Build vs buy: has the war been won?

While the benefits of an intranet are essentially common knowledge, opinions on the best implementation path have posed a longstanding dilemma. Enterprises seeking to implement a new solution have traditionally been faced with two choices: build a custom-made portal or buy an Out-of-the-Box intranet product. In the last decade, rapid innovations in the SAAS space coupled with lessons learned from organizations that opted for one of the two choices have brought new clarity to the debate. With the biggest brands now opting to buy over build, we explore the evolution of the argument and shed light on new considerations facing organizations seeking a modern intranet solution that delivers maximum return on investment.

The evolution of intranet platforms

If the clock were to be turned back to the early 2000s, SharePoint would likely be the only option. After an initial release in 2001, Microsoft debuted an updated version that included a way to integrate team websites into a larger, corporate portal. Throughout the next decade, updates such as integration capabilities were added, but these early-era intranet solutions still lacked many key communications features, including socialization capabilities. This time period coincided with the rise in SaaS usage, pioneered by Salesforce with its cloud-based services and customer relationship management system.

The soaring prevalence of cloud-based solutions in combination with an increased desire for socialization came together to create the perfect storm that ushered in the intranet 2.0 age. In recent years, the capabilities of digital solutions have far surpassed the document-sharing roots of their predecessors. This new era in intranet development also served as the impetus for the debate surrounding building a customized platform versus buying an out-of-the-box option.

Historically, proponents on the build side argued that it would be near impossible to find a bought solution that could be tailored to meet the specific needs of a given enterprise. These on-premise devotees pointed to the complete control associated with building, as a paper published in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Access reports. Competitors on the buy side argued that cons such as the need for constant support, lower functionality, and insufficient updates far outweighed any potential benefits associated with an on-premise option.

Findings from the same paper suggest that support for buying as opposed to building is significantly promising, particularly due to three factors: software maintenance, strategic importance of software, and complexity of software. With Gartner predicting that cloud-based enterprise software spending will soar 8.2% to $466 billion in 2020, it appears that many organizations are beginning to see what a turnkey intranet has to offer.

6 reasons why buy has emerged as #1

Nowadays, savvy intranet shoppers understand that out-of-the-box solutions can stretch their dollar the furthest while providing unparalleled results. How did the once neck and neck race between build versus buy shift so dramatically? It’s all thanks to a few game-changing developments:

#1. A futureproof product

An out-of-the-box intranet isn’t a stagnant product but rather a shape-shifting platform that is constantly evolving. Service providers have their finger on the pulse for the latest innovations and the clients they support benefit from frequent upgrades as a result. In contrast, many enterprises with on-premise solutions fail to devote the time and resources necessary for ongoing support. Consequently, systems can quickly become obsolete, leading to countless hours wasted and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity. According to a recent survey, annual losses due to inefficiencies associated with obsolete technology amount to $1.8 billion in the US each year.

#2. Support at your fingertips

There’s a lot of work that goes into launching a new digital workplace. When stakeholders choose an out-of-the-box product, they also gain access to a team of experts who can troubleshoot, offer technical support, and ensure employees derive maximum value from the solution. In contrast, enterprises that choose to build their own platform receive no third-party support. Instead, these organizations must solve any issues that arise internally, taking time away from other high-priority tasks.

#3. Streamlined launch

Companies that wish to build their own intranet are looking at timelines measured in years while bought solutions can take mere months to launch. Given the demonstrated link between high-functioning intranets and increased productivity, delaying the launch of a digital workplace can cause organizations to miss the mark when it comes to efficiency and overall revenue.

#4. Personalization is possible

The old argument against bought solutions no longer holds weight as best-in-class turnkey platforms are highly agile and come with a host of configuration capabilities. Out-of-the-box solutions provide a template as a framework and then empower users to tailor their experience through customizable drop-down menus and content streams as well as widgets for specialized requests.

#5. UX leads the way

Out-of-the-box service providers devote countless hours towards ensuring that platforms are intuitive and user friendly. On the opposite side of the spectrum, configuring platform technology like SharePoint often proves challenging from a design perspective. Even if an enterprise has the IT resources needed to build a solution, these experts frequently lack insight into usability, which can lead to low adoption figures.

#6. State-of-the-art security

The threat of security leaks looms large: according to IBM, the average data breach cost topped 3.86 million per enterprise. Some stakeholders may assume that built intranets offer more in the way of digital protection, but in reality these solutions are often most vulnerable to threats. If an on-premise platform is built on a legacy system, security patches may be limited or discontinued entirely. In contrast, cloud-based turnkey intranets feature enterprise-level security and adopt internationally recognized standards such as ISO27001 and SOC 2 accreditation.

Doctor using digital workplace on iPad

A new contest: which form of buy is best?

Given the array of major innovations, it’s evident that buy has decidedly pulled ahead in the long-held intranet debate. Yet as one chapter comes to a close, a new argument rages on: what kind of bought solution reigns supreme? Below, we explore the different options stakeholders must consider:

SharePoint templating tools

Some out-of-the-box solutions act as user experience frameworks designed to fit within existing SharePoint on-premise or SharePoint Online architecture. These templating tools are designed to maximize user experience and reduce the time spend associated with developing in SharePoint. While a templating tool can streamline the intranet launch process, enterprises will still need significant SharePoint expertise in order to design a fully functional platform. Due to the SharePoint-centric nature of this option, only users with 365 access can utilize the solution. Many templating providers also lack an integration framework, preventing users from taking advantage of the single pane of glass experience provided by other intranet choices.

Independent intranet application providers

In contrast, independent intranet application providers offer services that are entirely disconnected from Microsoft. Instead of being hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, these solutions frequently live on Amazon Web Services (AWS). At their core, these offerings are applications as opposed to platforms, which means they are subject to inflexibility. Independent platforms offer limited integration options that do not keep pace with the Microsoft development cycle. Typically, these applications are utilized by small to medium-sized businesses, but can prove challenging when it comes to integrating with other systems or facilitating third-party collaborations.

Digital workplace platforms on the cloud

Finally, modern digital workplace platforms offer the best of both worlds. These solutions are Microsoft adjacent and provide seamless access to all O365 tools without being fully wedded to SharePoint. Digital experience platforms are often hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud and bundle together a host of tools as well as seamless integration capabilities. These platforms are far more user-friendly than templating tools, meaning managing and updating the product will feel second nature. Due to their agility and tailoring capabilities, modern digital workplace platforms can be deployed to serve enterprises of any size and within any industry and can include extranets, customer portals, and entirely unique solutions.

Intranet champions: digital workplace platform of the future

If you are interested in learning more about which digital workplace solution is best suited to your business needs, reach out to one of our consultants today!

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