A feature-rich and functional corporate intranet is a ďnice-to-haveĒ asset for many small to midsized enterprises. However, the human resources to manage the hardware and software infrastructure of an intranet can often find themselves busy on client billable and other critical projects.
Even if the staff isnít available, you can still develop a usable and functional intranet for your SME by outsourcing your corporate intranet to a third-party host that provides the server space, functionality, security, and maintenance of a full-service intranet. Youíll still need to assign an administrator to manage user accounts and site access for these third-party intranet-hosting options, but these providers handle the infrastructure chores quite dutifully.
The 1and1 Web hosting control panel for Windows SharePoint Services 2003 is typical of many Web host control panels offering ISP management tools for hosted SharePoint sites.
We looked at three of the leading places to host an intranet: WebEx WebOffice, Basecamp from 37 Signals, and Windows SharePoint Services 2003 hosted by a Microsoft hosting partner.
WebEx WebOffice (www.weboffice.com) was born during the dot-com boom as Intranets.com. It offers a range of features, including announcements, calendaring, task list, a group documents directory for the storage and exchange of files, and online conferencing.
The Web-based setup for a Web-Office site is easy enough for nontechnical users to get a site up and running in minutes. The current incarnation of WebOffice has a distinct Microsoft SharePoint Services flavor but without the extensibility of SharePoint.
Basecamp (www.basecamphq.com) from 37 Signals has more of a project-management angle than the other third-party intranet hosting options we looked at. It includes a dashboard laying out all the site details, a project overview section, message board, to-do lists, project milestones, and people with access to the project. The Premium and Plus versions of Base-camp include a time-tracking feature for project team members.
The file-sharing feature of the higher-end Basecamp offerings requires your own FTP or SFTP server. The Base-camp file-sharing feature links to the files on your FTP server. However, just like you are outsourcing your intranet with Basecamp, you can also look to your ISP or a hosting provider to handle your FTP server.
Basecampís pricing is based upon the number of projects being managed on the service, not the number of users accessing the Basecamp site. This model breaks from the typical third-party hosted intranet site that charges by the user.
Only Basecampís Premium and Plus versions include SSL encryption to secure your corporate information from outsiders.
Hosted Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 2003
Microsoft, through a number of Web-hosting partners, offers a hosted version of Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 2003. These partners offer a fully functional SharePoint Services 2003 system hosted on their server infrastructure.
SharePoint administration skills are still a necessary requirement for a third-party hosted Windows SharePoint Services 2003 team site because you still have to work with the Web hostís management tools.
You have the option to roll out hosted SharePoint sites with their default design or modify the sites using Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003. Going with a hosted version of SharePoint Services still lets you add Web Parts, which are interactive SharePoint plug-ins to your SharePoint site.
When shopping for a SharePoint Web host, be sure to look for vendors that stay up-to-date on SharePoint service packs and patches.
While the hosted intranet options mentioned in this article may sound attractive, they are not without trade-offs when compared to hosting an intranet on your internal network. Some trade-offs include user and password management, scalability, and the capability to block other domains from your intranet site.
Pay attention to the server storage space offered by third-party intranet options. What may look like a real bargain may only have paltry disk space for the storage and sharing of documents. While most hosted intranet options let you add storage space, it is not without extra costs.
Hosting your SMEís intranet through one of the options in this article or another Web host means you can escape the technology infrastructure underlying an intranet and focus on your core business. Though the intranet options posed in this article require an administrator, you could even draw that person from the ranks of your organizationís nontechnical staff provided they are comfortable with Web-based tools.