Often overlooked, corporate intranet sites are in many instances the centerpiece of a well-organized business community. From small to medium businesses straight through to enterprise level corporations, intranet sites serve as a portal for everything from distribution of news, cultivation of company culture, management of human resources initiatives, and internal social networking.
As your business is unlike any others, organizations must choose between two approaches when determining how their next intranet site will look and behave. One route is to utilize pre-existing software and systems, amending them within the boundaries of the system to meet their needs. Or, they can opt to go with a more customized approach, on top of a stable foundation that can serve them for many years to come.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll be discussing the reasons why a company should choose the latter option – custom building their intranet site as opposed to hacking something off-the-shelf.
Reason 1: Security
This is a subject area that is frequently debated when deciding between off-the-shelf software and custom building a web project. The simple way to explain this is that off-the-shelf software is typically a bit more bloated – in the open source world, it’s maintained by a community of developers who are constantly adding on to the project.
This can result in a build-up of technical debt. It also results in the code being scrutinized by outside parties who are looking to compromise software for malicious purposes.
Off-the-shelf software promises flexibility via plug-ins and extensions. However, the more you extend software, the more unstable it becomes. For informational websites, many people make that sacrifice and take that risk. But your corporate intranet will contain information that is valuable and must be secured.
So why would you trust insecure software with HR tasks or company directories? We’ve actually seen such systems be compromised and employee data leaked – this is a massive liability.
Custom software will give you the opportunity to sleep a bit more soundly knowing that the codebase was built for you. It can be secured better than the readily available options. Furthermore, you can build the application around your security requirements as opposed to hacking a platform to meet them.
Reason 2: Flexibility
As I alluded to earlier, every company is different and every intranet should be built around that concept. Your intranet is an extension of your company culture. If your system has a stuffy user interface, is difficult to use, or doesn’t accomplish the true tasks that you set out to achieve, then you are actually setting yourself up for a long-term failure.
To determining how to build your custom intranet you should consider what makes your company unique. What about your business can be translated online? For example, do you have multiple locations? How can your intranet bridge the gap in distance and perhaps local culture? What team building features can you create to bring remote teams closer to home?
Another example is integrations. Almost every company has 5-10 online tools they use religiously. At NPG, we rely heavily on software such as Harvest for billing, Slack for communication, and Trello for project management.
A custom intranet can help integrate those platforms together into a single dashboard. In that way, the intranet can become the centerpiece of your entire online ecosystem.
Do any of those scenarios apply to you? If so, carefully consider what features and functions your intranet needs. From there, you can start to build a specification detailing how your intranet will be custom built.
Reason 3: Scalability
This is often overlooked for a corporate intranet. But, these systems also need to be able to scale. With intranet sites the issue is less about scaling the technology – even a corporation of 10,000 employees can run on a relatively benign technology stack. Scalability is more an issue of how the software scales to larger and more complex corporations.
When considering how to build or deploy an intranet site, think about your corporate make-up. Do you have many teams, internal sub-divisions, or other organizational challenges that need to be considered?
Do those teams have internal permission structures that would require separation from each other? This all matters because the user interface and user experience will change based on the size and scale of the organization.
All of this can be overcome during your specification and discovery phase by gathering the proper requirements from who owns the project. Typical scenarios include a CCO – Chief Culture Officer, or someone from HR who will guide the development team through the process of understanding company structure and scale. From there a technical solution and design goals can be isolated into the specification.
Reason 4: Future Considerations
You can’t predict the future. But you can prepare for it anyway. That should be the mantra when deploying a new intranet. For every reason above: security, scalability, flexibility – it’s important to embrace the possibility of change.
This means not locking yourself into a stubborn platform incapable of keeping up with the requirements of your business, but rather investing in a long term solution with guaranteed longevity.
Custom intranet sites give you that freedom and flexibility to pivot as necessary, build upon your first iteration of your intranet, and adjust to ever-changing concerns and needs of a growing organization.
They mitigate the risk of unknown future expenses – no longer will you have to worry about your expensive software installation being out of its useful life, no longer supported by the provider. You will own and manage something unique to your business and capable of growing with it over time.
Reason 5: Ownership
If your company is unique, and your intranet is built custom for you, then why not own it as well? When done correctly, your intranet is a unique asset of value for your organization. It has value to partners, acquirers and can even build a level of engagement and emotional bond to its users.
With so much invested in the platform, it is a massive additional benefit to actually own the code, and control the destiny of the platform without being beholden to others. It is true that with ownership comes responsibility, but it also means all of the benefits we previously explained will be available to you as you continue to improve your platform.
Taking on any website project, intranet or otherwise, is not an easy task. Make sure you have the right people invested in the outcome, do your research so you know all of your options, and really think about user experience. When looking at an intranet project specifically, it’s all about the company, its employees, and creating an online space that invites open communication.