[Practical Guide]: Avoid Hidden Costs when Selecting Intranet-in-a-box

Many companies who consider buying an intranet or a document management system also consider it being a significant investment.

Speaking to customers and being in an intranet business, I often hear people compare various intranet products. In nearly every case I hear things often missed resulting in hidden costs later. These things are honest misunderstandings that could have been clarified early on.

In this post, I'll highlight several key considerations to look for when evaluating candidates for your intranet.

Intranet-in-a-box: what's really in the box?

Often times when I see a product demo, I often focus on features and how those can solve my problems. I immediately want them all and rarely categorize them into [Must have] and [Nice to have].

The issue is that, with all of these features I get excited about, I may not be necessarily ready for or know how to really take advantage of. When you compare features as items on a restaurant menu, ordering more, will leave you with more leftovers.

Intranet-in-a-box is no exception.

In fact, when we do our product pricing at Origami, only a small fraction of what our customer is paying is for the features, the rest is dedicated to workshops, training, assistance in roll out and support. Many customers are surprised when they hear this, but if you look at products out there, you'll start to understand that this approach is common.

It's important to understand what you're getting in-the-box when comparing various options. But also, what do you need.

Otherwise, the solution you might be buying into, can come with hidden costs outside of what you expected.


When shopping for an intranet product you might come across these options:

  • $ per user

  • range $ for 1 ... NN users; $$ for NN .. NNN users

  • $ per feature

Why is there a difference and what does it all mean to you?

$ per user

Every vendor strives for simplicity and $/ user may come across as the simplest way to price things, but is it?

Things to ask your vendor:

  • Is there an additional setup fee? Or a minimum?

  • What if your user count drops or increases?

  • Does your vendor monitor active usage?

  • How does your vendor enforce increase in new licenses? Are users going to get unexpected messages on pages when you exceed the limit?

  • Are there additional platform fees such as Office 365 license fees or such? Or is this truly end price per user?

This type of pricing usually indicated pay-as-you-go arrangement but be sure to confirm. It also indicates that the product is pretty rigid (to maintain this rigid pricing) and you may not be able to extend bits and pieces of your intranet so be sure to ask your vendor about that too.

These are the things to be aware of. The answers you may get from your vendor maybe exactly what you expected and there are no surprises.

range $ for 1 ... NN users
            $$ for NN ... NNN users

This pricing method often means that the vendor breaks down services required for a successful implementation of the product into, usually, 3 groups: Small/Medium/ and Large.

Obviously if you're a large organization, the level of support you require to deploy an intranet will be much different that an organization of 10 people. Understanding this, the vendor tailors their offering and includes services necessary to make it a success.

What if you're on the cusp or lower end of the spectrum? Say, you have 200 users but the range covers 1 ... 250 users.

Don't worry, this pricing method doesn't mean you're paying for user licenses you don't use. It's just a guidance what services are required for this size organization.

Things to ask your vendor:

  • Is there a subscription fee or is this a one time cost

  • What do you get with the subscription after the first year?

  • Is there a minimum time commitment for a subscription (2 years etc)?

  • What happens when you outgrow your range?

$ per feature

Also known as price per module is a common practice among some vendors.

Knowing modules you need obviously requires knowledge of what you're building. Since most customers require help determining the correct configuration of modules, this pricing typically means that your vendor is targeting deployment through partners. Partners in turn talk to customers about their needs and recommend required configuration.

This doesn't mean you can't buy your intranet directly from the vendor. You just need to know what you're buying. You'll also need to know how to configure and deploy your configuration.

Things to ask your vendor:

  • Is this a subscription or one time cost?

  • Who can you turn to for help? What services do they provide? Only technical or training and support?

  • How does vendor handle upgrades and extensions? Since with modular purchases there is more chance of interacting with other 3rd party modules.

Adding Enhancements

Some customers I speak with fully expect that intranet-in-a-box means [a layers of intranet product] + [anything else they need] can be added or built. This is usually the case but not always.

The product might be very rigid and there are few products on the market that follow that rule. These vendors usually suggest that for many integration options you can use tools like Zapier or Flow allowing their product to connect to many other systems. Bear in mind though that even Zapier and Flow have their limitations.

Of course, as with anything, there are masters and consultants who can overcome any integration challenge with a clever solution but this can become a hidden cost if not known upfront.

Hope this helps in your upcoming intranet design strategies. Post your comments below, would love to hear!


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.