The ClearBox SharePoint Intranets in-a-box Report

I have finally got my hands on a copy of this report, after years of knowing about it but being without spare budget to get it. I’m pleased to say that I’m not disappointed and I would encourage you to get a copy if you can (regardless of budget position!), and I’m going to do my best to explain why…

What is it?
The ClearBox SharePoint intranets-in-a-box report is nearly 650 pages dedicated to reviews of (on-premise and online) SharePoint intranet products. ClearBox is a consultancy that is entirely vendor neutral, so each of the 56 reviews is independent and fair – revolving around those elements that are so vital to those of us who look after intranets.

Clearbox Cover Image

Who is it for?
It’s aimed at those people or teams that have direct responsibility for intranets, and who are looking to (re)launch an intranet/digital workplace. That being said, I think that it’s useful for other people too:

  • Those who are new to intranets or SharePoint – If you’ve just started your career in intranets then this report will give you a great starting point about the features that are available now from intranet providers, but also what technology is currently capable of. There’s also a little look to the future, so there’s a real sense of the intranet landscape that could be coming across the horizon in years to come.
  • People outside of the intranet industry – Intranets (and SharePoint) can be a bit of a maze, with all sorts of potential and existing features. This report will help cut down the noise and give you an idea of what can be achieved. It may give you some ideas for your company’s intranet and how you could help.
  • Senior management – Do you think that your company’s intranet needs an overhaul? Not sure if it’s an “IT issue” with the technology you’ve got, or whether there’s something… else… that needs doing? Or maybe you’re rolling out Office 365 as a business? Then this report will help give you some insight into what your company could achieve with the right product for you (please also check my previous blog post for more assistance: How Managers Can Support the Intranet).

Clearbox Choosing a supplier

What Makes it so Good?
The report is very detailed, balanced and fair. Although ClearBox are a consultancy (so wouldn’t mind work off the back of this!), they are entirely vendor neutral so there is no bias towards or away from any provider. This is quite unusual as everyone has experiences with providers, good and bad, so it can be tricky to get a clear view of a variety of providers without using this report.

The areas that are covered by the report are varied and cover the key aspects of any digital workplace that we are concerned about as practitioners:

  • News publishing – the experience of creating a news story then publishing to a specific audience group
  • User experience – how editable the software is for branding purposes, plus menu creation and language options
  • Social and knowledge management – comments, blogs, discussion boards etc. are explored, as well as how well integrated they are (and whether they came up in search results)
  • Search – how results are displayed as well as the comprehensiveness of results vs expectations
  • Analytics – there is quite a lot for vendors to fulfil here, from the range of analytics, to how it’s presented, and the different content types that are reflected
  • Employee services – whether there are any ready-made support features for common employee services and processes (e.g. helpdesks)
  • Integration – consistency with O365/SharePoint features, plus integration outside of Microsoft products
  • Wildcard – anything that the vendors felt made their product really stand out that hadn’t already been covered

These eight areas are marked out of four (and indication is given when something is possible with additional spend), with a summary table at the start – so it’s incredibly clear. You can go into as much or little detail with it as you choose to. There aren’t many “best of” indications though, because they don’t want to sway decisions too far one way or other. This works well, as it’s down to your own opinions and thoughts, using the report to assist. The chart mapping the vendors by value is quite handy though (page 23 for quick reference)!

The care and level of effort that goes into the research is obvious from the detail in the report. To complete the report ClearBox gather:

  • Live demos from the vendors
  • A set of scenarios that the vendors have to complete
  • Customer feedback – both from those nominated by the vendor, but also general public survey feedback

While it’s possible to get versions of these during a tender process, it wouldn’t be this thorough, carefully neutral, or succinctly presented back! Overall, a very good resource.

Is there Anything bad?
To be honest, I was very happy with it. There were just two comments I wanted to make.

The first is directed at intranet providers. I’ve seen a fair few demos in my time, both “sales” type demos and those at conferences that are a bit more generalist. There is something a little cold or soulless about some demo sites (and then the screenshots that come with them). While I appreciate that you can’t necessarily share screenshots from clients and you also want to showcase all your site’s features, it can be starkly obvious those that are “just a mock up”.

A suggestion would be to replicate a good example from a client, or create demo versions that cover different industries/intranet purposes. This would help illustrate not only this report (and those very features you’re trying to show off), but also help those who are involved with intranet projects but aren’t in the intranet industry (e.g. steering committee members), so don’t have the foundation to understand some of your mocked up features.

The second comment is that it’s a shame that non-SharePoint products, or other internal comms tools, aren’t featured. The likes of Interact, Oak, Speakap, or Yapster are very strong tools but aren’t overtly linked SharePoint. If they were included this report would be even bigger, so I understand why they’re not! But their exclusion could mean that they’re overlooked by those that don’t necessarily know all tools that are available, so could miss something beneficial for their business (and may feel forced to adopt SharePoint). This isn’t a criticism on the report, or ClearBox, but is food for thought for the intranet industry to see whether we can come up with something to help…

In Summary…
It’s absolutely worth the money to nab a copy to have for reference. If you can afford a copy from your budget then it could save you money in the long run. But, keep in mind that this report isn’t about finding the highest scoring product(s) and just going for that/those. This report is a guide and you should meet with the vendors to see whether they really will work for you. In particular you need to see whether they are compatible with you, your team, and your company’s culture. This cultural alignment is as important as the information contained within the report – so you should use both if you can.

Clearbox Short Products

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