Intranet Themes, Intranet Templates, and a Pre-Built Intranet: What's the Difference?

Intranet Themes, Intranet Templates, and Pre-Built Intranet: What's the Difference and more importantly, before you pull out your credit card, which one do you need?

These three types of solutions have one main thing in common, “intranet” word attached to them.

In reality, there is a world of difference between what you think you’re getting and what you’re actually buying, so let’s dive right into it.

Intranet Theme

Think of an intranet theme like you would a PowerPoint theme, but for your intranet. You take a pre-existing document and apply a theme to make it prettier. You still have to build out your intranet before you can make it pretty, just like you’d have to write a PowerPoint document before applying a visually appealing theme.

Key attributes:

  • Services, including support services, aren’t typically included as part of the package, you read the manual and install the solution.

  • Themes are designed to be exclusively compatible with pre-existing intranet platforms, such as SharePoint, Office365, or proprietary intranets.

  • You need an existing, already-built intranet.

  • Themes provide a visual face-lift including with:

    • Colors

    • Backgrounds

    • Fonts Options

  • You are constrained with a very limited functionality of what you can and can’t change in the theme.

    • Some themes will have a “control panel“ with switches and toggles and that’s all you have to work with

  • Custom apps you may have built in your intranet may not inherit the rules of the theme.

  • Themes are very inexpensive.

  • Support services are very basic since you’re responsible for everything but cosmetic look and feel supported by the theme.

  • Target audience: Organizations between 30 ~ 100 users.

Intranet Template

An intranet template is similar to an Office Document template. It’s designed for a specific purpose, but you need to fill in the blanks to make it function for you. You’ll have to work around their constraints, keeping features you may not need and finding ways to customize things you want but are not included.

Key attributes:

  • Basic installation and integration services are usually included as part of the set up. With some products the manual and install package is simple enough for experienced users to set up the template

  • Intranet templates are platform specific, just like themes.

  • Unlike themes, templates can serve as add-ons to pre-existing intranet, or starting points for new ones, for example:

    • Helpdesk Intranet Template - will provide helpdesk workflows and functionality to an existing intranet whether you have one or not.

  • Templates provide new apps, specific workflows, and in some cases:

    • Colors, backgrounds, and fonts, but those are often limited to elements in the template and not everything else in your intranet.

  • You may be able to re-arrange what’s inside the template (apps) but not change the functionality of the apps. Some templates allow you to add out-of-the-box features of the parent platform, like SharePoint.

  • Custom apps you build are yours to maintain and not part of the template.

  • Templates are more expensive than themes on average 3-4 times.

  • Support services cover the basic apps and functionality built into a template, but not changes you’ve made to the template our other apps.

  • Target audience: Organizations between 50 ~ 150 users

Pre-Built Intranet

Think of pre-built intranet as a set of intranet templates aimed at fulfilling a specific goal. This goal could be:

  • Ensuring information on the intranet is easy to find.

  • Facilitate employee engagement and gamification.

  • Simplifying document and information management.

It’s rare that pre-built intranet will fulfill all of these goals completely, but most will do one and maybe even two of these things well.

Key attributes:

  • Pre-built intranet is likely to have set up services aimed at maximizing the goal of the solution.

    • Some are very much cookie cutter intranets with additional configuration offered through contractors.

    • Others will include configuration and set up services for greater customer success factor.

  • Similar to themes and templates, pre-built intranet can be platform specific, but some can also come as their own platform.

    • Apart from SharePoint you may find many specific intranets targeted towards the goal. They are cohesive and complete units that may not require a platform or run on a platform such as SharePoint or Office 365

  • Pre-built intranet will typically require a fresh install.

  • Pre-built intranet generally includes new apps, workflows, various services, and branding.

  • Some, but not all, pre-built intranets extend their look and feel to your custom applications.

  • Cost is typically 3 times more expensive than an intranet template.

  • Support services will cover pre-built intranet and, in some cases, extended support covering questions related to the platform.

  • Target audience: Organizations > 150 users.

What else?

One option that hasn’t been mentioned yet is custom intranet. Still a popular choice but beginning to gain a reputation of having much less return on investment than before due to an increase in pre-built alternatives on the market.

The key is to accurately assess your company capabilities.

Too often do we see organizations attempt to build an intranet on their own by purchasing bits and pieces, templates and themes, overtime. Ultimately, resulting in higher costs and suboptimal, patchwork, solutions.

Always remember who you’re building an intranet for: your users. Rarely are they aware of budgets. Everyday interactions is what makes an impact.

Users will never know if the solution was inexpensive or not, but they will remember if it was frustrating to use.

We’re here to help

If you have questions on how to make your intranet more engaging while leveraging your existing Office 365 and SharePoint investment, we’re here to help you make that impact.


Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the Director of Product at Origami. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.