If you’re looking for the best way to share information with clients, suppliers, and any other individual or group outside your organisation, an extranet is an excellent solution. However, some businesses struggle to understand where the extranet ends and the intranet begins.
Both platforms use security and stringent access control to provide a collaborative environment for the users that they serve. In the modern digital workplace, many businesses partition off a section of the intranet, enabling them to share information externally, while also using the content more efficiently between their internal teams.
When you combine the extranet and intranet in this way, it reduces the technical challenges of maintaining both systems separately.
Ideal uses for an extranet
It’s important not to let an intranet overshadow the extranet, as both platforms have their advantages. For example, extranet software is ideal for projects that have a specific timescale, whereas intranet software can be created and subsequently archived after the project is finished.
Extranets work extremely well when it comes to boosting business, for example, when they are used as part of the tendering process, or to co-ordinate the project’s progress. They are also useful as a brand portal, enabling branding to be shared with third parties.
The extranet is a valuable tool during acquisitions and mergers and is excellent as a client helpdesk to communicate feedback. It can streamline ordering, as distributors and managers can share information about deliveries and stock levels. It’s useful to communicate with external committees, capturing minutes and sharing files.
If you choose, an extranet can be located on a separate infrastructure from the intranet. This is invaluable in cases of disaster recovery. For example, if the business network crashed, the extranet would remain up and running. This set-up is also invaluable for privacy, if you’re communicating data that you wish to keep separate.
Extranet software for collaboration
Modern software means the intranet and extranet can do just about everything. Whether your organisation chooses to invest in an extranet, rather than an intranet, is a personal choice, dependent on your business’s needs.
If you require a private, online network to collaborate and share with third parties, you’re likely to need project extranet software. Bear in mind there’s a large number of software packages and it’s important to choose one that suits your organisation’s particular needs.
Ensure you choose wisely, as you’ll be repaid with a valuable resource that ensures working with third parties is easy, productive, and rewarding. If you choose incorrectly, however, you may be wasting money on a system that doesn’t have the software relevant to your requirements, either in terms of functionality or complexity.
Shortlist your required functions
It’s important to understand and assess whether your planned extranet software offers the functions that you require. It’s beneficial to write a shortlist of options, such as the required purpose of the extranet. Don’t choose a particular set of software because it has a lot of functions, when there are some that you may not need.
Instead, think about what your organisation actually needs, rather than how many functions the software has. This will vary in different sectors. For example, in the architecture and construction industries, groups such as planners, architects, builders, engineers, suppliers, and developers can liaise through a secure extranet to organise a project or development, from the initial design to the final construction.
Extranet use in different sectors
The public sector has a variety of uses for project extranets, such as 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 organisation, 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 right 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 colleagues and external partners.
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