If you’re looking for the best way to share information with clients, suppliers, or external business partners, extranet software is an excellent solution. However, some businesses struggle to understand where their extranet ends and their intranet software begins.
Both software solutions use security and stringent access controls to provide a collaborative environment for your external and internal users. In the new digital workplace, many businesses partition off a section of their intranet, enabling them to share information externally in a secure online environment.
When you combine the extranet and intranet in this way, it reduces the technical challenges of maintaining both systems separately.
What are the best extranet software use cases?
It’s important not to let an intranet overshadow the extranet, as both platforms have their advantages. For example, extranet solutions are ideal for projects that have a specific timescale, where you can limit access for that period of time only.
Extranets also work extremely well when it comes to boosting your business. For example, the best extranet software solutions are those that make the tendering process simpler, so that you can easily communicate with your stakeholders to move the project forward.
In the same vein, extranet software is useful as a brand portal, where third parties can easily access branding materials that will boost consistency across your business. This is especially valuable during acquisitions and mergers, providing external and internal teams alike with a collaborative place in which to communicate feedback.
Extranet software also streamlines business processes such as purchase ordering and invoice requests, making it easier for distributors and managers to share information about deliveries, stock levels, and costs.
If needed, an extranet can be located on a separate infrastructure from your intranet. This is useful in cases of disaster recovery. For example, if the business network crashed, the extranet would remain up and running. This setup is also vital for compliance purposes where data needs to be kept separate from your intranet.
Choosing the best extranet software
Modern extranet software can do just about everything that your intranet software can. Like with any business productivity platform, choosing the best extranet software depends on your organisation’s unique needs.
If you require a private, online network to collaborate and share information with third parties, ensure your extranet software of choice includes communication tools and document management libraries at a minimum. If automating processes is your priority, then look for extranet solutions that provide e-forms and workflows software.
Whatever your organisation’s requirements, it’s important to spend time analysing the products on offer to avoid wasting time and money on a system that doesn’t do what you want it to, either in terms of functionality or complexity.
Once you understand what your company needs from an extranet portal, it’s beneficial to write a shortlist of options. Be wary not to choose a particular piece of software just because it has a lot of functions – many of them may not be relevant or useful. Instead, think about what your teams actually need.
Extranet use cases in different sectors
Different industries use extranets in different ways. For example, in the construction industry, teams such as planners, architects, builders, engineers, suppliers, and developers will need to liaise through a secure extranet to organise a project or development, from the initial design to the final construction.
The public sector, on the other hand, will need an extranet for developing shared services, delivering emergency plans, working with key stakeholders, and managing development projects, to name but a few.
In the legal sector, lawyers can utilise secure extranets to share confidential case documents with other law firms, clients, and any relevant third parties by creating a secure online environment.
Whatever your sector, it’s important to consult with colleagues to find out their extranet software requirements. This will put you in a better position to choose a solution that can be used across your organisation.
Once you have defined your extranet’s purpose, it’s time to focus on the required tools that will achieve an efficient system. Different packages offer various tools and it can be hard knowing which ones you may need.
Choosing the best extranet software tools
A good way of deciding is to consider your business’s stakeholders and whether you want your extranet to collaborate, consult, or inform them. Many organisations choose a combination of all three elements. Once you’ve made a decision, consider tools that boost stakeholders’ engagement.
Rule out software that doesn’t offer the optimum range of functionality to fulfil your organisation’s particular needs. Similarly, don’t choose packages that offer a lot of unnecessary functions that may cost you extra money for no reason.
Once you have a shortlist of software packages with the tools that you need, check whether their online workspace is flexible. When you’ve narrowed the choice down, it’s often possible to use a free trial to evaluate how your chosen software packages perform.
Having the correct extranet software will help you achieve your purpose as a business and will also ensure the system is embraced – rather than endured – by your staff and external partners.