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By Tim Eisenhauer, President of Axero Solutions
It’s a well known adage in economics that “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” meaning nothing is really free.
The saying dates back to the tradition of saloons offering “free lunch” to patrons who ordered a drink. The promise of free lunch lured people in, but the foods were so salty that they bought hefty amounts of beer to wash their meal down. The saloons ended up making more money. The lunch was not free, but the cost was hidden.
This concept is extremely relevant and important to understand today in a world where large numbers of businesses proclaim to peddle their software products for free. Free app downloads. Free trials. Free base level memberships. These models are not as consumer-friendly or cost-effective as they seem. Take intranet software. There are many free options out there that may seem like a good idea at first, but the issues that come with them cause more headaches and costs down the road. In the end, they are far from free.
Here are a few reasons why free software won’t do your business any favors:
1. Lack of Quality Customer Support.
Installing new software for your business is always risky, not to mention stressful. Will it work? Will it help the business achieve its goals? Will employees use it? Change is hard for people and encouraging employees to modify their behavior and adopt new ways of doing things can be a struggle.
Let’s say you have free intranet software installed and your employees are actively using it, posting content, sharing files, having conversations and more. Everything seems to be going well until a sales rep uploads a presentation and gets hit with an error message. Now what? Free intranet software does not come with quality customer support, so there is no one to call for help. That is, unless the provider offers a paid support plan, in which case it is not free.
2. Lack of Flexibility.
Most free intranet software vendors adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. It is far cheaper to build one product and have companies fit themselves into it than to account for flexibility and customization. As a result, free providers strive to shoehorn as many customers as possible into one model.
This approach might work for certain business processes, but not for internal communications. Intranet software is personal by nature. Communication patterns vary between individuals and teams, and certainly between entire companies. Every business is unique and these differences have a profound effect on the needs for intranet software. Intranets reap the best results when they are customized to how your business works, and free options tend to be difficult to customize. You’ll have to stick with what you get, unless you are willing to pay for customization.
3. Lack of Meaningful Updates.
Your intranet needs to grow with your business. Just as your business has an evolving set of needs and works on refining its product, the same is true for intranet software. Updates, new features, and enhancements are necessary to keep it working at peak performance. Free intranet software providers sometimes offer updates, but many do not, which creates an impasse when you need to add a new feature.
In contrast, reputable paid providers listen to their customers and are vigilant about improving their product. They will be receptive to hearing about your challenges and responsive to implementing the feedback you provide.
Setting up intranet software requires a lot of time, effort and energy. It has to be done right since it becomes a valuable tool that your company uses on a daily basis. If the software crashes or the site goes down, your business could go to a crashing halt, which could cause it to lose money. Free software has a higher likelihood of crashing, and no guarantee that it will be up and running again quickly.
5. No Advanced Features.
As mentioned above, one common “free” software model is to offer just the basic set of features, meaning the lowest common denominator. Not only does this mean you get one-size-fits-all technology, but also that the best, most useful, most valuable features are out of your reach. These freemium models are designed to encourage customers to upgrade to paid versions, so the tools and capabilities that will actually be helpful are not, in fact, free.
6. Limited or No Bug Testing.
Even the most robust, feature rich software on the planet is useless if it is peppered with bugs. Free intranet software is not always tested for quality assurance. Even if you have a software team in your company who can fix bugs, fixing them may create even more, not to mention the fact that dedicating a development team to fixing bugs means they are not directing their attention elsewhere, like building the business. Vendors that charge for their software are held to a higher standard and expend the resources needed to identify and fix software bugs.
7. Security Issues.
Your intranet holds a goldmine of sensitive information — what people are working on, collective knowledge, workflows, personal data and more. It is imperative that this information is secure. With free options, everyone, including hackers, gets the source code, and this enables them to find vulnerabilities, which can then be exploited. In the event of a breach, your company is not only put in a exposed, but will also have to spend money to repair the damage.
8. Hidden Costs.
As outlined above, “free” software options come with a cornucopia of hidden costs, including limited features, in-app purchases, security issues, a lack of support, little to no customization options, and more. Software companies have been pulling this trick for years. Given all these obstructions, chances are you will end up migrating anyway. The free option is not really free, and may even end up being pricier down the road.
However, if you are willing to pay for the right intranet software from the start, you can customize a solution works for you and trust that the vendor is committed to your company’s success. Moreover, the cost is a known entity, so you won’t keep opening your wallet for unexpected costs as they arise. Intranet software is an investment that pays off over time. When you make the right decisions, you’ll be enjoying the benefits for years to come.
Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder and president of Axero Solutions. He writes on the subjects of social intranets, employee engagement, business communication, knowledge management, and collaboration. His articles and opinions have been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, 60 Second Marketer, HR.com, and others.