The Intranet Buyer's Handbook
January 3, 2022
An intranet can help big companies feel smaller by connecting employees with the resources, information, and people they need to do the best work of their career.
But just like companies, no two intranets are exactly the same. There are a lot of options, each with its own features, functionalities, advantages, and drawbacks.
So, how do you know which is the right intranet for your organization, and what do you need in order to make an informed decision?
We put this guide together to help give you a head start on the evaluation process, plus some helpful tips on making a choice you and your team will be happy with for years to come.
1. Define business requirements and goals.
Before you take any other steps, it’s essential to have a good understanding of the problems you’re working to solve, and the goals you’re striving toward. If you haven’t at least loosely defined your requirements and goals, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your team’s needs.
How do you do that?
Start a checklist with your own needs: what areas could an intranet have a positive impact for your own functional role? Not all intranets are the same, and an initial consultation with an expert at this stage can help illuminate possibilities and capabilities.
Next, conduct surveys and informal interviews with staff. With an intranet, everyone in your organization is a stakeholder. Pick an audience with a broad range of roles, tenures, and seniority. Each will likely have different needs you may not have anticipated, and a valuable perspective to share on this topic.
Use the information you gather to form a requirements matrix. Identify high priority features vs nice to haves. Once again, an intranet touches every person in your organization in some way, so focus on accessibility for all staff.
For example: front line staff can benefit greatly from a mobile app. In this case, mobile apps would likely be a high priority. If you’re all working remotely, that’s a less crucial (though useful) feature.
2. Know your timeframe.
Modern cloud hosted intranets are often much easier and faster to deploy than custom-built or on-premises options, but there are still plenty of considerations. So take a moment to evaluate the timeframe you need to work within.
The timeline and level of urgency for a company that already has an intranet but is looking for an upgrade looks wildly different from a company that recently went fully remote, or scaled headcount by 1,000% over the past year.
What’s your level of urgency: when do you hope to send that first rollout welcome message, and what’s the risk of not having an intranet rolled out in the meantime?
3. Understand your organization’s technical landscape.
What tools is your organization already using? Are integrations required, or just an added benefit? Knowing the answer to these questions can also help narrow down the list of choices for an intranet. For example:
- How do you currently handle internal communications?
- Do you have a knowledge management tool?
- Where does employee information reside?
- Do you have a Single Sign-On (SSO) provider?
Every organization’s tech stack is different and these are just a small handful of examples. It’s up to you to get a firm grasp on your organization’s tech stack. Doing so can expedite the process, help save everyone time, and help earn buy-in from your IT team. They’ll almost certainly have a checklist for any new vendor—especially one as important as an intranet.
Get to know that checklist, and use it to help in your early evaluation process. If you use a tool like Okta or Workday, make sure the vendors you’re evaluating will be a good match.
4. Do some research and due diligence.
You know your business requirements, you know how quickly you need to move, and you have a pretty good idea of the technical landscape you need to work in. Nice work!
Now it’s time to fire up your favorite search engine to do a little research and hone your list of potential options. Knowing your business requirements and goals can help narrow the range of intranets that will be a good fit for your team.
Company websites are a good place to get a peek into platform feature sets, and also some insight into the user experience and interface. Be aware at this stage that there’s a difference between raw product screenshots and promotional images.
That beautiful, fresh-looking interface on the landing page might be a little stale in person.
Next, check out dedicated product review and comparison sites like G2 or Capterra (or both) to explore firsthand experiences from users just like you. Find out if that mission-critical integration really is seamless.
Third-party review sites can be a great way to cut through the noise. After all, every vendor thinks their own intranet platform is the best :)
Keep recency in mind while exploring reviews. A great (or poor) review from a year or more ago might not be representative of the current experience. Also consider review content along with quantity. A pioneering new platform might have fewer reviews than others, but an amazing user experience.
5. Establish a budget
Even though an intranet can be an incredible value, they’re never “cheap.” This is going to be a considerable purchase. It’s important to know up front the range of costs to expect, and how to articulate the return on that investment to your peers.
Having wrapped up your initial due diligence, you should have a sense of the price range for an intranet with the necessary capabilities. This information will help establish your budget—but to secure that budget you need to build a business case.
6. Build a business case.
Securing the necessary budget means earning buy-in from stakeholders, and in many cases, that will be a diverse group with members of Internal Communications, Senior Leadership, IT, HR, and others.
Earning buy-in is easier with a strong business case, and each stakeholder will likely have their own perspective on areas of strength or needs for improvement in that case. If you know you need an intranet, but need some help building a business case, you’re not alone. Some key questions a business case can help answer are:
- What is the cost of implementing this tool?
- What is the cost of failing to implement this tool?
- What return can we expect on this investment?
- How will we measure that return?
A vendor partner who follows a consultative, collaborative sales process can often help you to identify opportunities for Return on Investment (ROI) in all of these functional areas.
Third-party research reports from respected institutions like McKinsey and the Nielsen Norman Group are also excellent sources of credible information and may provide some guidance on evaluations, ROI expectations, and goal setting.
7. Form an evaluation team.
At minimum, you’ll need one executive stakeholder, one senior member of the IT team, one representative from your People/HR team, and/or internal communications.
