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Build a Custom Intranet or Buy One Off the Shelf: What’s Best?

Head of the SharePoint Department, ScienceSoft

6 min read

We’ve been dealing with SharePoint-based intranet developing for more than 16 years. And custom intranet development used to be the main option who opted for this collaboration solution. However, ready-made intranets have recently extended away from being solutions just for content publishing and turned into fully fledged enterprise collaboration platforms. Thus, the market sees the rise of the intranets off the shelf.

In this article, we thoroughly analyze both custom intranets and intranets out of the box to help you make an educated decision – which variant is suitable for your company.

Custom intranets or intranets off the shelf

Custom vs. ready-made intranets: Factors to consider

We’ve made a list of key factors you should take into account when choosing between a custom intranet and an intranet off the shelf. We put a winner for each factor first to make it easier for you to see the strengths and weaknesses of either option.

Implementation time

Ready-made intranets are much faster to deploy than custom ones. Usually, 30-45 days are enough for a company to get an intranet up and running. The implementation process includes requirements analysis, installation, configuration, content integration, and user training.

It takes 6-9 months on average to build an intranet. But depending on the required functionality (e.g. integrations, multiple complex workflows, branding, etc.), the duration of an intranet project may take 3-6 months for a small company and up to 1-2 years for an enterprise. The implementation process includes such stages as needs analysis, customization, testing, and tuning.

Cost considerations

Ready-made intranets are cheaper than custom ones as they don’t require expensive customizations.

Custom development of intranets requires more time and expertise. Developers address a company’s unique needs while building a solution, which makes such an intranet expensive. Depending on the requirements, custom intranets may cost from $30,000 to $250,000.

Functionality relevance

Custom intranets win in this category. Since a custom solution is developed with a company’s specifics (size, industry) and their employees’ social and business needs in mind, it has unique functionality. Such intranets don’t have excessive features, only those that will bring value to the company. You can see an example of such an intranet in our interactive demo.

Ready-made intranets possess a limited set of features. For example, they lack advanced analytics and search, which are critical for enterprises, and you’ll need to fill such voids with third-party software.


Many ready-made intranets provide access for remote workers. Also, intranet-in-a-box solutions usually offer mobile access by default, which makes them suitable for working at any time and at any place.

Custom intranets can also be mobile-responsive. However, bringing cross-device optimization to a custom intranet requires a lot of development work: IT infrastructure should support the possibility of remote access as well as UI should be designed and coded accordingly.


Custom intranets are designed to have the scalable architecture to ensure that an increasing number of users, an amount of content and high concurrent usage won’t affect a solution’s performance. All this leaves room for further growth of the intranet, which is relevant for large enterprises as well as small and midsize companies with prospects for expansion.

Ready-made intranets don’t offer the scalable architecture, which can lead to performance issues like increased response time in case the number of intranet users or workload increase.


Custom intranets are flexible due to their extensive customization capabilities. They also allow integration with various enterprise applications, such as ERP, CRM, BI, document management systems, asset management systems and more.

Ready-made solutions have a very limited customization capabilities. One of the downsides of it is incompatibility issues, if a company decides to integrate a ready-to-go intranet with other software.

User adoption

Ready-made intranets have undergone extensive beta testing and refinement before being offered to users. They have a simple and intuitive interface and are easy to use. They require minimum training, which facilitates and accelerates user adoption.

Custom intranets are usually introduced into a company’s digital environment without being proven to be effective by many users. Their complexity prescribes extensive user training and continuous UI and UX tuning. Besides, an intranet’s evolution in the course of iterative development entails more time and effort for mastering new features.


Custom intranets have only one owner. A custom intranet has unique branding that distinguishes the company from others, promotes the company’s values and goals and drives user engagement. A branded intranet helps to nurture corporate culture, which is especially important for international companies with geographically dispersed offices and teams.

Ready-made intranet solutions are not unique and many companies use them. Also, since branding is not applicable to ready-made intranets, they can’t become carriers of corporate culture and the sense of community across the company.


Ready-made intranets are fully managed and maintained by a vendor, so they get regular updates. Most ready-made intranet solutions come with round-the-clock support, which means practically no unscheduled downtime. Besides, a company doesn’t need an in-house team to manage such an intranet.

Owners of custom intranets need to hire an in-house specialist to support them or outsource maintenance and support. Moreover, due to lengthy implementation, they require continuous rework by skilled IT specialists who add new intranet features, install security patches, fix bugs, improve UI and UX, and more.


Custom intranets provide high security of a company’s data, as, during their implementation, developers ensure that custom web parts and apps don’t contain errors that can cause security breaches. Also, custom development assumes equipping an intranet with strong protection techniques, such as two-factor authentication. Thus, custom intranets are the best choice for highly regulated industries like healthcare.

Like any other open-source software, ready-made intranets are prone to hacking. They often have many plugins and extensions that increase vulnerability to security breaches, as developers of extensions and plugins are not always experts in security.

Custom and ready-made intranets - factors for comparison

Build or buy?

We’ve summarized the advantages of both intranet options and prepared a checklist of two question groups that will give you a hint about the most suitable solution for your company.

So, you should buy an intranet out of the box if you answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions:

  • Is your company a small business?
  • Do you need a working intranet just in a few weeks?
  • Do you want minimum training before your employees start using an intranet effectively?
  • Does your intranet have to cover just basic productivity and collaboration features?

And your best choice is to build an intranet if you answer positively to the following questions:

  • Does your company grow quickly or are you a big enterprise?
  • Do you want to reflect your company’s identity in an intranet?
  • Do you have complex collaboration processes (multistep, cross-departmental, etc.)?
  • Do you need integrations with multiple systems you already use?
  • Is your company bound by federal and state compliance regulations?

Of course, there may be mixed answers for either of the lists. Besides, some factors like implementation time and cost are more significant than others. For example, not all enterprises are ready to dive into lengthy and costly intranet development. Thus, a company should analyze their business needs, sort out priorities and make the choice accordingly.

If the custom option wins

If a custom intranet is what looks more suitable for your company, contact our consultants and learn how a SharePoint intranet can meet your business needs. 

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