New SharePoint “Intranet-in-a-Box” Report for 2018

Danny Ryan

Co-Host – Danny Ryan

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Sam Marshall

Guest – Sam Marshall

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Danny:Hello, and welcome to the Two Bald Brothers and a Microphone Podcast. This is one of the Bald Brothers, Danny. Tommy is fortunately taking the day off today so he won’t be on this podcast, but I am catching up with Sam Marshall from ClearBox. Sam, how are you doing?


Sam:Hi there, Danny. I’m very well, thank you, and it’s great to be back on the podcast. Thanks.


Danny:Excellent, excellent. You’re the first person for us to do two podcast episodes with.


Sam:Oh, I’m honored.


Danny:Your career is full right now. You can retire now.


Sam:Yeah, that’s it. It don’t get any better than this.


Danny:I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I just wanted to start off with a follow-up. The first time we talked, you guys put out a great report that I know a lot of our customers are interested in, and it’s about the whole intranet-in-a-box market. You recently did an update to that report and added some new folks to it and catching up with some trends, and just give me an overview of what’s new in this report that you’ve just put out. You put it out in December, is that correct?


Sam:That’s right, yeah, so just at the end of last year. It’s a complete rewrite, so every single word is new in this report. It’s 430 pages, so it’s almost doubled in size. I think you’ve seen a photograph of a spiral-bound paper copy, and yeah, you really could use it in self-defense classes as well as as a reference.


Danny:It does wonderful for keeping doors open as well.


Sam:That’ll be its purpose next year when we release the 2019 edition, yeah. Maybe I should explain, so intranet-in-a-box, what we’re looking at is products that take the base SharePoint On-Prem or SharePoint Online that you get with Microsoft 365 and add on a whole bunch of functionality that most folks look for when they turn it into an intranet, so things like news publishing, and a lot more control over the [inaudible 00:02:10] market area that we noticed back in 2015, and it’s interesting.


I was growing, because at first I had six products. Last year I had 26 products. This year, over 50 companies asked us to include them, and we ended up doing detailed hands-on reviews of 34 of those. Then there’s another eight that were kind of new and upcoming and we thought, “Well, they’re interesting and we want to acknowledge them, but we don’t really want to spend a huge amount of time,” so we list them as a two- to three-page summary with some screenshots and so on, but we don’t actually score and rate them like we do with the other 34.


Danny:You have 10 people who work on this, and it’s over 700 hours? This is a pretty fair-sized project.


Sam:It really is, yeah. I guess this is how schoolteachers feel when they do the annual prom. You know, it just kind of consumes all your time as you get towards the deadline. We have six reviewers, so everybody who does a review has been an intranet manager, they know SharePoint really well, but I think what’s really important that they also get the mindset of an intranet manager and what businesses are looking for out of these products, rather than just having a checklist of features and functionality, which tends to be the bread and butter of SharePoint conversations. This is much more about, “Okay, so as an organization, we want a community where people are sharing knowledge. How would your tool support that?” Then we have the designers and project managers and all the coordinators going on as well to pull it all together.




Sam:Yeah. It’s quite a big undertaking.


Danny:With this brand-new version that you worked on this past year, what were some of the market trends that you saw happening this year or things for us to expect to see in this upcoming year?


Sam:One of the things that really struck me is we asked, “Who’s your biggest client,” in terms of employee numbers, and that shot up. A couple years ago when we were talking to big organizations of maybe 30,000, 40,000 employees, they were saying, “Well, we wish we could use one of these products, but it’s not for us, it’s just for the little companies. We’re too big and our needs are too unique.” Now, more than half of the vendors have got client reference case studies of companies with 30,000 employees or more, and some of them are over 100,000 employees, so I think that’s a really encouraging sign of maturity of these products, that they can cope with the demands of a big company.


It’s great for the big company because now I think they can move forward with confidence and explore this with a good choice of options as well. The challenges for big companies, it’s things like the ability to cope with multiple site collections. You often need to deal with multiple brands, so one of the evaluation criteria is to say, “Well, how would you cope with this scenario,” say the Sony brand, but within that you’ve got PlayStation which is also quite a distinctive brand, so you might have an area of the intranet that looked more PlayStation than Sony. They’re all products, but some of them have encountered that before and said, “Yeah, yeah, we can do that.”


