The social intranet ... for free?

The vast majority of organizations that have implemented social media tools on their intranet (intranet 2.0 tools) have done so at little or no cost (or simply activated bundled tools that came with SharePoint or another CMS or portal solution).

There are dozens of free license, open source solutions that can be downloaded for free, but there's always a cost (or opportunity cost) to implement this software.

47% of organizations of all sizes spend between no dollars and $10,000 on intranet 2.0 tools (source: Intranet 2.0 Global Study (525 organizations of all sizes from across the globe). And while many organizations spend zero dollars in acquiring their social media tools, the cost can be significant. Costs of note include brown dollars (internal costs such as employee hours), implementation and customization costs, and opportunity costs.

Implementation and customization

Once you download a free solution like WordPress, MediaWiki, or Alfresco, it still has to be implemented. There is an entire, vastly growing and profitable industry for implementing open source solutions because while many want to download free open source software, it can be difficult to implement, and can be even more difficult to customize.

In the commercial software industry the implementation costs (excluding licensing) of an off-the-shelf CMS for an intranet regularly comprises 50-80% of the total project cost. Those implementation costs and customization costs don't disappear for open source solutions; in fact they can be as great or greater when using open source. So implementation and customization costs can be pricey.

Opportunity costs

Like many organizations using employee intranet wikis, Netherlands-based Océ uses MediaWiki (the free, open source solution that powers Wikipedia). MediaWiki costs nothing to download and little or no cost and time is required to install and set-up MediaWiki. However, as users will note, it's a “bare bones” or vanilla solution that is not user-friendly. In fact, business users traditionally cringe when they see its interface or try to format posts.

Océ, a 22,000 employee multinational printing company, readily admits that amongst all of its intranet 2.0 tools (including blogs, TV, discussion boards, social networking, micro-blogging, etc.) wikis are the least successful (see the Océ intranet case study). Micro-blogging, using Yammer, a commercial product, is the most successful social media tool on their intranet. As Océ can tell you, MediaWiki, like most open source solutions, leaves much to be desired, which is why more elegant and very expensive solutions exist from other companies such as Confluence, ThoughtFarmer, Telligenet, and dozens of others.

The social intranet

A fourth cost area of social media for intranets, are those costs associated with transforming an “intranet with social media (intranet 2.0)” to a “a social intranet.”

Social media tools on the corporate intranet do not equal “a social intranet.” Many organizations have social media tools (87% of organizations of all sizes have at least one social media tool on their intranet, according to the Intranet 2.0 Global Study), but often they are held separate and isolated from other parts of the intranet, or receive a nominal link from the home page. A true social intranet, according to Prescient`s “Social Intranet” white paper, features multiple social media tools for most or all employees to use, and includes some integration into the home page or portal (or some exposure). Of course there is a cost associated with redesigning a home page to incorporate intranet 2.0 tools.

Open source does not equal free

A company such as Océ, with a multi-talented and multi-faceted intranet team, was able to implement a variety of social media tools and integrate them into their home page, all with a budget of under $5,000. Océ is a rare exception.

Dozens of open source intranet 2.0 solutions can be downloaded for free, but each open source solution comes with a cost that is never free. Without careful planning and budgeting, open source often costs more than most organizations budget. Most organizations don't have the internal skillset to implement and maintain multiple varieties of social software with no external costs, not withstanding the mandatory change management and communications requirements to support a successful social intranet implementation.

Related Articles:

The Social Intranet white paper
Océ intranet case study
Q&A on the Oce intranet w screenshots & technology details (requires free registration on