12 Intranet considerations for IT buyers

12 Intranet considerations for IT buyers https://www.thoughtfarmer.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Owls-high-five.png

The intranet buying process has unique challenges that require heavy internal alignment. Here’s what IT professionals need to know to get the most out of an intranet.

December 20, 2021

Intranet software has evolved a lot over the past few decades. 

Once requiring heavy lifting from IT departments, today’s cloud-based intranet software can be deployed and supported with almost no technical skills. 

However, that doesn’t mean IT departments are completely removed from the conversation. Many still play a key role in the purchasing process of intranet software, which is why we compiled the top 12 intranet considerations for IT buyers. 

Ease of use

Unless your intranet users grasp the fundamentals quickly (without undergoing extensive training or referring to user manuals), the quality of experience with the product will suffer. 

But what do we really mean by intranet users? As it relates to intranet software, there are really three different sets of users: end-users, administrators, and content owners. 

Most intranet vendors will offer a free trial customized to your workplace needs. Take advantage of this and test drive it for yourself. Try adding new users, as well as new pages, and ensure that all types of users feel comfortable with the product.  

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Integrations

Integrations play an important role in intranet selection. Why? Because depending on the integration, you might not need certain features on your wish list. For example, your organization may already use Microsoft 365, yet you might not favor a SharePoint implementation. However, if the intranet vendor has an integration that allows you to still access Microsoft documents, then you can keep both and take advantage of each platform’s strengths. 

Return on investment (ROI)

Proving an intranet ROI isn’t as straightforward as with something like accounting software. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot still ensure you are benefitting from cost savings. 

One simple way to achieve an ROI is to first establish a baseline. For example, how long does it take to manually enter data relating to hardware requests? Or, how long does it take employees to locate information or expertise? After implementing an intranet (one that presumably improves these two actions) measure this again, and there you have your ROI. 

Business continuity/disaster recovery plan 

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are important considerations for IT buyers, but often we lose sight of the role an intranet plays. 

An intranet helps ensure your organization can continue to operate in the face of disasters, outages of your own infrastructure, etc. If you doubt this, check out what happened to BOK Financial when a Tornado left their employees without access to email, banking systems, corporate website, or their automated phone systems.

When it comes to BCP and DR it’s also important to ensure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. A cloud offering helps you transfer that complexity over to the intranet vendor, where SLAs and DR capabilities are in place should you experience a disruption of service.

Cloud hosting

Selecting a cloud hosted SaaS solution allows you to focus on their core business needs and provides internal functions like HR/Comms/Marketing with a tool that is easy for them to use with minimal to no IT involvement post-launch. Cloud-hosted intranets are also actively monitored and optimized for security, fast speed, and high concurrency to ensure customers get up and running quickly. 

If you’re opting for a cloud vendor, you need to first understand how they operate. Here are some considerations:

  • Does the company have any cloud certifications? 
  • Where is your data hosted? For some organizations, this will be an important question.
  • How are upgrades handled? Do you have any control over how or when features are updated?
  • When are the maintenance windows? What is this history of unscheduled downtime?
  • What options do you have at termination to export data stored in the system?

Configurability

How much flexibility do you want in a solution? Do you want to just set it up and walk away? Intranet software solutions tend to fall on a scale ranging from complete DIY with full customization (like SharePoint), to locked down turnkey solutions. 

A turnkey solution may seem like a good idea, but it won’t allow you the flexibility to add any branding elements, or to customize pages. Template-based intranet software restricts personalization, as each intranet is created almost identically. 

On the other hand, too much configurability can cause challenges too; especially when it requires several consultants at a lengthy and pricey walkthrough of everything to consider before letting people into your communication/collaboration platform. 

Look for solutions focused on getting you up and running quickly with minimal IT involvement. 

Storage

Storage is also an important element to consider. Storage limitations can dramatically impact any intranet, and this is a common issue associated with one-size-fits-all solutions. 

In the case of SharePoint, as highlighted on a recent article, keeping an eye on storage may be worth watching as SharePoint online users are restricted to 1 TB + 10 GB per licensed user.

Roadmap 

Innovation is more than just the newest or shiniest product on the market. It’s the cumulation of continuous tweaks made to ensure the user and/or customer has the best possible experience. It’s also the extra time spent by the designers and developers to make sure the software performs exactly as it’s supposed to. 

When researching potential intranet solutions, look into things like release cycles, and the evolution of features. Is the vendor keeping up with the latest market trends? And how is their roadmap created? Do they incorporate feedback from their customers and community? 

Support

Even the most robust software solutions can encounter bugs and glitches. Find out early what level of support exists should something go awry. If you choose to build your own intranet with a tool like SharePoint or WordPress, you won’t receive the same level of support as you would with a dedicated intranet software provider. 

Support may not feel like a deal breaker, but those first few months of implementation, you are going to need a team on your side to help with things like security set up, Active Directory integration, and integration of any HRMS. Determine if there are different levels of support offered, and what their uptime is as well as their customer success rating.  A good support team will know the product inside and out and can serve as a partner on your intranet project, rather than just a faceless name on the phone. 

Scalability

If you should need to downsize, can the vendor accommodate this? Similarly if you achieve rapid growth—or find yourself involved in a merger or acquisition, is the solution scalable to fit your business?

Whether your organization expands or reduces its workforce, the technology must scale. Fewer employees mean less users on a system, providing the chance to scare down capacity and cost. 

Cloud technology can play a role in scalability, because if your organization experiences rapid growth (or re-growth in the post COVID era) you will quickly outgrow your servers. Similarly, if your organization is experiencing slow growth, you don’t want to pay for licenses you don’t need.  Scalability ultimately allows you to optimize costs. 

Professional Services

Intranet software will require some degree of implementation, so it’s important to understand what professional services exist. Who better to implement a solution, or offer training, than the experts who you purchased from?

Professional services teams have hands-on experience within environments likely similar to yours, and can be critical to defining and maintaining best practices. Selecting a vendor with a strong professional services team provides confidence and guidance. Not all vendors will have an inhouse professional services team, as some may rely on a partner network to provide services.

Security

Sensitive data should only be accessible to the right people within your organization. Look for solutions that allow you to manage permissions at the section, page, and file levels. Pages that users don’t have access to should be completely hidden while browsing and searching.

These rules ensure only explicitly assigned users have access to specific pages/data, and any actions within the intranet are automatically checked against existing access controls which defend the data assets.  If the user does not have access privileges, the data is unavailable until the user is granted such privileges by the customer.

At a minimum, a new intranet should meet ISO 27001 standards. However, to achieve maximum security, look for solutions that are SOC 2 compliant. 

SOC 2 is a compliance standard for companies that store customer data. It requires companies to establish and follow strict information security policies and procedures. It also requires verification of those procedures and that they are followed by a third party auditor. SOC 2 lets you know that the vendor values security and is managing all data carefully. Look for vendors that are 100% SOC certified, because many may claim SOC 2 compliance because they are hosted in an SOC 2 data center. 

Interested in learning more? Check out our IT Buyers Guide

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