Dealing with multiple languages, of course, because most multinationals will work in eight and sometimes 30 or more different languages. What you need is something that, for example, says, “Here’s a news story,” in 12 different languages, and recognizes that it’s the same story rather than 12 unique articles. That’s been one thing I think is really interesting and really good.


At the more fun end, we have one of the scenarios is called wild card, so what we do is we test every product against eight different scenarios so that we compare them equally, but the last one is wild card where we say, “Show us something that we didn’t ask to see so far that we think is a real strength for your product,” and I guess about a dozen vendors said, “Oh, yeah, we’ve got a bot. Let us show you our chatbot.” Some of them are cute rather than useful, I would say, but there are a number of companies who have I think had the real insight to say, “Well, what we’ve been doing with SharePoint in a box, in terms of making it a lot easier to build an intranet on top of SharePoint, we can also do with this chatbot concept to make it a lot easier to build chatbots on top of the Microsoft stack as well.”


They tend to use the Microsoft bot framework and then make it really easy for you to put your own personality and your own content mapping into that. Habanero Go, for example, a Canadian-based firm, they’ve got a nice chatbot called Pepper. I think you’re meant to think of Pepper as in “Iron Man” and that’s really cool, rather than Peppa Pig, but the pig is what first came to my mind.


Danny:I have small kids, so I absolutely know who Peppa Pig is.


Sam:Mesh, so Mesh have MeshBOT. I think what’s great about them was they said, “Well, the problem with a lot of bots is that they don’t do much,” and so you link them up to another system like a workday or your room booking system. There’s always that bit of custom integration which kind of takes away from the in-a-box scene. What they’ve actually done is said, “Well, why don’t we have a bot that helps with Microsoft 365 adoption,” so you can say to the bot, “What is Stream,” or “How do I get a Teams site,” and it will give you an answer within the chat interface as a kind of more friendly and approachable way of doing on-demand training for people.


Danny:One of the things I like about the report is you talk through the whole build versus buy, there’s pros and cons of each. I feel like I’ve had this discussion for most of my career, and most of the time I’m trying to convince people to buy if it’s available out there. That’s typically the better solution, but there are times in which building … and we like to build, because typically when it means build, we’re involved in the building of that process, but I thought it was really … you’re driving it off of what we do, which is what are your requirements. Let’s not just go look at what’s bright and shiny and what are the features that are listed, but really build it off the requirements of the organization.


Sam:Yeah. Yeah, definitely. The trend we see is that companies are trying to buy now whenever they can, because particularly if they’ve been with SharePoint a while, and SharePoint 2010 was all about, “Oh, yeah, customize it as much as you like and make it your own, it’s a platform,” and then they really got burned when they had to migrate to SharePoint 2013. That’s I think why companies like the idea of offloading that risk of maintaining the code and all the customizations that come with the in-a-box tool kit onto a vendor, where the vendor in turn is spreading that risk and that workload across all the client base.


Everybody benefits, we can all win, but the downside is that, yeah, it really is a product, so you’re locked in a lot more, and that’s why clarity on requirements becomes super-important because once you’ve made that choice, it’s got to be a good match for what you’re looking for. You can’t say, “We’ll buy it and then we’ll go in and change everything anyway.” That’s the worst of both worlds.


Danny:Yep. What’s interesting as well is … and you covered this in the intro as well … which is what Microsoft is coming down the pike with, and communication sites and the stuff with … Teams really came on strong this past year. One of the things you probably saw in the blog post that I wrote up on this is there’s … a lot of the features, we’re working with a lot of customers who are coming from Jive, and for folks who don’t know what Jive is, it’s a software company that right now is focusing in on their intranet product, and there’s a lot of companies who have both Jive and Microsoft 365, and those folks are looking to consolidate where they’re moving stuff out of Jive and into Microsoft 365.


We’re seeing some of the features that are coming down the pike are ones that companies want to take advantage of, and now you’ve got the confusion of I’ve got things coming from Microsoft and then I’ve got things coming from this product company, and is one going to outpace the other or how are the two going to work together? I’m sure this comes up a lot when you’re just talking through do you want to go with the buy.


Sam:Oh, it really does, and it comes in two ways. One is the, “Oh, is Microsoft going to fix everything in the next six months so we don’t need to buy this product at all?”


