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What is an independent intranet?

Fruit and veg market stall.

What is an independent intranet?

There are scores of intranet platforms on the market, making it a confusing space for those looking to implement something new. Although SharePoint is well-known, our independent intranets report highlights intranet products that have no dependency on Microsoft’s platform and will help you explore the intranet market from a much broader perspective. Even better, nearly all of them work well alongside Microsoft 365, or alternatives such as Google Workspace.

Independent intranets are fully featured and include a variety of tools that will appeal to internal communicators, and all sizes of business across different industry sectors. Some of the leading players include Unily, LumApps and Interact, but there are many others worth considering.

Several independent intranets have been around since the web first took off in the later 1990’s, and others paved the way for best practices such as social and collaborative intranets.  Platforms such as Elcom, GreenOrbit, Interact, IntelliEnterprise, Invotra, Iris Intranet, Linchpin Intranet, Squiz Workplace and ThoughtFarmer all pre-date SharePoint (2001) so have a huge amount of experience to draw on (a notable omission from that list is Jive, which was a big player until just a few years ago, but now seems to be a system that many customers are migrating away from).

Many independent intranet products have built up a strong user base and regional presence, but often out of the limelight. As a category of products there is much that is impressive, but what do they actually do and what benefits do they bring? We’ve outlined just some of their features and benefits below.

A consistently good user experience

Unily home page on a tablet.
Unily offers flexible branding and a strong user experience across different device types.

Often, independent intranets have a clearer sense of purpose than the rather chequered history of SharePoint and this shows through with a cleaner, simpler interface for both users and administrators. For example, intranet managers and other admins only need to be concerned about the intranet’s CMS (content management system) and their own content. Branding too is often more flexible.

We’ve seen some great examples of different branding across different customers and even different branding within sub-brands of an individual tenant. Interact, Elcom and Unily have particularly good user experiences and branding options. Additionally, Happeo and Igloo provide a strong administrator and publisher experience.

Excellent news and page publishing features

As you may expect, the news publishing processes across most independent intranet products is very strong. There are templates, flexible options, multimedia features, and everything else you’d hope for to communicate company news. The approaches that the individual products take might be different but, on the whole, it is done well. Interact, Invotra, LumApps, and Squiz have particularly good page publishing features.

Happeo, adding short news.
Authors have options to publish news articles quickly with a simple text editor.
Happeo, editing page.
Authors can also use a longer form to create more complex pages.

Challenge traditional intranet structures

Colibo, knowledge page.
Colibo’s approach to document storage and its overall structure is different from many ‘traditional’ intranets.

Most of us are familiar with an intranet structure that expands out like a tree, with a sensible navigation to help people find content (ignoring search for a moment). While plenty of the products provide flexible and configurable tools to build this familiar structure, others embrace a teams / communities / groups structure that curates content based on who is in those spaces and what they’re doing. Colibo, Embrace, and Jostle are examples of atypical approaches to an intranet structure.

Strong and pervasive social experiences

Igloo community.
Communities are the centre point for social activity in Igloo.

Social tools aren’t just a bolted-on module but can be central to the ethos behind some of the products we have included, which combine the power of social networks with published content to great effect. Ideation, opinion gathering, and wikis are among the features we’ve seen that can form an important part of the experience for users. While document collaboration is often completed in third-party tools, there are some very nice features in the intranet products that can complement those tools. Communifire, Igloo, ThoughtFarmer, and Engage from Sorce have particularly good social features.

Employee service tools that fill useful gaps

Every business has systems and tools that serve specific tasks for employees, but independent intranets often have features that will fill small gaps where you don’t want to invest in a separate system. In-built employee recognition tools, gamification, employee advocacy features, forms, or a helpdesk feature are just some of the options available. Examples include IntelliEnterprise with a good digital assistant; and Elcom, Engage, or ThoughtFarmer with a forms tool.

Engage forms.
A bank of electronic forms in Engage.

SharePoint or independent intranet?

It’s important to note that independent intranets can integrate with SharePoint, which would allow you to surface content alongside anything stored on the intranet. In some cases, SharePoint licenses aren’t needed for users to view this content, and this can reduce costs when deploying to a large frontline workforce who don’t need Microsoft 365, for example.

Overall, we encourage you to consider independent intranets during the research phase of your project. You need to find the product that works best for your business: we’re not saying that SharePoint isn’t the right choice sometimes, but we want to highlight that it isn’t the only choice.

Our independent intranets report complements our SharePoint intranets in-a-box report, which we have published for a number of years, so that together they cover the whole intranet product landscape. You will then be able to use one, other, or both to compare intranet products from across the market.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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