Before You Buy It – SharePoint & Office 365 Intranet Templates or “Intranets In a Box” (Pre-Built)

Office 365 SharePoint Template

Thinking about buying a pre-built “intranet in a box” template for SharePoint or Office 365?

This blog post is a free list of important questions you should be asking yourself before you decide to purchase a product such as this. The blog post comes from a real-world experience of evaluating different pre-built intranets for a very large corporation. Additionally, I have a free checklist / questionnaire for download and links to other great resources if you are in the process of purchasing an “intranet in a box” for Office 365 and/or SharePoint.

 

Questions You Should Ask a Vendor Before Purchasing an Office 365 or SharePoint “Intranet in a Box” or Template

1. Purpose

  • What is your purpose for buying this?
  • Are you hoping to cut down on development times and costs?
  • Are you hoping to supplement part of your development with this product for more basic requests from your users?
  • Are you hoping to create a unified experience across your intranet?
  • Would it be easier to let someone else deal with the constant changes that occur in SharePoint & Office 365?

Whatever your reason is fine, but make sure the cost of doing it yourself is not a better return on ROI than a purchase. Also, make sure the product you are purchasing (or renting) will meet the business needs you have.

Real-World Example

A very large international company I was consulting at wanted to supplement their intranet offerings by purchasing an intranet in a box product to give to their internal customers who had simple website requests. However, the functionality of the products evaluated was limited. The product selected for purchase did not support language translation (variations or machine translation), which for an international company is not ideal. The company had hoped that the vendor would possibly alter their product to accommodate some of their business needs, but the vendor did not seem interested in doing so. However, some of the company’s requests were on the vendor’s roadmap months away at least. In the end, custom development would have been needed so there was no ROI benefit.

 

2. Ownership

  • Are you renting or owning this product?
  • Do you own the code?
  • If renting, what happens if you decide to stop paying for it? Will the vendor turn off any code you have or can you continue to use it without support at least?
  • What happens to the code or sites if your relationship with the vendor ends?
  • What happens if the company stops making the product or if the company is acquired by someone else?

Real-World Example

I have seen two companies with these products already “throw in the towel” as they say and it is unclear what happened to the clients who had purchased the product from these companies. Also, you want to make sure the company you are buying the product from is reputable in general, isn’t going out of business soon and doesn’t have a bad reputation in general.

 

3. Cost

  • How does the pricing work for the product?
  • Is it per user, per farm, per site, or possibly a combination of these?
  • Is there an annual maintenance fee?
  • Is there a separate cost to “launch” the product as a project at your company?
  • Will there be additional costs from spending your own time training users on how to use the product or does the company provide training in some manner on how to use it?

Real-World Example

After spending months evaluating and narrowing down potential products to purchase at a client, it was discovered there was an annual fee and a mandatory project launch fee of around $20,000 (or something close to this). Simple questions such as these listed in this blog post and in my free checklist were not asked of the vendor by the client. In the end, months of time were lost by myself, the company, the users at the company who needed the website and the vendor selling it.

 

4. Support

  • SharePoint Office 365 intranets are constantly evolving and changing. What are the support and change agreements the vendor is offering for their software?
  • If Microsoft comes out with a change that affects their software, what is the turnaround time to come up with an alternate solution or fix?
  • What qualifies as a bug, free change and/or fix and what doesn’t?
  • Is the vendor following the strict branding guidelines on the Microsoft website?
  • Will they allow you to customize the site vs. what they give you and will the support change? Are you even allowed to or able to change any of the code?

Real-World Example

Microsoft recently ended support for putting HTML in calculated columns. They also came out with some new, very strict design guidelines regarding placing your own custom design on top of Office 365 which I have clearly seen some vendors not follow. Another item was an intranet product that had all of the design files being hosted on AWS, meaning, you couldn’t even touch any of the JavaScript of CSS files to make a change if you wanted to (although an override with on-page JS might have worked, implementing it on every single page would have been a lot of work).

 

5. Demo in Your Environment

Seeing pretty pictures or a demo via a webinar is one thing, having an actual working sample in your own environment is another. Although there is the viewpoint from the vendor that you could steal their code by implementing a sample site in your environment, I would highly suggest that if a vendor is in your final selection process, you insist upon this step. You may realize many things you had not realized before by doing so.  “Touching and using” something is not the same as just seeing it.

Real-World Example

After narrowing down the selection process to one intranet product, a sample demo site was implemented at the client. There were several bugs discovered by actually using it. Things such as mousing over the ribbon bar made the entire screen fly over 10% (probably a CSS float issue) or realizing that lists were not included in the design but page libraries were. Random error messages also appeared frequently. Some bugs were explainable, others required the vendor to fix them.

 

Conclusion

Once again, I am not saying you should or shouldn’t buy one of the pre-built Office 365 / SharePoint intranets out in the marketplace. Instead, I want to empower you to make your own decision by knowing as many facts as possible. To assist you in accomplishing this, I recommend 3 items:

SharePointOffice365IntranetBrochureCover1. My free “Before You Buy It” checklist and questionnaire. This is available by simply joining my newsletter list at the top of this blog.

 

 

2. If you are looking for a detailed, very comprehensive review of over 26 different brands of pre-built SharePoint Office 365 intranets, I recommend purchasing Clearbox’s  SharePoint intranets in-a-box V2  whitepaper (once again, I am not compensated to provide this link — it is just a really good report).

3. Watch Nick Brattoli, Sam Marshall, Paul Gallagher and myself for a free, recorded discussion over at the Collab365 Community site.

4. Feel free to post any questions or ideas you might have on this blog post as well and I will try to help 🙂

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