Danny:I can tell you unequivocally no, they won’t.


Sam:Maybe we should be so bold and say, “You can tell me that.”


Danny:I can tell you no. I love Microsoft, but the answer is no.


Sam:Microsoft’s track record is that they are very good at ticking the boxes, and they tend to go broad with their functionality rather than deep. We saw this when the whole social, Web 2.0 stuff came in and SharePoint 2013 got communities and a little bit of commenting, but it wasn’t really as robust or well thought through as indeed Jive and a lot of other products were, and that’s ended up in a bit of a side thing. I think communication sites are a much better sort through. The user experience with them is fantastic, but they really are like microsites. You know, they’re great for producing a one-topic set of pages where you pull together photos and do things in quite a visual way, but they’re a long way from what people are actually looking for in terms of a typical corporate intranet, where you’re trying to build a much more coherent and cross-organizational experience.


That’s one way in which people worry about the change that Microsoft are making. The other one is indeed, what’s going to happen if I install this product and then Microsoft releases a new piece of functionality that I really like? Am I locking the house, and nine times out of ten the answer’s no. You find most of these in-a-box products are basically customized styling, then a set of web parts that will sit alongside Microsoft’s own web parts so you can mix and match, you might say. For example, one of the vendors have their own [inaudible 00:13:27] board, and you might say, “Actually, I think Microsoft’s Planner through an Microsoft 365 does the same kind of thing, and we’d like to switch to that now,” and it’s no problem swapping those things out.


Danny:Tommy hates when I do this, but I have to ask a question that I gave you no heads-up on, but I have to do it. You’re bracing yourself, right, right now? It seems like sometimes in this situation, like with Yammer, that Microsoft ends up buying one of these companies and incorporating it into their product suite, I would love to … you know, it’s just you and I talking here and the rest of the people who are listening to this, but I wonder … and I’ll say more of my thoughts in this, and you can just say, “That’s very nice, Danny,” but I wonder if, looking ahead to things, whether one of these products is something that Microsoft would buy.


Then I want to know in the end … you know, we’re going out and meeting with customers where they are, and you mentioned earlier 50 different options. You want to know what’s going to be around, and these are long-term decisions. I mean, this is four to five-plus years that you’re betting on something. I just wonder at some certain point in time is Microsoft going to just say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to go with,” like they did with Yammer or like they did with something else. You can say nothing at all if you want to. You can say, “That’s nice, Danny.”


Sam:Great question, Danny, thank you. Tommy, I think, sent me some other questions that were a lot … no.




Sam:I have no information at all, and even if I did, I’d say I’ve got no information. I’d be very surprised if Microsoft did, simply because none of these vendors are really working at the kind of scale of companies that Microsoft normally buys. You know, Yammer had millions of customers. The origins of most of the in-a-box vendors is that they’ve been agencies serving normally quite a limited geographic base, and they’ve taken that code, packaged it up in something which is more productized, and rolled out to the local geography. This year, one of the new things we add is what we call the intranet choice selections.


Danny:I really like that.


Sam:Ones that scored really well across the board, we said, “Why don’t we just flag these as ones that we think you should consider for your short list,” because there’s no real avoiding the fact that we’re doing a comparative assessment and we’re giving scores for these things, so it’s easy enough to look at a tale and say, “Hey, these guys look pretty good.”


One of the intranet choice awards was for multinational companies, and there weren’t actually that many vendors where you could say, “These guys could take a support call from anywhere around the world and actually have a local partner that might come and help you if you’ve got issues with it.” Most of them, they’re either strong in the U.S. or they’re strong in Europe, but not many are at the kind of size that say Yammer was when Microsoft bought them. If we do the same podcast this time next year after Microsoft’s bought one of the young companies, I’ll backpedal rapidly and explain why, why what I just said still makes sense.


Danny:Nice. We’re talking with Owen Allen from [Inaudible 00:16:57] in one of the upcoming podcasts. He’s a great guy. We’ve known him since he was at Microsoft in the group, in the SharePoint product group, but man, this is a very fast-moving market, so it’s just interesting to see how this is going to play out.


