If you've decided your business needs an intranet, you need to find the right intranet software. And, while it's possible to create an intranet from scratch, smaller companies usually find it makes sense to customise standard intranet software
Intranet software requirements
Your choice of intranet software must start with establishing your business requirements. As with any IT investment, identifying what you need is the first step towards success. We therefore don't recommend looking at specific intranet software packages until you can articulate what you need.
This means answering some questions in detail and with input from staff, as they're the people who'll be using the software you ultimately choose. For instance:
- What functions are essential? What must your intranet software absolutely be able to do?
- What functions are desirable? What would like to be able to do with your intranet software?
- What functions might you want to add? Think about where your business is going, how it might scale and what you'll likely need in future.
- Who will access your intranet? How many people will use it? What are their roles?
- Where will they be accessing it from? For instance, some intranet software is well-suited to remote workers.
- What devices will they be using? Does the intranet software need to work on smart phones or tablets?
- What other apps and software do you use? Intranet software can connect to other packages and data sources.
- Who will set up and maintain the intranet software? Even simple packages need some level of technical expertise.
"Good systems typically have four qualities: they are fun, easy to use, reduce business noise such as emails and most importantly empower your staff," says Adam Roney of Calls9. Your budget will also be key, of course.
It is possible to create an intranet on a shoestring. You can use free intranet software or a hosted service (a type of cloud computing, costing from around £10 a month).
Having said that, you may still incur extra costs up front. Customising even straightforward packages requires some technical knowledge.
Ultimately, and as with many IT investments, investing in the services of an expert can be more cost-effective than spending nothing at all.
If a regular IT supplier already knows your business, it might only take them a day or two to nail down your requirements.
Intranet software: what can it do?
Once you've begun mapping your requirements, you'll be able to start building a list of intranet software features you need. For instance:
- Publish information. How easy is it to publish pages? Can you flag content for review so it doesn't go out of date? Can you embed rich media such as videos? Is it possible to verify when someone has read an important document, like a new company policy?
- Share files. Is there a system for uploading and sharing files? How are files protected? Does the intranet software keep track of changes to files and allow you to roll back to a previous version? Does it offer integration with services such as Dropbox?
- Project collaboration. How does the intranet software help your employees work together? Is there a way to track projects or manage tasks? Does it provide discussion areas, live chat or forums as vehicles for staff to share ideas?
- Business processes. Can you mirror your company's processes using the intranet software? For instance, can you set up a way for employees to request holiday or claim expenses without paperwork?
- App connections. Can the intranet software be linked to your other business apps? For instance, can a single username grant access to your accounts system, customer database and more?
- Mobile access. Does the intranet software work on mobile devices? Is there an app you can use to access the intranet? Will your team be able to sign in even when they're out of the office? Is any functionality removed from the mobile version?
It's hard to predict how your intranet software will be used in the future. It's therefore worth seeking software that is easy to adapt and expand.
Most intranet software is customisable and certain products offer a range of modules or add-ons, allowing you to choose how your intranet looks and functions.
In-house or hosted intranet software?
There are two main types of intranet software:
- In-house intranet software. This runs on a server located in your business. It gives you full control over everything, but means you also have to perform all software maintenance and updates.
Setting up your intranet in-house can also involve significant expense upfront. You need a server (£500+) and you may also have to buy the intranet software and associated support from the vendor.
- Hosted (cloud) intranet software. Many intranet packages run in the cloud and operate on a ‘software as a service' model. You simply pay for them monthly (£10+) and this usually includes everything you need to get started.
With cloud intranet software, the vendor will usually perform updates and provide support. However, you may be charged on a per-user basis. As with all other cloud services, it's also important to select a trustworthy supplier.
These days, businesses are increasingly opting for cloud-based intranet software, due to the reduced cost and fewer on-site hardware requirements.
Four intranet software packages
Now we've covered the basics of intranet software, here's a brief overview of three popular packages.
We've chosen these because they provide a good illustration of the options available to you. However, it should be noted that this is a non-exhaustive list and there are many other intranet software packages on the market which may be a better fit for your business.
1. Microsoft SharePoint: the corporate standard
It's estimated that around 50% of all company intranets run on SharePoint. This software is powerful and integrates well with other Microsoft packages, such as Word and Excel.
However, this is a powerful, complex piece of software that can be confusing if not carefully set up and potentially overkill for smaller businesses
2. WordPress: the free and powerful option
Although most often used for public-facing websites, WordPress is a versatile platform. This has led to its increased use as an intranet for businesses of all sizes.
WordPress is free to install on your own server, but is also available with many affordable web hosting packages. It comes set up as a basic website, but you can customise it as much as you wish, and make the entire site private so that only people with user accounts can access the content within.
Thousands of plugins enable you to add extra functionality to your Wordpress installation, but it takes some technical knowledge to make the most of them.
Learn more about creating your intranet with WordPress.
3. Papyrs: to hide the technical stuff
Papyrs is a cloud package that's designed to be straightforward. Its main strength is a friendly drag-and-drop interface, which helps you get going fast.
The downside of intranet software like Papyrs is that you lose some flexibility. Although there are lots of customisation options, you may not always be able to do exactly what you want.
Papyrs intranet software is free for 15 days and then costs from €69 a month.
4. Workplace by Facebook
Better known as the internet's most popular social network, Facebook has decided to dip its toes into the commercial realm by launching Workplace, an intranet that's built on the Facebook platform. Workplace is a capable intranet, but offers one significant benefit over the competition in that it utilises a user interface known the world over, making the app instantly approachable for most people.
Workplace offers a free 90 day trial with $3 per user pricing thereafter.
It's not just your intranet software
Finally, a word of warning. As Paul Boag explains, "you cannot create an effective intranet simply by throwing a technology like SharePoint at the problem."
If people are to start using it, your intranet software needs to fit your company's structure, culture and work patterns. It needs to hold useful content, and it needs to make things easier for your employees.
If your intranet isn't the fastest or the simplest way to get something done, your employees won't use it - no matter how much time and money you've invested in choosing intranet software.