Building an effective Intranet your organization will use can be challenging. Where do you start and how do you build it? An intranet project has many considerations and many ways that it can be accomplished.
I had the honor of speaking at ILTACON 2019 on a panel titled “Three Girls and an Intranet”. This session walked through an intranet upgrade project using the lens of three law different firms. Each firm had a unique set of requirements for their intranets and they were each built very differently. Our firm, Fish & Richardson, opted to use a third-party product to build our site. This post will highlight some of the topics covered during our ILTACON session and highlight things to consider if you are exploring a vendor for your intranet project.
At Fish and Richardson, the driving forces for our upgrade project included a combination of things. We needed to refresh our content, move off of SharePoint 2010, and provide a better overall user experience. Due to Microsoft’s similarly timed announcement for the end of mainstream support for SharePoint 2010, we took the opportunity to build our intranet on SharePoint Online. Our intranet did not contain any client data, making it a low risk entry into the cloud for one of our Firm applications.
Why we used a Vendor
Since the vendor’s platform was built on SharePoint, they took care of the configurations for our environment. Using a third-party product allowed us to dedicate our internal development resources to other ongoing efforts within our Firm, instead of spending their time building out web parts or templates. This allowed our team to focus on other priorities.
We chose a product that met our SharePoint Online/Office 365 requirements. It included pre-built web parts that were easily configured and had the ability to be recycled throughout the site. The design elements were consistent due to out of the box page templates. The product we chose had many features important to our firm such as a mobile friendly platform, megamenus, social media feeds, and scrolling news banners.
Our vendor allocated professionals to our effort who lent their experience and expertise to our intranet project. They analyzed our current information and provided input on a new structural hierarchy. They lead card sort and tree test exercises with our user base, affording us the ability to better understand how our users prefer to search and find information. Not only did this ensure a structurally sound site that is easy to navigate, they provided best practices for managing the site going forward.
Using a vendor to facilitate your intranet upgrade project can be very beneficial, however, there can be some perceived downfalls. Consider the following when planning your project.
Using a vendor product can be more cost effective than developing it internally, however, costs over time may add up and have a big impact on your budget. On top of an annual subscription there can be add-on costs that will bloat your bottom line, including implementation costs, consulting fees, test environments, and tiered support plans. These costs aside, it still may be worth it to have prebuilt features that are supported offsite, but it is important to include these line items in your budget.
Reducing internal development and other project resources is one major benefit of a purchased solution, however, getting content into the new site is another story. The vendor is responsible for getting the structure in place and your team is responsible for migrating content into the site. It is a good idea to create an internal team to address the content clean-up, migration, and the ongoing creation of fresh information in your new intranet.
In most cases, major and minor upgrades are included with your subscription. While it is nice having updated platforms, it can be easy to fall behind when new versions are available. Major version updates usually need dedicated resources from your organization. Some updates are easy and will only require a few hours of work while other version updates require weeks of planning and subsequent outage windows. Additionally, these upgrades may not fit nicely with other company priorities. It is a good idea to stay on top of vendor release notes and allocate project hours to accommodate these upgrades.
A risk of doing business with another company is the potential for them to merge or be acquired by another organization. While this scenario might feel a rarity, it does happen even after the best due diligence. If this does happen, it is imperative that you be introduced to key individuals supporting your account and understand potential new or different support protocols. Most important, ensure they honor your existing contract and communicate to you their company’s road map.
This post covered some of the benefits and considerations of using a vendor product for your intranet. To hear the full session of “Three Girls and an Intranet” as shared at ILTACON 2019, please click HERE.