These people represent the champions and power users for your intranet, so it’s critical to have their input when evaluating different platforms.
While it’s important to have a broad and representative evaluation team, keep in mind that the greater the number of people involved, the more likely you’ll hit an unnecessary roadblock.
Strive to strike a balance between representation and headcount as you form your evaluation team.
8. Schedule 2-3 demos.
Why do you need so many demos? For the sake of efficiency, believe it or not.
It’s important to respect the time and bandwidth of your colleagues. Having your IT team on during an initial discovery call, for example, won’t add value to the conversation in return for their time and effort.
It’s essential to have the right people on the right call in order for the demo process to go smoothly. We often see the successful demo processes work like this:
1. One initial demo with a single point of contact (probably you): This demo can help uncover possibilities, limitations, and dealbreakers within a system before bringing others in. It’s also an opportunity to get to know the sales team.
Be on the lookout for a partner who shows genuine interest in solving your organization’s unique challenges. A great sales partner can not only help explore the needs you’re already aware of, but also bring areas to light that might help save you time or make a stronger business case.
2. One larger demo with the project team: These are the people who will deploy, maintain, and champion the intranet. Bringing them in on a demo ensures they’re able to ask questions and get familiar with each system.
Once again, a vendor partner dedicated to a great experience for your team should be able to answer nearly any question from your project team—especially if you work together with them to prepare in advance.
3. One broader demo with other key stakeholders: this is the home stretch. By now, you should be far enough into the evaluation process that you have a short list of options left.
Just like the project team demo, the more information you can share in advance, the more seamless this final demo will be. If there are specific challenges your organization is trying to solve, let your sales partner know, so they can focus on those areas for your stakeholder demo.
9. Establish an implementation plan.
It’s crucial to have some sort of plan in place to ensure a successful implementation. The earlier you start working on that plan, the more complete and seamless it will be. Implementation can look different across organizations, but there are a few questions that can be helpful to ask yourself and your team.
What resources will be required for launch?
While you can roll out an intranet like Haystack by essentially ‘flipping a switch,’ we can’t recommend that approach. You’ll almost certainly need some level of IT support, so it’s crucial to know how much of their bandwidth will be required. If you’ve included members of the IT team during the demo process, this question should be easy to answer.
Similarly, if intranet content owners and champions were included in your demo process, you’ll have a good idea already of when and where they’ll need to dive in.
What are we replacing, and what are we integrating?
Intranets encompass a wide range of capabilities. There’s a good chance you’ll be replacing at least one (or more likely, several) tools when you roll out an intranet. Identifying these opportunities to sunset extraneous tools can be a key factor in determining ROI during your business case.
If you’ve already considered this in your business case, it should be easy to answer this question. If not, this is a great chance to strengthen your business case.
Who will own the intranet post-launch?
Determine who will spearhead the launch, but also just as importantly, who will own the intranet post-launch. They might not be the same people.
10. Select preferred vendor and request a reference check.
You’ve narrowed the choices down. Everyone’s excited about the potential for a modern digital employee experience. Now it’s time to check in and learn from the experience of other organizations.
If you’re engaged in a healthy and collaborative sales process, there shouldn’t be any major surprises at this stage. This is your chance to dig into the details with someone who has likely spent a lot of time with the intranet you’re evaluating.
Check for companies on the vendor’s website to see if any are similar to your own. If you don’t find one that feels like a match, don’t despair. Some companies are selective about allowing their logo to be used, or their partnerships to be shared publicly. A good sales partner can sometimes connect you with a customer reference who isn’t listed on the website.
11. Consider multi-year agreements.
An intranet is an investment. It’s a financial investment, but it’s also an investment in resources, data, and change management. Switching costs can be high, and changing intranets after one or even two years is uncommon.
While many of us have become accustomed to hopping from SaaS tool to SaaS tool in some circumstances, with an intranet, you should really be thinking about the long haul.
If you aren’t considering a minimum of a couple years with a tool like this, frankly, you should probably be looking at a different solution.
And that’s where multi-year agreements come in.
Prices don’t often decrease year over year—in fact, for most vendors, they usually increase. Signing a multi-year agreement can lock in pricing at a rate that you find agreeable. In some cases, multi-year agreements come with a discount as well.
12. Align objectives with KPIs to measure success.
Last, but certainly not least on this list is success measurement. The first step toward measuring success is to have a baseline. After all, you can’t know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started. Think about how you’re going to measure the success of this initiative and the ones that follow.
What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or metrics you want to track, how will you track them? What are some expectations or goals you have around improvement?
Many intranets have built-in analytics that can help you measure things like content engagement and messaging effectiveness. Some platforms also integrate with third-party integrations that can help measure and track those KPIs.
There are numerous goal setting resources available to help build some structure around your success measurements. If you’re having trouble coming up with KPIs that make sense for you and your team, consider reaching out to one of your preferred vendors’ customer success departments. Not only will you likely get some expert advice, it’s a good opportunity to gain a sense of that platform’s support experience.
We hope you found this resource helpful in your journey to building a remarkable digital employee experience. If you still have questions, or want to connect with a collaborative sales partner, please reach out anytime at email@example.com