July 13, 2024

Advancing Corporate Yields

Pioneering Business Success

Extranet Features, and Best Practices

  • An extranet is defined as a private network or platform enterprises use to give their business partners and third parties limited access to their internal information and processes typically reserved for their own employees.
  • This article explains the fundamentals of the extranet and lists best practices for an optimized extranet experience.

What Is an Extranet?

An extranet is a private network or platform enterprises use to give their business partners and third parties limited access to their internal information and processes typically reserved for their own employees. Such networks extend the company’s internal network, which is key for knowledge exchange and collaboration with vendors, suppliers, clients, and customers.

Extranet emerged in the late 1990s when internet technology was gaining popularity. Considering the capabilities of such upcoming technologies, companies wanted to exploit them to boost their tie-ups with external parties. Today, extranets have been replaced with the SaaS and cloud computing paradigm as corporate ecosystems are on the rise.

However, organizations across sectors find immense value in implementing extranets within their IT frameworks. For example, top logistics companies like FedEx and UPS use extranets to allow their customers to access tracking facilities in real-time. Other industries that use extranets include the following:

  • Financial institutions and banks use extranets to allow users to carry out transactions.
  • Government authorities, such as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, use extranets to allow users to submit e-documents.
  • Web design firms and architects use extranets to engage clients in ongoing projects.
  • Publishing firms use extranets to share content with authors, freelancers, and other editorial staff.
  • The academic sector uses an extranet for online learning and administration.
  • Suppliers use an extranet to update their customers on the inventory status or changed prices of different items.
  • The automotive industry uses extranets to connect various internal departments within their manufacturing ecosystem.

Benefits of an Extranet

In today’s digital age, extranets are highly beneficial regardless of the organization type as they offer vital features like file sharing, enabling real-time conversations, syncing calendars, etc. Let’s look at some of the key benefits of extranets.

1. Share knowledge and expertise

As extranets offer a common platform to collaborate with external parties, organizations can use the ideas, expertise, and knowledge shared by everyone involved to streamline business operations and information flow.

2. Maintain confidentiality

Extranets allow organizations to customize permissions and authentications that decide which party involved in the collaboration sees what information. They offer a secure way to share data, files, and applications using privacy controls wherever necessary.

3. Real-time updates

In the modern age, users have become habitual in getting frequent updates on the orders placed by them or the delivery status of their design projects. Extranets give customers access to external networks so that they can get updates whenever they need them.

4. Speed up collaborative tasks

When organizations start working with multiple parties, there is often a problem of time lag as each involved collaborator does not have tools, documents, and real-time updates on tasks to accomplish. As a result, this prolongs the collaborative workflow. However, extranet solves such problems as all parties are kept informed and updated regularly.

5. Ensure accountability

Extranets ensure that all collaborators are held accountable for their tasks. Clear and precise information flows between all parties. Hence, identifying collaborators who have completed the allotted task and ones who are lagging becomes easier.

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Features of Extranet

An efficient extranet helps develop a workplace where all the stakeholders and customers meet, chat, securely share information, and work together on common tasks. Let’s understand some of the key features of the extranet that allow organizations to build strong relationships with third parties.

Extranet FeaturesExtranet Features

Extranet Features

1. Ensure data security

Extranets provide a safe environment to share confidential and sensitive data between organizations. The framework ensures that confidential data is secure and chances of data loss or leak are close to nil.

2. Seamless communication

With extranets, organizations can carry out secure and seamless communication with multiple parties, companies, and businesses.

3. Flexibility

Extranet provides a flexible and scalable environment for all collaborators to work on a common task. As a result, this increases the overall productivity of the organization.

4. Reduced cost

Extranets can help minimize paperwork and contribute to cutting down on travel for stakeholders to a considerable extent.

5. Authentication

Extranet provides an authentication mechanism where its users should enter credentials such as username and password to gain access to the network. This adds a layer of security as only authorized users are given access to the network.

6. Easy to set up

Effective extranets automate user access management. Moreover, external users find it easier to join in, and third parties usually have a good guest user experience.

7. User-focused content

Innovative extranets ensure all collaborators are engaged and productive throughout their partnership by providing user-focused and targeted content.

8. Secure sharing

Modern extranets offer customizable security features and access permissions that allow organizations to share information securely. This is crucial when IT companies need to abide by IT governance and policies like,

  • Practices to protect against accidental sharing, and
  • Facility to limit users to a specific workspace.

