Clearbox Consulting recently released a report comparing 26 leading intranet-in-a-box providers from around the globe. While the Digital Workplaces that LiveTiles provides differ from intranets-in-a-box in some significant ways, we are very proud and excited to be recognized as one of the leading options in this space.
Your intranet serves as an integral platform for communication and collaboration within your organization. It is imperative, therefore, to make sure that you are starting with a solid base that allows you all of the functions that your organization requires. SharePoint provides the ideal intranet foundation, with its capacity to facilitate file sharing, document storage, and collaboration across a range of applications.
Why an intranet-in-a-box?
The word ‘foundation’ is an important distinction to make with SharePoint. As many people have found, attempting to use SharePoint itself as an intranet solution can be the cause of low uptake within an organization, as it requires a great deal of training to master the full functionality of the platform. It is certainly a robust system, that can facilitate a great many functions within an organization, but it does not provide the most intuitive or aesthetically inspiring user experience.
It is possible to customize your SharePoint interface, but this generally takes a great deal of time and expense, as well as the need for SharePoint experts to configure the whole system. An intranet-in-a-box can provide a potentially less expensive and time consuming solution, giving your organization the intranet it needs, while still using the underlying infrastructure of your SharePoint platform.
Intranets-in-a-box should essentially be a fully constructed intranet that overlays your SharePoint system, making the most of the complex ecosystem that SharePoint provides. They are designed to present a much more user-friendly interface, constructed around the concepts of collaboration and information sharing. There are a range of products currently available, and the better quality ones address the perceived shortcomings of the SharePoint UI, facilitating increased internal communications.
A closer look at an intranet-in-a-box
While a good intranet-in-a-box can provide an excellent way for people to work together, there are some inherent issues with these products. For the most part, intranets-in-a-box will have a limited capacity to evolve, due to their reliance on heavily customized master pages. This required customization can also be the cause of unexpected expenditure, reducing the cost-effectiveness of buying an out-of-the-box solution.
These products are generally not designed to be evergreen, meaning that once you have installed the product, that is the version you are locked into. This can cause problems down the track as SharePoint evolves, and the intranet-in-a-box doesn’t; as SharePoint evolves and introduces new functions, the intranet-in-a-box custom code can prevent the SharePoint upgrades from reaching your intranet-in-a-box solution. Unfortunately, while you will have short-term gains when the intranet is installed, you may lose out on functionality in the long-run.
One of the main impediments to the ongoing evolution of an intranet-in-a-box is that they are often constructed around bespoke master pages, designed for ease of navigation and brand consistency. While these master pages will make the pages look great, they require a large amount of custom coding. In the short term, this will not be an issue, but as SharePoint versions change and functions are introduced or become obsolete, this inability to naturally evolve will drive the need for a complete overhaul and re-installation of your intranet. Unfortunately, with most intranet-in-a-box solutions, this is a big deal. You are essentially going to have to hit a giant reset button, requiring you to start from scratch across your entire intranet, every time your intranet mandates an upgrade.
The other major issue with intranets-in-a-box is their reliance on expert consultation for installment, SharePoint integration, and upkeep. While consulting is an integral part of any intranet, especially at a SharePoint architecture level, it is important to make sure that your consulting fees are being properly utilized. Consulting fees should be directed towards the highly technical aspects of SharePoint implementation, and not towards the upkeep of a product that is designed to be an out-of-the-box solution.
An intranet-in-a-box with freedom
In order to address the typical issues presented by intranet-in-a-box solutions, LiveTiles has designed a digital workplace that is constructed around the concepts of evergreen integration and freedom. Instead of trying to reinvent the intranet, LiveTiles works around the principal that Microsoft’s SharePoint has defined the intranet ecosystem, and the best way forward is to work symbiotically with that ecosystem.
By providing an evergreen product, LiveTiles delivers a digital workplace that is able to utilize the full capabilities of any iteration of SharePoint. With a two-week release cycle, LiveTiles’ updates, improvements, and innovations are almost immediate, at least in terms of software development. This allows LiveTiles to optimally leverage the most up-to-date functionality that SharePoint offers. The evergreen nature of LiveTiles also means that your organization will never need to completely reset the intranet to introduce new functions. Changes can be made to single pages or departments without effecting other parts of the organization’s intranet. This also makes LiveTiles easier to adopt, as it can be slowly introduced into an organization’s infrastructure, as opposed to the blanket introduction required by other solutions.
As it leverages the SharePoint ecosystem, the integration of LiveTiles will still require some consultation with SharePoint experts. One of the major differences between LiveTiles’ digital workplace and many intranet-in-a-box solutions, however, is the ability for people with no coding experience to customize their user experience. As a result, the expenditure on consultation is directed to the technical aspects of SharePoint, and not to the aspects of LiveTiles design that the user can take care of.
As well as leveraging SharePoint’s extensive infrastructure, LiveTiles is constantly adding third party APIs. These APIs allow integration of non-SharePoint applications like Vimeo, Giphy, and Nintex into the LiveTiles intranet, making the LiveTiles experience more engaging, entertaining, and personalized. Combining this personalized approach to content with a highly, and easily, customizable interface provides an element of freedom that the more constrained intranets-in-a-box don’t offer.
While there are definitely benefits to using an intranet-in-a-box solution, it is important to take the evolution of your company into consideration when choosing the future of your organization’s digital workplace.