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Comparing intranet solutions

Guest article from Martin Seibert, discussing upcoming assessment of the intranet landscape via ‘Intranet Compass’.

First study results to be presented at Intranet Now

When I told Wedge that my talk on this year’s Intranet Now conference (London, 13th October) would be a comparison of intranet solutions, he promptly advised me to make sure people would not perceive it as an attempt to market our Confluence-based solution, Linchpin.

Before I present at the conference, I’d like to discuss my take on scientific research and marketing spin. Both are often boring for clients who want to get a clear overview of the market.

The purely theoretical scientific approach is often irrelevant, as it’s difficult to transfer results to a specific company environment. And my usual argument, ‘why SharePoint sucks and my solution kicks ass’ is just as problematic, as you never know what you can believe.

Test them all for yourself

The best situation is to set up a test system and look at the intranet software yourself. For some of the more powerful platforms, you may want someone with you who knows the system and can show you around.

This is the list of relevant intranet software that we see in the market (list is still in validation):

Beehive, Bitrix24, Bluewiki, Coyo, Drupal, Exo Platform, Google for Work, Huddle, IBM Connections, Igloo, Interact, IntranetBox, Intrexx Share, Jive, Just, LINCHPIN, Liferay Social Office, MangoApps, Office 365, Podio, Salesforce, SAP Jam, SharePoint, SocialCast, Socialtext, Thought Farmer, Tibbr, Tixxt, Typo3, Viadesk Social Intranet, Vibe, Wrike, Xelos, Zimbra, Zoho, Zyncro.

Do you want additional systems to be in this list? Please add a comment below.

“That’s complex and a lot of work!“, I hear you say.

But I hope you agree that investing the time to develop a true understanding of a platform is well worth it.

But of course there are more solutions out there than anyone has time to test in any meaningful manner. So organisations start with a (long) checklist of feature requirements. Then they try to match as many options as possible against their wishes, to reduce the long list to a more manageable number of possible solutions.

Problem 1: Weak generalists win

We all know the pareto principle; 20% of the core features are used 80% of the times. That means that excellent core features are much more important than covering every edge case. But that’s exactly the problem in the checklist approach. The editor feature within a content collaboration tool is core and most important. But in the initial checklist, every intranet platform can tick the box for ‘rich text editor’. So that’s not a helpful criterion, and you end up focusing on edge cases to reduce the list. What a pity. You’ll kick some of the best tools out.

These are the criteria categories, that we’ll try to cover in our study:

Overall philosophy and type of software; objectives; commercial criteria; use cases; ease of use; communication; office and collaboration; community and networking; areas of application; infrastructure / integration.

(Categories derived from vendor pitches and other studies. We have a list of over 50 criteria.)

Problem 2: Excessive focus on the checklist

When the list of possible candidates is successfully reduced, the evaluation team in most cases does not drop the checklist. They stick to it as if the heap of work needs to pay further dividends.

I hear you say: “But if every vendor could present their favourite stuff we would never be able to effectively compare. Every solution would look good.”

But if you let the absence of less important features rule out whole platforms then the process might be objective but it won’t deliver the best solution for your employees.

The art of comparing solutions: Embrace complexity

The best advice that I have is not to pretend that there is only one answer for your company. A lot of tools will work just fine. There is not one solution that can beat all others in all aspects.

As soon as you understand that there is not one ‘perfect answer’ a lot of possibilities arise: You could just roll a dice and pick a random system and start testing. You could test the cheapest. You could hang out in every vendor webinar. You can just call vendors and see who is competent.

All of the above are meaningful and will help you find a good solution. The feature checklist is just one tool, not the ultimate guide to your best choice.

Be brave: a missing feature is no problem. Do you ever hear employees cry out for certain things? Have you asked? There’s often more than one way to satisfy people’s goals and business needs.

If you have thousands of employees, it’s tempting to choose a solution that tries to cover every tiny aspect of an intranet. You need to be brave and accept that every solution will ultimately have missing features. Rather than focusing on edge case features, it’s better to consider your organisation’s goals – collaboration, knowledge sharing, group communications, and business processes, perhaps.

CompassThe checklist hell finally ‘resolved’

We’ve covered the groundwork for you. The just-launched ‘Intranet Compass’ resource site will lay out your options according to your priorities. We look at solutions and speak to the vendors and listen to them. If they have a workflow, they’ll tick that box. Same goes for other features. They focus on social or mobile? You’ll find it within ‘Intranet Compass’.