9. Customized knowledge

Effective extranets customize the knowledge shared between communicating parties. This includes providing engaging and useful information that adds value to their relationship. For instance, ‘Atlas Extranet’ provided by the software company ClearPeople has an ‘External Insight’ feature where users can add external content to extranet and make it discoverable through extranet’s search option. Moreover, you can also add news articles or relevant links to extranet. The idea behind this is to make relevant knowledge available to involved users.

10. Smart information management

Modern extranets provide AI services within their environment. This helps in better analysis of shared documents, files, or information. It also helps create automated tags for the shared data within extranet. Moreover, this also includes features like automatic document version control and real-time co-authoring to provide true collaboration on shared documents. With AI’s help, extranets can generate intelligent and qualitative insights into all its activities.

11. Accessibility across all devices

Effective extranets provide powerful search features that allow users to search for documents, files, or people easily. Hence, relevant results are delivered in a quick time. As a result,  it increases the organization’s overall productivity.

12. Search feature

Effective extranets provide powerful search features that allow users to search for documents, files, or people with ease. Thus, relevant results are delivered in a quick time. As a result,  it increases the organization’s overall productivity.

13. Integration

Modern extranets have the integration feature to ensure extranet’s compatibility with future technologies. This allows extranets to integrate with existing apps and tools. For instance, the ‘Atlas Extranet’ integrates with ‘Harmon.ie,’ the email sidebar plugin. It allows users to drag data out of Outlook into Atlas and vice versa.

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Extranet Best Practices

With the growing trend of flexible working environments and remote work culture, virtual collaboration has become inevitable across industries. As a result, more and more companies are looking for collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, and Microsoft 365, among others, to cater to these requirements.

According to a March 2021 survey by TechRepublic Premium, 91% of collaboration setups are primarily used to connect remote workers, 84% enable better communication, 61% help in team management, and 54% in project management.

While intranet serves the purpose of internal use, extranet is beneficial when taking the internal processes outside the organization. Let’s look at five best practices to optimize your extranet experience.

1. Define your objective

Before choosing extranet, define your purpose and identify areas where it would be specifically used. Several extranet types already exist depending on the organization’s need, as seen in the previous examples. For example, project extranets benefit fields like healthcare, architecture, retail, and ecommerce, where cross-organization collaboration is the main focus to allow parties to get involved in common initiatives and campaigns.

2. Target features and functionalities you need

Secondly, determine the features and functionality your extranet needs to support. These features should align with your business objectives and goals. For example, let’s say a corporate firm needs an extranet that allows its employees and customers to find the how-to guides and specifications for their software products. In that case, you may need an extranet that supports a drive feature. It will allow you to store and share documents easily within and outside your company.

3. Ensure data security

With the rise in data leaks and security breaches, organizations should deploy extranets immune to such threats. It allows companies to safely store and manage confidential information in internal and external settings. Extranets that have customizable security features are vital. For instance, a personalized file-sharing feature enables you to decide who is authorized to access certain files or documents, thereby adding more security to the extranet environment.

4. Consider mobile extranet

Mobile extranets tend to maximize their usability. With teams and workforces spread across countries and geographies, having mobile access to networks and work materials should be a priority. Moreover, mobile access facilities can be quite beneficial for staffers outside the organization who are not always sitting at a computer all day, like delivery people, courier men, and contractors.

Another interesting use case of a mobile extranet is when your employees go on an unplanned vacation or leave. Let’s say a potential new client reaches out to your employee when he is not in the office and wants certain documents immediately. If your employee has access to the mobile extranet, they can quickly share the relevant materials with the client and even close the potential deal with them. Moreover, today’s work culture demands mobile access as a large chunk of work is completed by staff on easy-to-handle mobile devices.

5. Bring extranet and intranet together

In several cases, some intranet features and functionalities are likely necessary outside the organization’s internal network. Hence your intranet must work in sync with the extranet so that an array of essential features are available to third-party collaborators, for instance, social networking features or integration functions offered by CRM tools such as Salesforce or HubSpot. Thus, identifying functionalities within your intranet potentially useful for third-party stakeholders is one of the best practices for deriving maximum benefits from the extranet.

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Today’s collaborative workspace demands deploying platforms and tools like extranet to connect co-workers that accomplish tasks to fulfill business needs and goals. Extranets make internal processes relevant to the outside world, which improves engagement and boosts efficiency. Modern-day extranet brings robust features such as communication options, project management tools, document storage alternatives, and ways to integrate applications.

While extranet implementation can significantly benefit any organization, it is essential to consider parameters like cost, security, and training requirements before investing in the extranet project.

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