Planning and Building an Intranet with WordPress

Planning and Building an Intranet with WordPress

Ah, the Intranet. Long hailed as the red-headed step child of web portals, Intranet’s are increasingly becoming more sophisticated as companies realize the true potential of a well-designed central hub to share, collaborate, reference company and client information, and even manage projects and track time.

While there’s no shortage of hosted Intranet solutions on the market, fortunately for the WordPress inclined a plethora of themes, widgets and plugins are available whether you’re looking to build an Intranet for 5 employees or 500.

Each company has different needs. Sometimes an Intranet only needs to be as basic as a password-protected reference site. For others, social profiles and real-time collaboration are important. Let’s begin by examining the base functionality most Intranet’s should have:

  1. Company directory
  2. A Knowledge Base or Wiki allowing employees to create topics, categories, posts to build shared knowledge. For larger companies this may be setup by departments.
  3. Forms, forms, forms–HR forms, employee reviews, expense reports, etc.
  4. Company Calendar (great for holiday schedules, announcing company events, etc.)

Some additional considerations:

  1. Project Management / time tracking
  2. Collaboration tools, online workspaces
  3. Social networking and member interaction
  4. CRM or CRM bolt-ins

BuddyPress offers a lot of Intranet-like functionality out-of-the box along with numerous plugins that further augment its functionality. A previous WPMU article highlights some of the advantages.

BuddyPress has scores of plugins to extend its core functionality. Some to consider for an Intranet application:

  1. BuddyPress Docs – Adds collaborative document management to BuddyPress.
  2. BuddyPress Wiki Component – Allows users to create and contribute to group-based Wikis.
  3. Events Calendar – A robust calendar and event management system integrated with BuddyPress
  4. Portfolios – A nice addition allowing employees to post images and information about projects they’re working on.
Events Calendar for BuddyPress

Potential BuddyPress cons:

  1. Possible overkill. A good Intranet focuses on the specific needs of its employees. In my experience if you include too many bells & whistles no one finds useful, people will rarely interact with the resource, even areas that are beneficial.
  2. Difficult to customize. Feel free to debate me in the comments on this one, but I personally find BuddyPress frustrating to theme and customize unless you purchase a Premium Theme specifically designed for it. Trying to modify BuddyPress formatting, add or takeaway attributes, etc. is not for the faint of heart. Be ready to settle and compromise, which doesn’t always go over well with management that may be leading the decisions on how to build your Intranet.
  3. Doesn’t always play well with others. If you’re using other plugins in conjunction with BuddyPress you may have to take care in how they’re setup and configured so the user’s experience feels seamless.

If you choose BuddyPress, I highly recommend finding a Professional Theme that’s been optimized for it. That way you’ll get nicely formatted widgets, profile pages, etc. You’ll also (hopefully) get support from the author if you get stuck. I also suggest not focusing too much on the social networking aspects. People at work will embrace collaboration tools if implemented and positioned well, but usually leave their social networking to outside the office.

Premium & Free Plugins
Whether you elect to use BuddyPress or not, there are numerous additional plugins that are definitely worth consideration:

  1. Gravity Forms (Premium) – Out of all the forms plugins on the market, free and paid, nothing beats Gravity Forms. If you want your employees to use the forms you create and you need data you can actually use as a result, Gravity Forms has it down.
  2. Wiki (Premium) – What’s great about this plugin is that brings Wiki capabilities to any post, supports uploading and works with single, Multisite or BuddyPress.
  3. CollabPress (free) – Project management, calendars, and task management leveraging core WP Users functions.
  4. Absolute Privacy (free) – create password-protected, user-only areas and simple membership functionality.
  5. Membership (Premium) – As its name suggests, allows you to create a fully-blown membership driven site. Great if you want to create varying levels of membership on your Intranet depending on role, department, management, etc.
  6. CustomPress (free) – A plugin for creating Custom Post Types and Taxonomies without coding, this plugin can help build content areas like an employee directory.
  7. Stout Google Calendar (free) – Nothing beats Google Calendars and this plugin allows you to easily embed them in your WP site, along with options to customize colors and options.
  8. Force Login Except Special IP Range (free) – Similar to Absolute Privacy, but ideal for using IPv4 ranges or a specific IPv4 address to allow users to access your Intranet without the need to login.
  9. Simple LDAP Login – A “Single Sign-On” solution with Microsoft Active Directory and OpenLDAP support (and other directory systems which comply to the LDAP standard, such as OpenDS).
An example page from the Wiki plugin

You may have to hunt and peck for a good Intranet theme or consider building your own, but there are definitely free and premium themes worth considering:

  1. Salutation (Premium) – While not a theme geared particularly towards Intranet’s, Salutation is an outstanding theme optimized for BuddyPress. I have personal experience with this theme and it’s extremely well built with tons of customization options.
  2. P2 (free) – A Twitteresque theme ideal for capturing user posts and group blogging.
  3. KnowPress (free) – a WordPress Wiki theme. I’ve successfully used this theme for a company Knowledge Base that was easy to use and got a lot of usage.
KnowPress Premium Theme
KnowPress Premium Theme

Rolling Your Own
If you have a decent handle on WordPress development, some Intranet features can be built pretty easily. For example, Custom Post Types are ideal for creating content types such as employee directories, events, specialized content, etc. Also, exposing WP admin functions on the front end like user registration, login-required sections, and post submission (for creating knowledge bases for example) are fairly easy to do without plugins, and also give you control over exactly how they are implemented and appear.

When one thinks “Intranet” usually WordPress isn’t top-mind. Fortunately the WordPress community has made it easy to create a killer Intranet with a little planning, some great free and premium tools and a bit of time and sweat.