Now, just describing this process of trying to decide who to go with, I think what you did with the awards, it definitely helps people with making sure that their short list at least has some of the ones that are obvious ones, and then I guess people also look and say, “Is there someone in my region, or some someone maybe focused?” Have any of these verticalized, or are they pretty much all for … you look and see who’s in the region or what sort of features you’re looking for?


Sam:I think it is primarily about understanding your requirements and then matching to features. That’s half of the equation. We did wrestle a bit about whether we should do the intranet choice, because I’ve always been emphatic that the best product for you is the one that matched what you want, without buying loads of redundant features that you’re paying extra bucks for and are never going to use. That’s why we don’t have an overall winner, because there’s no overall best product, but there are some that are worth shortlisting. Once you’ve got your short list, then the other side of the equation is about your relationship with the vendor, because that still also really matters.


We’ve worked with a few big clients in Europe now where some of the North American offerings would be really good, except that when you factor in that you’re talking about a seven-hour time difference, there’s a practicality there about getting support and getting things up and running, plus the cost sometimes of flying bodies over the Atlantic that saying, “Yeah, maybe we do go with someone who’s more local, whose product isn’t quite as good,” but then there’s always that scope for a bit of customization on top.


The other big trend that we’ve seen over the course of the last 12 months is many more of the vendors setting up partnerships, and that’s great because that allows them to operate in multiple markets and cover more of those time zones.


Danny:That’s great to hear. This whole selection process, this is something that you can help clients out with? Is this a project type for you? Is that what I understand?


Sam:Thank you for asking. Yes, it is indeed.


Danny:Yeah, some of your services then. Come on, come on. I’m feeding you here. It’s a softball.


Sam:I revel at sales, but we are finally really a consultancy, and most of the time when people come to us, it’s because they’ve got an intranet and they’re saying, “Yeah, no, it’s just not doing what we hoped it would do, it’s been neglected, people hate it, they can’t find stuff,” and there’s been some trigger to refresh it all. It might be that they’re moving to a new technology or it might be they’ve acquired another company or they’re going through a restructuring, any of these kind of technical, strategic, business strategic drivers for it.


We help them think through what their intranet and digital upgrade strategy should be, and then within that of course at a certain point you say, “What’s the technology stack that’s going to help us deliver this?” As can you see, I’m still kind of angling for the requirements first, clarity on strategy first, and then you come onto the product piece.


Increasingly, what’s been helping people choose ClearBox as the consultants of choice is that we understand the in-a-box market really well. If they’ve already decided that, say, Microsoft 365 is the technology for them … and that’s pretty common these days … then what we want to help with is saying, “Yeah, what should be on our short list, and what do we need to make clear to the vendors so that they can respond to an RFP?”


One of the things we really beefed up in the report this year is the non-functional requirements side. We asked a lot more questions about the deployment process for the tool and where the data lives, so even if our own organization might be happy about data in the cloud, it might have to be that it’s local to them. EU legislation says your data needs to be stored in the European Union, so that would rule out some of the Azure-based solutions that we see.


That said, you know, we also have clients who come to us saying … what normally happens is IT have decided that SharePoint’s the answer, and internal comms have said, “Over my dead body,” and they come to us as like the marriage guidance counselor saying, “Can you talk sense into those other people in my organization?”


We act as the neutral party. Whatever decision is made, it’s all good for us in terms of saying, “Yeah, what are the pros and cons of SharePoint,” versus maybe one of the more dedicated intranet platforms like Salt Farmer or Interact or Oak or Justly. You know, there’s loads of other good non-Microsoft technology solutions out there which I still think can be a very good fit for some organizations, depending on the resource level they have and how much they’re in the collaboration piece versus the communication piece.


You guys, I’m really interested in the amount of activity around Jive. You had an interesting podcast link just before Christmas talking about one of your big projects, migrating from Jive onto Microsoft 365. What is it that people look for, that you see in Microsoft 365 that’s great in Jive but maybe not so strong from Microsoft?


Danny:Hey, I ask the questions around here, buddy.


Sam:I’m not clear on the interview format, am I? Sorry.


Danny:No, it is a two-way conversation. I’m sorry, Sam, I just had to.


Sam:Tommy, where are you?


