Do custom developed intranets make business sense?

Do the common reasons for custom developing an intranet from scratch make sense and stand up to closer scrutiny?

Various pieces of colourful lego to represent custom built intranet

During a recent conversation with the CIO of an international enterprise company about their Intranet strategy he remarked “Custom is the new four letter word!” and proceeded to explain his rationale for wanting to avoid a build from the ground up scenario. However, this is not a globally shared view so why do some organizations still prefer to build everything themselves? And does their reasoning hold true in a world where the need to be agile and responsive is the new normal?

The rationale for build

Here are four commons reasons frequently heard for justifying a fully-custom developed intranet software:

#1. “We’re unique”

Newsflash - this is unlikely! In fact, up to 80% of what you want out of your next intranet will be common with other organizations – even those of vastly different sizes and in different industries.

#2. “It’s what we’ve always done”

Deming said “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” If you follow this path to its logical conclusion, then you are inviting your competition to catch-up and accelerate past you. Change is constant and you must innovate to stay competitive.

#3. “It’s cheaper”

Products and services that have clear, upfront and inclusive pricing can appear more expensive at first glance, however, that is often just a misconception. Many of the costs that make up an intranet discovery, design, implementation, support and on-going enhancements are either underestimated or simply overlooked and the price comparison is frequently made between the best case, lowest cost and incomplete custom build project versus a clear, known and guaranteed price - and that isn’t fair or accurate.

#4. “We can do it all in-house”

In many cases this can be true but in others there can be over-confidence in both the ability to develop solutions (often using a new version of software i.e. SharePoint 2013 versus 2010) and in the time that it will take to do it. In the IT department, this can sometimes also can be a coded message for we fear for our jobs as there is a misconception that a product is a silver-bullet, will solve everything and won’t require any support and assistance from an internal team at all. This simply isn’t true, and often is the complete opposite. Freeing IT from focusing on developing the foundational elements of an intranet means they can become enablers for the business and turn their attention to productivity solutions instead, becoming workplace heroes in the process.

How to have your cake and eat it

If you like the sound of a turnkey Intranet solution but are afraid about not having enough flexibility to ‘make it your own’ then you are not alone. At Unily our experience as a multi-award winning consultancy taught us that no matter the size of the company or the vertical sector, most organizations shared the same core intranet needs. We created our Intranet as a Service solution to work great out-of-the-box to meet up to 80% of the common intranet requirements. That’s a great start, but what about the other 20%?

That is where organizations can get creative and tailor the experience to their own industry and distinct corporate needs – with, or without our assistance. Utilizing the full power of the SharePoint platform and optionally third-party solutions (e.g. Such as Nintex for forms, workflow and business process automation), you can get nearer to 100% in record time – enabling you to have the best of both worlds.


It is easy to underestimate the difficulty and complexity of designing and building an effective company intranet. Many organizations choose to go it alone and despite a lot of hard work and good intentions the overall result is a poorly adopted and underutilized asset. The intranet as a service concept has now matured to the point where organizations of tens of thousands of users have already adopted the technology, and yet many still choose to try and build them by starting at zero. The unfortunate fact is that no one will thank your developers for getting your intranet to work on mobile devices, however many hours they toil on it, as it is just expected as a baseline minimum requirement.

You don’t need to choose between build vs buy, you can start with the foundation of a proven enterprise grade, fully-featured solution and extend, where required, to make it truly a fit for you.

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