Are third-party SharePoint ‘Intranet-in-a-box’ solutions still relevant?

Over the years we have consulted on intranet deployment using SharePoint as the backbone. SharePoint is a favoured environment for collaboration and complex document management requirements. It has also been used favourably as an Intranet for many years, leveraging the power of ECM and document management that SharePoint is so good at. However, the SharePoint user interface was not mobile friendly nor particularly intuitive for end users.

When Office 365 was first released, there was a surge of businesses offering plugin products for SharePoint. They filled the gap that Microsoft (at that time) had not delivered on; a mobile friendly, contemporary interface for the connected world.

Today things are very different. So, are these ‘plug-in’ products [aka intranet-in-a-box solutions] still relevant?

SharePoint Online now includes responsive pages, a totally new set of web parts, seamless integration with Office Apps and tools, and a re-worked technical framework (SPFx). Intranets and Extranets built directly out-of-the-box (OOTB) and professionally configured are powerful, fast, feature rich, and they look great.

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Intranet in a box

We have seen some excellent plugin products that have complemented the SharePoint environment, specifically for Intranets and Extranets. These have typically included a responsive page framework that replaces the default master pages, additional branding control via CSS/JS, and global navigation configuration and management enhancements.

Intranet-in-a-box solutions have gained pace by not only delivering a better user experience, but also adding additional features such as tailored web parts and apps, some aligned to specific industry requirements. This has made them quite attractive to organisations looking for a ‘quick fix’.

Intranet-in-a-box solutions typically use the older ‘classic publishing sites’, and master page technology, which clash with the modern experience list and library views, now default within SharePoint Online.

Longevity and relevance

Third-party plug in products will likely continue for some years as organisations have invested heavily in their intranet using the older SharePoint Publishing Sites. Microsoft have given some assurances over not deprecating these environments for the foreseeable future although no further investment will be made. For those with established intranets using these technologies, things look relatively safe.

On premise installs of SharePoint are likely to be more static and may also continue to use plugin products. However, new deployments could be a different story.

The move to the cloud has gained momentum. Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies have adopted Office 365. SharePoint Online is included with Office 365 and further enhancements such as Office Graph (Delve), the Compliance and Security Centre, and of course, the new SharePoint Communications and Team Sites, are a very attractive.

Even those with established SharePoint based intranets are migrating to the cloud environment of Office 365 and SharePoint Online.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to substantiate the additional cost of third-party products on top of the cost of Office 365 licences. The added benefits must be substantial. The advantages third-party products once bought are quickly being eroded as Microsoft further the Office 365 environment and feature list.

With all competitive markets and especially those competing against the core vendor of a technology platform, there will always be some fall out. We would therefore urge any organisation looking to adopt a third-party ‘plug-in’ to proceed with due diligence in establishing the long-term viability of a business/product.

UPDATE 10/2018
Some intranet-in-a-box vendors are offering solutions using the modern SharePoint experience. This could be a great benefit where additional features are built into the interface that further enrich the user experience. The question will be how much are these features worth over the already feature reach (and ever expanding) OOTB capability?

For more information regarding Intranet-in-a-box solutions, checkout the ClearBox review on over 30 IIAB solutions.

by Jane Turnbull > SharePoint > Office 365

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