SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box – The definitive guide to turnkey solutions from ClearBox Consulting

Intranet products have been around for over 20 years. Arguably the first was OrchidSoft, founded in Newcastle (UK) in 1994 and still in business today. One of the most challenging experiences of my career was installing an intranet product in Kuwait with the assistance of David Gilroy (Conscious Solutions). This was some years ago but is a project that neither of us can forget for all the wrong reasons. Quite when the first SharePoint-based intranet products came along I’m not sure, but over the last few years the rate of new entrants has accelerated in spite of (and indeed because of!) Microsoft’s notional commitment to the intranet cause.

After what has turned out to be a proof-of-concept report assessing six of these products Sam Marshall and the ClearBox Consulting team have now released SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box Version 2 with 26 vendor and product profiles within its 250 pages. However Version 2 is far more than just an expansion of the initial report in terms of the number of vendors included. Each vendor is profiled in a well structured format together with an assessment of its product that could only have been carried out by a team that had substantial experience in SharePoint technology and implementation together with a deep understanding of what users expect an intranet to be able to deliver. This is immediately evident from the way in which eight use-case scenarios are used as the basis for the assessment. These are news publishing, branding, two-way communication, mobile access, community spaces, analytics, transactions and a wildcard scenario in which the vendor could demonstrate something that they felt gave them a competitive advantage.  The oputcomes are presented in a tabular format together with a a star rating, indicating the extent to which the product delivers on these cases. There are also screen shots, background information on the company, and an indication in $, $$, $$$ format as to the pricing. Of particular note is an indication of which SharePoint version (SP2013/O365 etc) is supported, which is something that vendors seem reluctant to own up to on their websites. Each profile runs to around 10 pages. I would like to have seen search as a use case as using SharePoint search introduces significant challenges. As a side note it is interesting to see BAInsight targeting the search aspect of SharePoint intranets. The price is just $495 plus VAT for EU purchasers.

The primary objective of this report is to help customers develop a short list of potential vendors through comparing like-for-like across the 26 products, and this is accomplished with care and flair. The assessments were carried out by Wedge Black, James Dellow, Andrew Gilleran, Katie McIntosh and Sharon O’Dea and you will not find a more qualified team to do this work. The dedication they, and Sam Marshall, must have given to this project is beyond calculation. In addition Steve Bynghall took on the role of Editor and Paul Florescu has provided a design that is both readable and elegant. This is a report that just shouts “Read Me!”  Beyond this objective this report sets out a framework that can be extended in various ways and for other products if Clearbox has the energy to do so.

What impresses me most about this report is its balance. Many years ago now I used to be judge for the Directory Publishers Association awards, and the issue of balance was always to the fore. It is about providing just the right amount of information for the purpose to which the directory will be put. Rather like an intranet!. I can but imagine the team discussions about what to include and what to exclude, what to write and what not to write. There are no sponsors of this report. The team gave up their time against future sales income so don’t disappoint them. Even though the report focuses on SharePoint intranets there are issues in common with any intranet product. You might think that SharePoint gives you all you need for an intranet. Read this report and you may well come to a different conclusion. In addition you may well come to the conclusion that separately or together these are consultants that have all the knowledge you need to create a successful intranet on a SharePoint platform without being MVPs.

Martin White