Intranet Compass’, which is independently managed, will help you see which system is rather specialised, which is expensive, which is SAAS, and which has no professional service partner near you.

This will be helpful but not sufficient.

Compare by seeing and believing: Videos

Seeing is believing. Live demos will show the software in action. That is what we give you for free online, demos and software in action.

For every feature an intranet software vendor claims to have, we’ll produce or ask for a short demo video.  With a little time investment, you can judge if a feature is done awesomely or if it sucks.

These videos will make a big difference. They will save you time. They will help you evaluate a solution with less contact and more focus on the real software your staff will actually use after deployment. We’ll separate marketing videos from feature demos.

The work will never be complete. ‘Intranet Compass’ will continue to develop and cover more details. We’ll focus on our independent research results first, but then we’ll ask vendors to help fix things we missed or misinterpreted. Finally we’ll ask customers and prospects to share their opinions.

Prof. Dr. Karsten WendlandThe whole effort of this study will be carried out by Prof. Dr. Karsten Wendland from the University of Applied sciences in Aalen, the Steinbeis Institute, and vendor independent intranet consultants.

Martin SeibertDisclaimer: I work for //SEIBERT/MEDIA, the company behind the Confluence-based Intranet solution Linchpin. I am not a friend of SharePoint. But I am not doing the study. We do cover its cost. But we leave freedom to the researchers to do what they want.

If you’re interested in the first results of this study, contact me on twitter, join our mailing list or come to my talk during the Intranet Now conference.


Compass icon by Stanislav Levin from the Noun Project.

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10 thoughts on “Comparing intranet solutions

  • Hi, I’ve been in Intranet Management for more than 14 years and used home grown and commercial software. Currently I’m managing an Intranet built using Intranet Dashboard. I investigate other options routinely but so far, none of them offer as comprehensive a solution without requiring me to be a systems integrator (I could do this but it’s not my passion – Intranets are). The current solution allows me to focus on managing the Intranet, it’s content and use as a business tool. Too many of the systems listed, only address one aspect, or have it as a bolt-on to some other purpose. The focus is on a little content management, perhaps a directory and social feeds. They leave out the hard stuff like forms and workflow, document management, editing policies, multi-level calendaring, integration with other systems, quality metrics and more. This isn’t an endorsement of Intranet Dashboard, everyone needs to find a solution that fits their circumstances, it’s just frustrating that these solutions claim to be suitable for Intranets when they are not in the ball park of a real Intranet solution.
    Thank you for instigating this important conversation.

  • Hi Debra,

    I am glad, you like our effort. And I admit that you are right, that most “intranet solutions” cannot offer all of the needed criteria and features as mature and sophisticated as needed. I hope, that our research can shed light on where those solutions are strong and where they need to improve.

    I also hope, that ultimately the vendors themselves will start offering insight and content for this comparison.

    We’ll see. :-D

  • Hi Martin, I’d definitely suggest WordPress is added as another intranet platform. I know of several large enterprises that use WordPress for their internal comms (+ also several UK Government departments!). Mike

  • Hi Martin – that’s great, certainly think WordPress is a versatile platform that can be nicely adapted for intranet uses. And I see your great website uses WordPress as a foundation too, so it must be a good choice! ;)

    Look forward to seeing the finished study.


  • Hi Martin,
    At our institution we’ve been looking for an alternative intranet for a while until we stuck with Adenine IntelliEnterprise. It offered great process automation with custom forms + workflows, relatively feature rich but still manageable to get your head around. We think no one we surveyed really did this quite like IntelliEnterprise – while of course the “essentials” it performs just as well as the next guy. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who finds other solutions too code intensive or too focused on just one particular aspect, i.e. social…

  • Hi Steve,
    we will eventually open up our study for input from third party and vendors. At this point, I am more than happy when we have a handful of solutions included when the IntranetNow conference starts. :-D
    Do you have a contact to the software vendor of IntelliEnterprise. Please tell them to contact me. If they are interested, we’ll happily help them provide info about their solution later.
    Would love to get your help on getting in contact.

  • Great article! One vendor that was not included in that list, although smaller than most, is Noodle Intranet by Vialect. It’s true that most intranets have the same features and tools. We believe an intranet should be affordable for anyone to implement, not require a dedicated IT Team, easy for anyone to contribute and ongoing support and training is a must.

  • Our company uses SalesForce that offers Intranet which has full customization and has lots of features.

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