its users, than some of the best developers who are not dedicated to this field. Likewise, UX-design for an intranet isn’t the same as UX-design for, say, a business-stationary portal. 


Innovating no matter what

You wouldn’t be happy using the 2013 version of Instagram in 2020. Your employees won’t be happy to use a 1995-looking intranet either. Employees want improvements, and most importantly, they want to feel like they’re part of a community. No one wants to enter a terrible looking and barely functioning platform. Your intranet is meant to create an authentic connection between your employees. It can be a boring place only checked once in a while for updates, or a digital workspace that ends up being an extension of your company’s culture.

Having a team of developers dedicated to the creation of your intranet from scratch, up to the support your employees need to GIF their way to their weekly results, is possible – but costly. It’s no secret that we want fast and trendy updates to all software, apps, and websites we use. Employees want improvements in their tooling. This is no easy task. Your IT department will be hard at work and will have to prioritize the intranet over other tasks frequently. Come rain or shine, take a thorough look at the evolution of the intranet market. The UX of your new intranet needs to always be on point, or you’re guaranteed to get around two months of usage before your employees get bored.

Buying your intranet ensures that you get the results you want, with no unwanted surprises. Different vendors offer different options, but all of them develop a product based on hundreds of small and big organization’s feedback. This pushes the boundaries of what the product offers continuously, contrarily to building an intranet, which enablesgathers in-house feedback only. On top of that, be on the lookout for what type of toolset you are already working with - if it’s a toolset such as G- Suite or Office 365 - you want to check which vendors can integrate your workspace into their platform to offer the best results. If you are not working with a digital workspace, consider creating a more efficient system of work for your employees with collaboration tools. 


Keeping data protected 

Security’s one of the main concerns of any digital space. You can probably think of different arguments in favor of both of your choices. On the one hand, if you build your own digital space, theoretically, you can have everything under your control. For example, accessing your intranet through a provider like Wordpress with an SSL security system is much riskier, in comparison to an intranet that’s hosted on secure cloud servers, with authentication-based logins. Buying your intranet gives you direct access to best-in-class safety practices. Depending on where you are based in the world, you will have to comply with regulations. If you are in Europe, everything you are creating or buying needs to be GDPR compliant.  All in all, purchasing your intranet is a safer option when it comes to the guarantee of keeping your data protected.


Owning everything vs. leading everything

To finalize, at this point, you likely understand that building and owning your intranet includes the creative stuff that your employees will surely enjoy, but also the problems that come with the whole package. This can be a huge asset to specific organizations and a heavy burden to others. Owning your problems might seem tempting, but it’s important to remember what we mentioned earlier about our behavioral tendencies. Emotional impulsiveness can impair our decision making, so take your time to outweigh the pros and cons of your particular situation. 

Owning your intranet will make you the master of the whole concept behind your intranet, but a servant to your problems. Your problems as in you, the person initiating the project. Invest time with your employees in mind. Your main risk with its long-run costs, but managing a project of this magnitude will be gratifying. 

Leading the course of your new intranet through a vendor will make you the master of your Internal Comms. Continuous feedback with the provider and customizability are two aspects to be on the lookout for. You will get a specialized product dedicated to your wants, and on top of that, the needs you weren’t aware of beforehand, including all-round customer service. Your main risk is whether you can get a good deal with the right provider for you.