Danny:He’s somewhere. He’s somewhere in the middle of some field. Part of just back to what you were saying a little bit earlier with the whole IT versus corporate comms, we’re brought in on this, and it is often … my first conversations with these folks are around, “What’s your vision for doing this? Let’s get into talking through why you’re do this in the first place,” and that helps to uncover some things. There’s the obvious. The business case that usually people are putting around this is the obvious consolidation one, where people have the perception of what we’re doing in Jive, we can do all of this over in Microsoft 365.


The issue that I run into … and you saw this in the blog post as well, which is … and this sometimes comes with working with some of the Microsoft account teams … is the expectation that you can just take Jive and move the content over into Microsoft 365 and that’s an equivalent. The answer is no, and I usually have to start setting expectations about that. Then that’s where I get into typically talking about two different work streams. One is retaining that corporate IP that’s in Jive and getting it over into the appropriate place inside of Microsoft 365, and then the second part is around really the requirements, the user experience, are you going to build versus buy, and having those conversations and making sure that if they haven’t started thinking about it, that they are thinking about it.


This is usually typically … you know, you see me pull you into these conversations, which is, “Have you looked at what’s available in the marketplace? If you haven’t gotten the report, you need to get the report,” and that’s usually where I’m making a connection to you, and then I try to … because some people come in and they want to say, “Okay, we’re using Jive right now. Which product is the best one?” I have to come back to them and say, “What are your requirements? What do you want to do?” Because not everybody uses Jive the same way either, and some people rely on certain things more than others. They may or may not use blog posts. Different aspects of Jive can be used as well. It’s more of a product than a platform, but it’s still … it’s multifaceted and has its own add-in modules and those types of things.


For us, what we’re seeing is one is to make sure that everybody is on the same page initially, that you just can’t pour it from one to another, that there is going to be work involved whether you build versus buy. We often will recommend the evaluation of what’s out there in the marketplace. Some of our angst about buying something is the fact that a lot of these products have come from agencies, and so how long are they going to be around? For me, I don’t want to recommend that they go with something. I know what happens. We’ve brought products to market. I mentioned one of them, and there’s a couple of them I’ve had to bring out back and put down. It’s not fun, but it happens. I don’t want to recommend to a client something that, three years from now, the company decided to go into a different direction.


As you know, there’s a big difference between services and product companies, and so that’s where I want to make sure that they’re making a good decision and are doing the due diligence, and are downloading the reports and making sure they’re aware of what’s available out there. For the Jive, it really is … there’s a couple … it’s looking also as far as are they looking for more of a turnkey solution, so something that just sort of does what it does, and we’re getting the stuff over and it is more Jivelike, where you can only do it this one way and it does it that way well, and it’s got a nice … it has some other features that are very Jivelike, versus are they looking for more of a platform that they want to build on and extend, more of a product that provides more of a layer and something that can be built upon? We’re often having those types of conversations as well.


You know, there’s been certain companies that I think have capitalized on the whole I’ll call it exodus from Jive, so we’ve done more work with other product companies, versus certain product companies seem to be able to capitalize on the whole opportunity that’s at hand there. It’s just interesting to see, because we don’t … what’s nice is you’re saying you’re staying vendor-neutral. We’re staying … we didn’t create a product that we brought to the market, so we’re not trying to sell our own stuff, and I’m not trying to sell … I try to … you’d be amazed how many projects I go back to them and I say, “Listen, we can’t … we’re not going to build out Jive on Microsoft 365 for you, because it’s not the right thing to do. It’s too expensive to do it,” and we’re talking ourselves out of projects, but it’s just going to be the right thing for people to do. It’s evolving.


I think with what we’re seeing with what Microsoft is putting out, I think there might be a point at which people say, “Well, I just need this, this and this,” and Microsoft 365 will become more of a compelling … well, you just need Microsoft 365, but right now I just … most of the … and we’re focusing more on companies that are 10,000 users or greater, so we’re typically trying to find the larger implementations. For those companies, I really think they need to look at what’s out in the market. That was a long answer, and I don’t even think I answered your original question. How about that? Did I answer your … I don’t even know if I did.


Sam:You gave it consultant answer, which is, “Well, it depends.”


Danny:It depends, and if you want the answer, it’s really expensive.


Sam:The thought you were going to say is that Jive is really strong on communities and there’s no direct equivalent within Microsoft 365. My impression is that Yammer groups are not really as fully-featured as Jive communication. Jive Spaces, is that right?


