When most of us think of an intranet we usually imagine a digital platform where employees access important documents, people, and knowledge.
But every organization also connects with external bodies and groups. These might be completely separate organizations, like customers or vendors, or they may be related groups like a board of directors or a committee. Just like employees, these groups all require access to important information and services.
This is where an extranet comes in.
While an intranet connects employees inside an organization, an extranet connects employees to external parties. An extranet is defined as a “controlled private network allowing customers, partners, vendors, suppliers and other businesses to gain information, typically about a specific company or educational institution, and do so without granting access to the organization's entire network.”
In simpler words, an intranet is for your employees, and an extranet is for external stakeholders. Some of the information on your intranet may even be identical to that on your extranet, but the extranet instance itself is still quite unique.
The need for an extranet has been around for a while, but many organizations have struggled to best navigate their requirements. Some have relied on costly tools like SharePoint in an effort to get a customized site, while others have simply added a secure login page within their own public-facing website.
Although these band-aid solutions have their advantages, they are still far from ideal. They are often difficult to navigate, lack collaboration functionality, and fail to meet required security requirements—which is a big deal if you have strict regulatory and security rules to adhere to!
Can I run my extranet from my intranet?
When our current customers see firsthand the benefits of an intranet, it doesn’t take long before they begin realizing additional opportunities for engagement and collaboration with external groups.
While a combined intranet and extranet is definitely possible, managing permissions can get tricky. You will want to ensure that any external stakeholders can only access the content and services they require. Most organizations choose to run the extranet as a separate instance of the intranet software, so security concerns are minimized.
What are the benefits of an extranet?
The objectives associated with an extranet are really no different than those associated with an intranet. Depending on your scenario, each one of these five pillars will have varying levels of priority and desirability.
Engagement: While your external parties and groups may not be official employees, they are still valuable members of your organization. An extranet can help them immediately feel engaged and connected to your organization and your people.
Business Efficiency: An extranet can serve as a joint project management system where responsibilities and tasks are tracked and organized. Also, by leveraging forms on your extranet you can create relevant workflows that benefit both the organization and the external group.
Communication: An extranet can serve as a location for keeping external members updated on important news and events. And assuming your extranet has built-in analytics, you can easily measure the effectiveness of your communication.
Collaboration: Depending on the role of your stakeholders, they may require extensive debate and collaboration with each other, or with an employee. An external site provides a safe and secure space for sharing and collaborating on important documents with external groups.
Knowledge Share: Your external parties likely have areas of expertise unique to them—especially in committee type scenarios. An extranet can help these experts easily share the information inside their head while making it easier for others to locate that information.
Five extranet use cases
The demand for external sites has been growing steadily as more and more organizations are seeking ways to keep relevant external parties engaged, connected, and informed. Also, the overall growth of collaboration technology is closing the geographic barriers between teams and allowing seamless communication no matter where someone lives or works.
Now that we understand the extranet definition, let's look at a few of the common scenarios where an extranet is effective:
For organizations that deliver a service, an extranet can be a great tool to share updates, project status and provide project deliverables for clients. We use ThoughtFarmer to manage all of our professional services engagements with our customers.
Suppliers and Contractors
Many organizations rely on contractors to help keep their business running. By leveraging an external site, all contractor details can be contained in one system, complete with contractor resumes, and areas of expertise. And because of features like tagging, once these areas of expertise have been tagged, it is easy for employees to efficiently find new contractors.
Many organizations liaise, interact, or are governed by external groups. The responsibilities of these groups may be different than an employee’s, but their involvement in the organization is critical. By using a board portal (extranet), these external group members can securely access board documents and meeting minutes, while collaborating with other board members electronically.
Merger and Acquisitions
Another growing purpose is to facilitate cultural integration and communication during a merger and acquisition. Having an external site devoted to M&A can provide employees with a neutral space to feel connected and comfortable in their new company. It can also host valuable information employees are seeking—news, updates, policies, and a people directory. Most importantly, a dedicated external site sends a strong message of cultural unity which is critical to the success of any M&A.
When most companies set up employee information, they do so on a corporate intranet. But a lot of this information, like health and insurance benefits, is also relevant to spouses and family members. Through an extranet, these external groups can easily and proactively locate their required documents.
If you are still unsure if your organization requires an extranet, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a current group of stakeholders that require information?
- Is your current intranet unintentionally excluding external parties?
- Do you have a way to securely share large volumes of data with external groups?
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.
April 30, 2019