Here in Finland, we have seen venerable marketing efforts by Microsoft and its partners for quite some time already, and the results are clearly visible in intranet project request for proposals responses. At times it feels like companies have purchased Office 365 licenses first, and only then started thinking about the fun things that could be done with them. Sure enough, O365 tools are perfectly fine for a lot of things, but it is recommended to take a closer look at the other alternatives as well before deciding on the technology platform.
North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.
I’m cuttings some corners here, but basically intranets provide support for daily work tasks in two ways. They
- offer practical support material for employees, such as instructions and up-to-date communication related to the entire organization
- contain tools for performing daily work tasks, teamwork, and communication between work communities.
One of the starting points for choosing the right platform should be defining which one of these roles has more emphasis in that particular organization. Obviously, intranet may have many other roles, too. However, in this article series my focus is on assessing the platforms available to fulfill these two basic needs.
This time I will take a closer look at the first aspect, i.e. platforms suitable for implementing a so-called “communicative intranet”. The second part of this series will focus on the second aspect, and the article will be published next week.
A word or two about SharePoint Online
To make things clear, these articles were not written to mock SharePoint Online in any way. There are plenty of well-made O365-intranets in this country (just take a look at our own project case examples, such as Citycon). SharePoint contains very handy basic tools for building a communicative intranet. One can quite easily create lightweight content pages, publish various types of support materials, and keep the whole personnel informed about current issues. With “modern” pages even mobile-friendly, which is convenient. Especially if you already have the necessary O365 licenses in your back pocket, setting up a SharePoint intranet is most likely a reasonable solution.
However, a thoroughly communicative intranet is not what SharePoint Online does best. If there is a massive amount of content, and it has to be organized into deep navigational structures and/or content is provided in multiple languages, SharePoint Online’s abilities must be stretched to the limit – often at the expense of the end user. Achieving the desired visual brand identity may be surprisingly challenging. It may also lead to vendor lock-in, so following Microsoft’s best practices closely is advised. Therefore, most O365 intranets resemble each other quite a bit. Furthermore, user-based licensing may be surprisingly costly in large organizations. If any of these aspects might become a problem, it is advisable to consider creating the communicative intranet by utilizing other tools.
Initially, WordPress may seem like an odd intranet platform choice. However, at times intranet requirements are communicative by nature, and the desired outcome is closer to a public website than, say, a platform for processing documents. Basic communications-related needs can be handled quite well by using WP, content creator tools are easy to use, and compared to many other platforms, building a WP-based intranet is easy and affordable. Even if some functionalities are missing from the basic solution, most often there are cheap add-ons that will get the job done. Furthermore, hosting and maintenance fees are typically very reasonable. Multilingual implementations can be done as well, even though it’s not exactly one of WP’s strengths. Creating deep navigational structures may be a bit thorny, and sometimes WP-based sites are just add-on-saturated disasters, but at least it is possible to make an intranet look your own. In some cases this alternative is definitely worth a thought.
A prime example of a WP-based intranet would be the fashion boutique chain Seppälä’s Sepinet, which is discussed in more detail (in Finnish – sorry!) in this Sofokus’ blog post.
Episerver has gained a strong foothold as an intranet platform as well, especially in Sweden. This is in large part due to the fact that the product is Swedish, so there are loads of competent people using the product there. Here in Finland Epi is usually seen as the platform of choice for public web services, so there are few intranet implementations done with Episerver. But there are some, and we are expecting more. And for a good reason. Episerver may be a good pick if you are aiming for a comprehensive, visually impressive and multilingual communicative intranet, in which the content must be more or less the same in each user’s own language. In the end, Episerver may be a surprisingly cost-effective solution in case Epi’s own DXC cloud service is used, and other online services – such as the organization’s public website – is built on the same platform.
One satisfied user of an Episerver-based intranet is Paulig, the largest coffee brand in Finland.
In Finland, Drupal is not too often used as an intranet platform, either. In fact, according to the intranet survey we made last year, WP, Drupal and Episerver each only had approximately a 3 % market share. Drupal-based intranets are often built if the organization has in-house Drupal expertise, and/or if Drupal already has a strong role in the company’s IT infrastructure. As regards deep navigational structures and multi-language support, Drupal is basically head-to-head with WP, and the project budgets are at Episerver scale. However, one example of Drupal’s strengths is the possibility for multi-channel publishing. If communication is very fragmented, and the small crumbs of information must be shared to the intranet, public website, as well as a couple of other locations, Drupal may be an excellent choice. At National Land Survey of Finland (in Finnish – sorry again), one prominent factor in the platform selection process was the fact that Drupal enabled them to modify the intranet’s user interface in a very versatile manner.
Liferay is a Java-based portal platform, and due to its portal structure, Liferay-based intranets are commonly seen as a bit dull and utilitarian. Backend system integration possibilities are one of Liferay’s advantages. However, if an intranet is mainly composed of Java portlets which bring together information from different sources, the end result will most likely look bland. But at the same time, very useful. And the bland look is no must either – Liferay is able to handle a modern communicative intranet as well. If the intranet users need different access right levels for different types of content and/or these content types must be targeted for each individual user or user group, Liferay may be the winning ticket. If you are dreaming of creating an own, personalized “e-desktop” for each user, Liferay may be the only reasonable option from those presented here. Liferay vendors tend to speak highly of this platform’s assortment of default components, scalability, and customizability. It is a shame, though, that Liferay projects tend to cost a bit more than those implemented with the other platforms mentioned in this article.
How to choose wisely?
Each of these platforms has their own strengths and weaknesses, and there are always many pieces in the puzzle when the most suitable technical platform is decided upon. However, the final choice should never be made on technical basis. Firstly, it is important to define the intranet concept. Who will use the intranet? What kind of work they need to be able to do with it? What are the building blocks of the intranet? What kind of goals are set? Only after the concept has been clarified, one must consider which technical platform could meet the needs in the best possible way. A careful preliminary study is often the first step towards the right choices.
Need help on intranet or digital workplace redesign?
North Patrol is your expert in selecting the best vendors and technologies for your next web project. We are an independent consulting company without ties to system vendors, and can help select the best implementation plan and vendor to save you headaches in the long run. Read more on our services.