When is a free intranet not really free?

Intranets have been popular for businesses since the 1990s and have helped organisations to collaborate, communicate and share knowledge more easily.

A good intranet is likely to cost a significant amount, which can stop some organisations from investing. When that’s the case, it’s tempting to opt for free and open source intranet solutions. But in the long run, a ‘free’ intranet might cost more than buying a solution. Here’s why…

To build or buy?

Enterprises have two options when it comes to acquiring software like an intranet.; they can buy the software or build it.

Buying software is straightforward. It might require a substantial upfront payment, or it could be purchased as a service and paid for monthly, as a subscription. For many, this is by far the easiest option, but it does require either an upfront or ongoing spend from the company.

Organisations who don’t want to pay for an intranet but want the benefits of one might choose to build an intranet on an existing open source product, for free.

Why is a ‘free’ intranet solution, not free?

Building an intranet on an open source platform uses time and resources from within the business. In-house developers will be taken away from other jobs, only to end up with a product that is bound by the limitations of the platform it’s built on and is, generally, inferior to any intranet that could be bought.

Hiring a digital agency for other aspects of the project is another expense which means the overall cost of an in-house build starts to rise. You’ll also need either the same external developers or your in-house team to perform maintenance and updates going forward; which doesn’t come for free.

In fact, your open source intranet could cost you more in the long run than a bought solution, because you’ll probably encounter more problems (which need fixing) and experience more downtime. Alos, an intranet built on an open source platform is rarely enterprise-grade. Because of this, there is a trend for enterprises to opt for an ‘out of the box’ (also known as turnkey) intranet solution that is complete and ready to use from the off.

Out of the box intranet solutions can be bought to integrate with and enhance existing platforms like SharePoint, giving organisations a complete intranet experience that’s meets their requirements.

What free solutions are out there?

If you really insist on using a free intranet solution there are some good platforms out there. BuddyPress is a popular free intranet using WordPress-based software which lets you build member profiles, groups, activity feeds and messaging as part of your online community. There are also lots of third-party plugins available for this site which gives additional features and functionality.

Open Atrium is another open source platform built on the popular Drupal CMS. It enables discussions, events, file management and document wikis and has a drag and drop control. Plugins are also available.

Is it worth it?

For most enterprises it makes more sense to buy an intranet that can meet their needs, at a cost that is acceptable to them. Out of the box solutions are a good option which can keep costs low. Organisations who want to own their code and are confident they can deliver an effective, bespoke intranet can use open source intranet solutions as a starting point to build on. But be warned; your ‘free’ intranet might not be so cost-effective in the long run!

Lucy Wright
Lucy Wright

Lucy is Core's Senior Copywriter and is responsible for creating content within the Marketing team. She began her copywriting career in B2C ecommerce before moving to the IT sector. A journalism graduate, Lucy has written for publications in Spain, China and the UK.

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