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How to choose intranet software

Choosing new intranet software is one of the most rewarding parts of managing an intranet. It doesn’t happen too often though, so the process can seem intimidating – like staring up at a mountain you’ve never climbed before.

This guide will help you navigate the paths, scale the decision points, and avoid the odd ogre, so that you can find the best product for your business.

  1. Strategy (below)
  2. Requirements
  3. Product and vendor research
  4. RfP and product selection
Five pattern-glazed doughnuts and an apple turnover.

Phase one — strategy

Before you start shopping you need to know what you’re looking for. Your intranet strategy will inform what your business needs, and therefore what features to look out for. The intranet strategy will also give you a business case (which we have assumed is signed off during this process) as well as a rough budget.

There are two areas to explore as part of your strategy that we are going to explore a little more: user needs and business strategies. This will also help develop your list of must have functional requirements.

User needs

The discovery phase of an intranet deployment project usually involves a mix of methods to gather insights from your colleagues, and research areas where an intranet could support their work. This could include surveys and focus groups, but there are alternatives.

If you have frontline workers, you should consider their needs carefully; don’t underestimate the restrictions inherent in their jobs. For example, if they don’t have regular access to computers, a mobile intranet or even a dedicated employee app may be needed. There’s really no substitute for visiting frontline workers and seeing for yourself what their work environment is like.

Business strategies

The easiest way to get support for a new intranet is to show how it supports objectives that your organisation has already agreed on. That way you’re positioning it as a way to meet goals rather than something extra. Questions to consider include:

  • Who are your stakeholders and what are their expectations?
  • What does the rest of your digital workplace look like, where are the gaps or possible crossover points?
  • How do existing IT, HR, and Internal Communications strategies influence your digital workplace strategy?

In general, the business strategy tells you the priorities that your intranet should address, and the user needs help you understand how to deliver the solution. Both then feed into the requirements element.

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Intranet selection services

We can help you through the entire process, and we’ve standardised our approach to help you get just what you need from us.

Work out what matters most

Once you have identified the strategic direction of your intranet you will need to understand what areas to prioritise. We would advise that you plot the individual packages of work onto a value-ease matrix.

The ‘value’ axis reflects the strategic importance to the business or to employees; while the horizontal axis reflects how easy it is to bring about the desired outcome (hard things often involve culture change, easy things may be about using an existing tool in a new way). Process and technology changes are self-explanatory, but ‘org. change’ could refer to internal processes or cultural changes.

A value ease map, showing high value actions at the top and easy actions at the bottom, meaning that some actions are hard and also not very valuable.

An example value-ease matrix chart for an intranet.

Once you have plotted the strategic points onto the matrix you can start to identify the functional requirements that will make them happen. For example, “support bite-sized learning” as a strategic point could result in “video publishing” or “integration with our LMS” as requirements.

Phase two — requirements

Write down the functional requirements as you identify them during phase one; we recommend Excel, but you could use Trello or similar. See phase three for some ‘givens’ that you don’t need to capture here.

You also need to add non-functional requirements to your list, which are specifications that the software must adhere to. For example, ISO 27001 certification, authentication via Azure AD, or data storage within a specified territory. Your IT department will be able to guide you.

Lists for costs, tech standards, supplier, security and data.

A checklist of non-functional requirements you need to identify.

One non-functional requirement that might be raised is the assumed need to use SharePoint. SharePoint is a feature of many Microsoft 365 licenses, but that’s not an automatic reason to use it, here’s why:

  • Independent intranets can integrate with SharePoint too
  • The technical implementation of a SharePoint intranet in-a-box product is basically the same as implementing an independent intranet (and the costs are similar)
  • The document repository side of SharePoint can be tricky to manage, plus it’s not the only requirement to consider.

You should consider all your requirements and explore both categories of intranet products during the following phases: you don’t have to decide whether to use SharePoint or not right now.

Not all requirements have equal importance for your organisation. Go through each and apply a rating to it, we prefer MoSCoW but you could colour-code, score, or apply stars to your list. It’s important to rank things, so that a minor requirement doesn’t scupper a major decision among stakeholders.

Your ‘must have’ functional requirements are the focus features during your search. We’d recommend this list (called the ‘focus list’ from now on) has around twenty requirements, which is detailed enough without creating too much work for yourself. Keep items outside of your focus list for reference, as they are bonus features to look out for, or could form development areas for future phases of your intranet lifecycle.

Keeping your whole requirements list in mind might feel a bit daunting. So as a small tip, from your list of twenty and / or from your non-functional requirements, work out around six things that matter most (called the ‘top six’), these will help you make quick decisions early on.

Make sure that ‘cultural fit’ is one of your non-functional requirements, which refers to the cultural fit of the vendor’s company against your own or how well you think you would be able to work with them. You will be contracted to the vendor for several years so need to make sure you can work with them, ‘cultural fit’ is therefore something you will need to consider throughout.

