What is the Best Intranet Software? Templates Vs. Custom

June 16, 2015
Robin Dominik Havre
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It’s a tough question, for sure. What is the best intranet software? And is it good enough to beat a custom design?

On the one hand, a fully custom intranet can cater for your every whim and offer an infinite potential for flexibility. You can add features as needed and scale as your company grows.

On the other hand, using a popular intranet template or a pre-designed system could save a lot of planning, decision making and potentially expensive development time.

There are pros and cons to each. So let’s look at some of the most popular intranet software compared with a custom intranet to see which is best for you.

Is SharePoint really the best software for intranets?

SharePoint-logo

SharePoint is a good place to start. These days, it gets as much praise and attention as it does criticism. It started gaining popularity as an intranet tool when the 2010 version was released, though it’s since seen a considerable update in 2013.

Microsoft has opted for the software as a service (SaaS) business model and now charges on a per-user basis. While this may be good for smaller organisations, larger companies often find the costs racking up.

Pros:

  • Allows easy collaboration on popular Microsoft files via a cloud server
  • Events, pages, calendars and other features can be edited relatively easily
  • SharePoint can hold multiple websites on a single SharePoint system

Cons:

  • Although much of the code is pre-written, setting it up can be expensive in terms of both service costs and man-hours
  • Because it’s so easy to edit, it’s also relatively easy to break if misused by employees
  • The development process is deceptively tricky, especially when integrating it with existing proprietary systems

SharePoint is often viewed as an” out-of-the-box” intranet system. But the reality is, it can be both difficult and expensive to maintain effectively.

If you can make particularly good use of the easy Microsoft files collaboration, it might be worthwhile. Otherwise, there are probably better options available for you.

Making an intranet with Google Sites

google_sites

One super simple way to hack together intranet is by using Google Sites. It’s a structured web page and wiki creation tool offered as part of Google Apps for Work. We all know Google Docs is an excellent service to have easy access to.

This is not the most flexible or robust approach to designing an intranet. But for a smaller organisation in need better internal communications, it could be worth considering.

Pros:

  • Up to 100MB offered free so you can test it out easily to see if works for you
  • Multiple tier permissions and accessibility including owner, editor and viewer
  • Custom domain mapping means you can have a standalone intranet site easily

Cons:

  • Lack of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or JavaScript and fairly basic use of HTML means customisation is limited
  • Only up to 10 GB of space for Google Apps users means limited opportunity to scale
  • PDF’s must be downloaded to be viewed, not ideal for user-friendliness

Some companies use this type of intranet to great effect. But, the bottom line is, it’s relatively limited. If you want to find out if this option is right for you, there’s a solid guide to creating a Google Sites intranet here.

Making an intranet with WordPress

wordpress

Yes, it can be done. In case you weren’t aware, WordPress these days powers over 20% of the entire Internet. It’s robust, flexible and well-designed software.

The developer of the platform, Matt Mullenweg, created a custom theme called P2 that’s used internally to manage a multi-billion dollar organisation with a completely distributed team. So there’s no doubt it can be a powerful internal communications tool.

Pros:

  • It’s free
  • It’s a platform familiar to most content admins and developers alike
  • Has multiple permission systems, comment sections and features that allow people to engage directly with intranet content

Cons:

  • Trickier to install fully custom features necessary from modern intranets
  • Takes a fair degree of development to stop it looking like a standard blog
  • Allows easy access to CSS and other components not intended for content managers, so mistakes can happen

If you’re looking for out-of-the-box software for an intranet, WordPress may have its limitations, but many companies would find if they had to choose between that and is SharePoint or Google Sites, it does a much better job.

You can find a decent guide on setting up a WordPress intranet here.

Custom intranet design

So, we’ve looked at three of the best out-of-the-box intranet software options. Should you use one of these or have a custom-designed intranet software?

For more established companies with the budget to invest in a custom design, naturally it’s usually the go-to option. However, just like the above options were discussed, custom intranets have their own lists of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Total control over design and branding to create something unique
  • Users and administrators are shielded from accidentally changing code
  • All errors are accountable by the designer as there’s less reliance on pre-fabricated code libraries
  • Cost is very flexible as it depends on company size, offers room for scaling when necessary

Cons:

  • Bespoke systems tend to have smaller support teams
  • Transferring between two different providers needs to be done carefully to avoid problems

These last two points of the main cons of having a bespoke intranet software. But, if addressed appropriately both of the issues can be diminished.

In conclusion

Deciding on which intranet software is best for you largely boils down to the size of your company, whether you have a team of developers on standby and how much flexibility you need.

Sadly, there’s no magic bullet option without a single downside. But, we hope that by reading this article, the decision has been made clearer. Got more questions about these intranet software options? Let us know in the comments.

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Robin Dominik Havre

Robin is the CEO of New Intranet. He's helped many companies deploy successful mobile intranets that are easy to use and specially designed for employees not working in front of a computer. The goal of this blog is to provide research-backed intranet and internal communications advice for more successful HR strategies.

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