Years ago intranet portals were limited to large corporations, universities and government agencies. A typical intranet budget would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and would require dedicated IT professionals and intranet managers to properly function. That was the age when SharePoint ruled supreme (some people still use it, believe it or not, despite the fact that it’s clunky, expensive and outdated, as Microsoft’s decision to pay $1.2 billion for Yammer last year clearly demonstrated).

Fast forward to 2013 and the situation is entirely different – more and more smaller companies use intranets as a collaboration environment for their employees and contractors, SharePoint shows visible signs of decline, intranets are now available in the cloud as a service for less than the monthly coffee budget, and more and more folks work with their intranet portals from their smartphones or tablets. Your vendor choice is no longer limited to Microsoft, IBM and Jive – there are dozens of intranet platforms now, some even available as free open source solutions. I won’t be talking about building your intranet on Drupal or Wordpress, because, while both are free, unless you are a coder yourself, hiring someone at $150/hr to build intranet using a free CMS usually ends up costing more than buying an intranet ‘out of the box’ for $3K-$5K. Free open source makes sense, however, if you are a coder yourself and already have experience working with a particular content management system you are going to use.


  1. Do the math. Intranet vendors price their products differently. Some intranet vendors, like Podio or Yammer, charge per user (typically around $8-10 per user per month). Other intranet vendors, like Bitrix24, let you have unlimited users, only charging more if disk space beyond the standard 50 GB is required. Typical companies of 50-150 employees which don’t have vast multimedia libraries (audio, video, or images) can save thousands of dollars going with a vendor who offers an unlimited user plan. If you work for a digital animation studio that generates Terra bytes of data, going with a vendor who has the lowest per GB cost will have a significant impact on your bottom line. If you plan to use an extranet heavily to work with outside contractors, consultants and freelancers, go with vendors that offer extranet users as a free bonus vs. those who treat extranet users as regular users and charge you for each one.
  2. Host yourself or use cloud? BOTH!  Using a cloud-based intranet comes with advantages and disadvantages. Cloud intranets are extremely easy to set up, since you really don’t have to do anything. They don’t require large upfront investment. As mentioned before, they are typically cheap – one or two hundred dollars a month is typical, even if you have hundreds of employees (if you go with a ‘charge per user’ vendor, the costs can be significantly higher). However, cloud intranets have a number of disadvantages as well. First, they offer very limited customization options. Second, they don’t work when you (or the vendor) have internet connection problems. Third, they are very hard to integrate with other tools you are using. Finally, it’s always a good policy to store critical data on your own server. You only want to go with vendors who offer both cloud and self-hosted options, where you can easily migrate from cloud to your own server or the other way around (when you decide that paying $60K a year to a dedicated intranet manager no longer makes financial sense). Most intranet vendors (Microsoft, TIBCO, Bitrix24, Jive, IBM) give you the two options, but some don’t. The internet is full of nightmare stories when two companies merged or when a CIO required all departments to switch to a single solution, and data was lost simply because people were using cloud-only solutions and were otherwise 100% happy with. Don’t repeat this mistake – it’s a costly one.
  3. Pick an intranet that has the tools you are using. Years ago, intranet was basically an internal site where company announcements were made. Some intranets are still this way, but most now come with tools that help you work better. Tasks, project management, instant messaging, videoconferencing, even CRM are now part of many intranets (don’t expect this from SharePoint, though). So why pay for intranet, videoconferencing and project management solutions separately when you can buy an intranet that comes with all of these? Take an audit of the tools you are currently using, then look for intranets that come with these tools and test them out (just because an intranet comes with a project management module does not mean that that it’s any good).
  4. Use the tools you are currently using as your intranet. Just like intranet vendors started adding tools to their intranets, different tool vendors started adding intranet-like features to their solutions. Simply Google ‘Activity Stream’. A lot of popular online tools (Box.comAsanaNimble CRMWrikeHRTribe) come with an activity stream feature, which means that they can also double as your intranet if you are using it as enterprise social network to communicate with co-workers and share ideas.
  5. Take advantage of free plans. SharePoint’s decline and Yammer’s success have paved the way to dozens of new startups who try to compete with more established players by competing on price and offering very generous free plans. The aforementioned Bitrix24 and Asana let you have up to 12-15 free users, with minor or no limits on feature available. Others, like, do limit features and disk space severely, but offer unlimited users even in the free plan. CTOs generally resist BYOS (bring your own service) situations, when the company uses one intranet solution but certain departments start using another solution, because it fits their needs better. But if your company uses an outdated legacy intranet solution like SharePoint that is extremely difficult and expensive to upgrade, and new features are largely demanded by a single department (typically HR, Marketing or Sales), it might be financially prudent to allow that department to go with another intranet vendor, especially if the department is small and the costs of implementing a new intranet in that department are much lower than upgrading the company intranet.

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