The emergence of new intranet vendors into the market (particularly SharePoint- and Office365-based intranet products) is to be celebrated. The era of custom-built SharePoint intranets was expensive and often fruitless, with way too much development being done.
Most of the new products are emerging from former SharePoint implementers and agencies, who are repackaging their custom code into consistent, scalable products.
The transformation from software developers to product vendors will be very painful for all these companies.
Step Two has been here before. For 15 years we’ve helped organisations select technology platforms, and we’ve seen the journey taken by the earlier generation of web CMS products. By sharing this experience, we can help customers take steps to make sure they get what they need from this new crop of intranet vendors.
New intranet products are emerging as we speak, and there will eventually be hundreds in the broader marketplace. Almost all of these products come from agencies and developers, who’ve found themselves developing the same types of solutions for many customers.
This custom code is packaged up, and given a name. A new product is born!
This is, however, just the start of the transformation that’s needed. While the previous agencies needed to be good at understanding (individual) client needs and writing code, a very different skillset is now required.
These ‘fresh’ vendors now have to address:
- product standardisation
- product planning and roadmaps
- sales and marketing
- partner relationships
- software quality assurance
- upgrades and bug fixes
- customer support
- documentation and training
- … and the list goes on
This is a shock for many of the new vendors, and customers can feel their pain. This is often manifested in buggy version releases, unresponsive support, and uncertain product strategy.
Once the vendors have passed through these early stages, growth is then the next enemy.
Any reasonably good product will grow rapidly (at least initially), and there will be repeated points where the number of customers outstrips the capabilities of the vendor to support them. Vendors will also find themselves pulled in many directions by the growing (and highly diverse) customer base.
Does this all sound hard? It is.
Does it mean that you should avoid these new vendors? Absolutely not.
Eyes wide open
In the case of the SharePoint and Office365 landscape, we are recommending that almost all of our customers move to one of the new products in the marketplace. Yes, you have to choose carefully, but the benefits of these products outweigh the issues outlined above.
By understanding the nature of the journey that vendors are going on, customers can mitigate their risks, and maximise their benefits.
Consider some or all of these approaches:
- Ensure there’s a good ‘fit’ with your needs, so that you’re not relying on the vendor to make substantial (often painful) upgrades.
- Carefully assess vendor services, not just their product. Pay particular attention to their support model, and talk with their current clients.
- Build a strong relationship with the vendor, so they prioritise your needs when making changes.
- Make connections with key staff within the vendor, such as the lead developer, so you can bypass normal support processes when you have to.
- Don’t pick a product ‘for life’, and recognise that at some point you will want to go back out to market, at least to see what else is available.
- Set realistic expectations, within your organisation and with the vendor, to take the pressure off demands for immediate upgrades and feature enhancements.
- Be patient with the vendor (!), as their growing pains are real, and it doesn’t help to just put more pressure on them.
- Recognise that you’re in a marriage, and both parties need to work on keeping the relationship fresh and enjoyable.
Need some help finding the right vendor? Or you could benefit from some vendor ‘relationship counselling’? Get in touch, and we’re happy to chat.