Should your organization buy an intranet, or build one?

An internal hub is a crucial element for employee engagement and communication. Which approach works better will depend on your culture, budget and other variables.

Every organization looking to establish an intranet faces this question: Buy it, or build it?

There are advantages and challenges with either option.

You might choose an out-of-the-box product that you can quickly deploy and delegate it to non-IT or technical-related staff.

Building an intranet entails customizing it to fit your specific environment through consulting services and a lengthy implementation period.

To ensure that you are making the right decision, ask yourself:

  • Do you have to launch your intranet quickly?
  • Do you want to delegate tasks and management of areas on your intranet to other non-technical users?
  • Do you want your intranet vendor to include all the work and future development in a single out-of-the-box package?
  • Do you want to install and deploy your intranet without required further deployment or code customization?
  • Do you have budgetary constraints that will require a lower total cost of ownership for your intranet?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, consider buying an intranet. Doing so involves a lower total cost of ownership, smart delegation for multiple site owners and out-of-the-box functionality that translates to a short installation and implementation period.

If you answered “no” to most of the above questions, take a look at these:

  • Do you want full control of the functionality and product code to customize your intranet?
  • Is your implementation timeline for your intranet flexible, so it can change according to your business requirements?
  • Is your intranet budget scalable to include the variable costs of customization from professional service consultants?
  • Do you want to maintain and develop the custom code on your intranet internally or with ongoing consulting engagements as your needs evolve?
  • Do you have a seasoned, in-house technical staff that will be available to perform ongoing maintenance, bug fixes, etc.?

If you answered “yes” to all or most of the above questions, consider building an intranet, which you can do with help from a variety of vendors. It requires customization and consulting services for full deployment of their intranet platform.

Alternatively, if you have seasoned in-house technical staffers experienced with intranets, you might be able to build an open-source platform internally. This approach focuses on 100 percent customization, flexible functionality built over time, and independence from an out-of-the-box, standard solution.

Return on investment for your intranet

After working through those questions, you should have a better idea which option is right for your organization. One key factor is the return on investment (ROI). In general, purchased intranets have a much quicker ROI than built intranets, given the lower initial cost of the former.

However, SaaS pricing models have made building an intranet a more affordable upfront option. A caveat: With a built intranet you are not just signing up for the predictable monthly charge; you will also pay for customization, implementation, training and ongoing fees.

A quick example of how fast these SaaS costs can add up is buying a SharePoint 2013 Online plan in addition to your Office 365 plan at $7 per user per month. If you buy SharePoint 2013 Online as a built intranet option for a 1,000-user company, you would pay $7,000 a month, $84,000 per year.

You also must consider the extra fees associated with hiring SharePoint consultants to customize your SharePoint intranet or employ an in-house SharePoint expert. Whether your financial team prefers a capital outlay versus a monthly expense will help determine-along with the other factors discussed above-which path you’ll take.

A version of this article originally appeared on Intranet Connections.

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