Danny:Yeah, Jive Spaces are where the … they have Jive Space and Groups, and Spaces is more for like communication at the department level, versus Groups is more team-based.


Sam:Okay, so the groups.


Danny:When I look at … we do want to educate people on what they’re moving over into. Part of what we need to do is show them what is in Microsoft 365, because we are typically coming in like with you, where the business is upset because somebody’s about to move things. The thing that I’m fascinated by is some of the companies not deciding to move their content, which that just … I’m like, “How are you expecting to be … ” I can understand there’s … I mean, over time we’ve been able to identify that yes, there’s some very transient content like the stuff that typically happens, the Yammer-based, I just need to know it for a short period of time, but in Jive you have a lot of document-based content.


You have a lot of … you know, people are describing their internal processes. There’s some very important line-of-business applications, and for those I’m like, “You need to have this content move forward.” Sometimes I’m trying to convince people, saying, “You don’t want to leave that,” because why would someone ever take the time to produce the content in the new system if you just threw it away in the old system? That doesn’t make sense.


All right, we have talked for a little over 30 minutes. I think we could talk for another 30 minutes, especially if Tommy was here. We could probably have some very good questions, but yeah. I think wrapping it up with the Jive thing, there’s typically lots of conversations around what goes into Yammer. The whole content type discussion typically comes up for us.


Sam:Maybe briefly I can comment on that concern about if the vendor’s going to stick around.


Danny:Sure, please.


Sam:One of the things we do in the report is ask about the scale of the client base and how long the company’s been established. We decline now to review products that have been out for less than a year, because we have done that in the past. We’ve reviewed a product and then they pulled it from the market. I think the flip side is in the past, if you did build your own with an agency, in effect the agency’s built your product and then they’ve walked away with no obligation to sustain it either. The fallback is always that your content is still there on SharePoint or on Microsoft 365, and if you use the same product for years, that’s pretty much the life cycle of how your intranet use will be anyway. You might not get all the benefits, but it’s not quite as risky as, say, buying into Jive and the whole company folding.


Danny:Yep. Yeah, it’s interesting you mention that too, because one of our services that we have is a service called sustainment, which is what we leave. You know, when we’re building out what we build out, we want to make sure … and this is driven primarily by clients, but we typically put a year to three-year contracts in place so that … you know, typically we’re creating a product, so we want to maintain that over time, and that needs to happen. Some people don’t … they’re so focused in on the building part of things, they forget about the sustainment part of things.


Okay, I will put … for folks who are looking at this or reading this through blog post, I will put a link at the bottom to the report, definitely. I can’t say enough good things about the report. Go download it. Yeah, I don’t get paid to refer it. You’re nice enough to let me read it, but I think it’s just … I want all of our clients to be well educated, and I appreciate the time and the effort that you put towards putting this together. Definitely go and download the report. I’ll put a discount code in as well, so that Sam can say, “Oh, these Ryan boys, they’re just great. They’re good folks.”


Sam:Yeah. We already say that.


Danny:Sam, thank you so much for what you do and for taking the time to do this, and maybe we’ll check in midway through this year or later on this year when you’ve got a new totally rewritten report.


Sam:That will be toward the end of this year.


Danny:You’re going to the same thing every year? That’s kind of cruel to yourself. You don’t just reuse what you have?


Sam:I think, you know, this last report is probably as big as it’s going to get. Now that we know the products that are really interesting, we’ll try and go deeper onto your products, is the way forward. It’s really hard to turn vendors away because they come along, and actually there are so many vendors doing great things. We don’t want to like exclude all the Australians just because they’re a different market, so we do want to be the definitive report in this space. I’m very happy that we are able to cover as much ground as we do. Yeah, Danny, really good to talk to you. Thank you ever so much for having me back on the podcast.


Danny:Absolutely, absolutely. What’s your Twitter handle, in case folks want to follow you?




Danny:Excellent, excellent. Well, thank you for taking the time do this, and have a wonderful weekend, and thank you everyone for listening. Thank you. Bye-bye.




Additional Credits

Podcast Producer – Oliver Penegar
Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

empty.authorNew SharePoint “Intranet-in-a-Box” Report for 2018


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