Phase three — product and vendor research

Forming a longlist

Starting from a long list ensures you don’t discount an option for a cursory reason, or through a lack of knowledge about the software. The quickest way to start your longlist is to download our report. We are vendor neutral and have spent hundreds of hours researching products for this very purpose – to save you time.

Report pages, showing a glimpse at tables, scores, and commentary.

Each review includes about 16 pages of information, including non-functional requirement areas, screenshots, and customer feedback.

Report cover: Intranet and employee experience platforms. Reviews of the best products. Woman working on her laptop while holding a cat.

Our report page list out the products we’ve reviewed, which is a good starting point in itself.

Alongside our reviews, there are other sources you can use to identify products to explore:

  • Social media channels – Follow individuals who are active in the intranet community; vendor accounts can be useful but will be sales-heavy.
  • Competition winners – Step Two, Ragan, Nielsen Norman Group, and Digital Impact are four example competitions that are an excellent source for case studies and an indication of what a product can deliver.
  • Vendor workshops and webinars – Sign up for a few to get a sense of the product and what it will be like working with the vendor.
  • Vendor websites (please, don’t only do this) – Have a look at their case studies and screenshots / videos of the product in action.

Getting to a shorter list

As you investigate, consider how well you think the intranet product delivers features on your top six list and remove any products you don’t think are good enough. Then check the non-functional requirements from your focus list; if it’s clear a product doesn’t deliver then remove it.

For those that are left, study their website. Mark up your focus list to indicate whether it’s covered by a product or not. You want to end up with five to ten products to explore in more detail, so use your annotated top six and focus lists to eliminate anything you feel is wanting. Of course, if something is well outside your budget, then you can exclude it at any point during this process. You might be able to negotiate with some vendors about price, so it’s always worth a conversation though.

An excel sheet with vendors and criteria, and coloured cells to indicate yes, maybe, no.

Mark up your focus list per vendor so that you can easily see which meet your needs most accurately.

Identify your shortlist of best-fit intranet products

Now it’s time to contact vendors to talk through what you’re looking for. We advise setting up informal half-hour demos, so you can get an initial feel for the product. Spend particular attention looking at how your focus list items are being presented, not simply whether they are there. Ask for clarification on anything you were unsure about from their website and beware:

  • Impressive features that aren’t on your list – it doesn’t matter how good it looks if you’re not going to use it
  • The last time they updated the product – if it’s an older product that was last updated six-months ago it would ring our alarm bells
  • “We could do that” – if something isn’t on their feature list already then be careful of false promises.

Also keep in mind these ‘givens’; we suggest you leave them off your list as any intranet product should do these things:

  • User friendly
  • Attractive
  • Contemporary
  • Fast page loads
  • Secure
  • Works in chosen company browsers.

Take what you learn and update your focus list appropriately; automatically exclude any products that don’t meet the majority of your top six well.

Ideally, you want to be left with a shortlist of three to five products to invite through the RfP process. If your shortlist is still long, you could arrange another longer demo, and invite other members of the project team. Or, you could look back at your requirements and explore those that fell just below your focus list.

Phase four – RfP and product selection

Writing the RfP (request for proposal)

Use your focus list as the basis for the RfP document, phrasing the requirement areas as scenarios. You may find that you need to include some requirements that fell below your focus list but try to differentiate these for the vendors. Send the RfP to your shortlisted vendors and ask them to apply.

News publishing tool >> Provide an 'editor dashboard' of news from across the organisation that lets the Internal Communications team get an overview of pending and published news to help with communications planning.

An example business scenario that shows one aspect of the original requirement

Selecting an intranet

You might automatically invite all shortlisted vendors to a selection process, or you could wait until the RfP responses have come in and reduce the shortlist further based on their responses. Regardless of the number, we recommend inviting your final list of vendors to a selection meeting. If they will use an implementation or customer success partner, make sure that partner is invited along and takes control of most of the presentation.

Use your focus list, highlighting your top six, as a point of comparison between the presentations. You could score the products during the presentations, but we would warn against getting caught up in scoring. Ultimately, you should have a discussion where you share all the evidence you’ve gathered to help you make the best, most informed decision.

A decision Venn diagram, made up of RfP responses, Performance during demo, and gathered evidence.

Gather all information together and discuss with your colleagues. Where the positive experience overlaps, that’s where you’ll decide on a product.

Staring at four vending machines in the dark.

Help with choosing the best intranet

We’ve taken you through our recommended process for selecting the most appropriate intranet product for your business. It’s long and complex, with long-reaching implications once you have made a decision.

That’s why we’re here to help.

We can support you with the entire process, including the earlier requirement gathering and strategy phases, then beyond into project management and design. Please drop us an email (hello@clearbox.co.uk) or talk to us directly if you’d like to know more.