Intranets vs. Extranets: What’s the Difference?
There’s naturally a level of confusion people have on the difference between intranets and extranets. This is understandable given there can be overlap in the way they are used.
A modern intranet is an internal site, designed for employees to work together more productively and seamlessly with other employees. Extranets, on the other hand, help employees collaborate better with external parties - such as authorised customers, partners, or vendors - who are granted secure extranet access.
Think of an intranet as a private network for employees using familiar internet technologies, but operating securely away from the general global internet. Similarly, an extranet is like an extension of an intranet. It remains secure, but in this case it’s a custom built platform accessible for specific external groups of people outside of the organisation who wish to collaborate together.
Most organisations - especially as their networks and supply chains become more complex - will benefit from both. Whether from using an intranet or an extranet, employees especially stand to gain in terms of making their working lives easier and more streamlined. Equally, intranets and extranets are a potent source of data and analytics, which enables management to find opportunities to improve employee engagement and the employee experience.
Communication and Collaboration Benefits
How would you use an intranet or an extranet more specifically? Do you need either of these solutions for your own organisation’s purposes? Let’s start by summarising the benefits of both intranets and extranets, individually:
Intranets benefit your company by increasing engagement, collaboration, and productivity among your employees. A well-designed intranet is a tool that makes it easier for people to do their jobs and streamlines the process of jumping between different sites and applications that most people use in a typical work day. Instead, all the required information people need to do their jobs is centralised and up to date in one convenient location.
Extranets can extend a lot of these intranet benefits to your partners or other external groups, while importantly maintaining security and control over who is accessing what. Picture this: Your partners want to collaborate with each other on a project but they need to access specific customer data that you store securely. An extranet can make the most of the collaboration features of an intranet for those who are outside the organisation, while keeping any sensitive information securely stored within the organisation.
How Both Networks Can Work Together
Extending an Intranet Platform With Extranet Capabilities
Today, companies with large networks of partners, vendors, or other external non-customer user groups need to account for a variety of needs, and well-designed extranets allow companies to create useful, productive workspaces for each audience.
However, justifying the creation and maintenance of an extranet can be a challenge, especially for teams with limited development resources. Building your extranet as an extension of your intranet is one way to break past this obstacle. It allows you to reuse components that are valuable to all audiences, maintain consistent and connected databases between different sites, and ensure that security policies are correctly applied according to sites and users, reducing the risk of external parties having access to confidential information. In many ways, it can be helpful to view your extranet as a sub-project of your intranet, conforming to the same standards and design processes, even as each site delivers services unique to its audience’s needs.
Extranets are Built for Complexity - Controlled Access on a Private Network
Extranets are suited for managing extremely complex business processes and relationships, communication, and collaboration - beyond what an intranet can achieve on its own. For example, Hewlett Packard uses an extranet to support its ecosystem of global partners. The company has to support 650,000 users across 174 countries in 25 languages. Moving everyone onto a single, global URL was groundbreaking for managing the company’s relationships with all of its partners.
Likewise, Volkswagen Group France uses both a modern intranet and an extranet to manage more than 30,000 users across 5 brand sites. While the intranet features employee-specific services for team members, such as booking a conference room, the extranet allows all authorised dealers to receive company news and other information they need for day-to-day business. Integration with the intranet allows them to access the same repository of business documents, making content management easier for Volkswagen’s team.
Comparison Between Both Networks
Similarities Between Intranets and Extranets
Powerful Search Functions - Because they are both based on modern web technologies, both intranets and extranets feature powerful search functionalities that significantly help today’s knowledge workers in locating the right documents and features. This is particularly important in an extranet context, assisting disparate external groups with cross-company collaboration that keeps everyone on the same page, literally.
External Software Integration - Both intranets and extranets have the capability for facilitating software integrations, although the exact application of this feature will vary project by project, and collaboration ecosystem by ecosystem. These integrations help both employees and external parties by housing familiar tools within the one space - this could be anything from Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) to Office 365, Salesforce, Slack, SharePoint Online, and more. It’s all about improving collaboration and productivity.
Differences Between Intranets and Extranets
Internally vs Externally Housed - While both act as a central repository for important documents and projects and also allow for collaboration among various groups, an intranet is housed internally whereas an extranet is more likely to be accessible via a secure web-based platform. The technical structure of each also tends to vary, particularly with relation to permissions and access rules which can be set by the project owner.
Different End Users - Both platforms feature capabilities for content and document management. The primary difference is an intranet is naturally focused on usage by employees only, whereas an extranet facilitates document processing and editing for external parties such as suppliers, agencies, partners, and so forth.
Privacy and Security - When it comes to privacy and security, there are a couple of differences between intranets and extranets. Passwords and data encryption is used in an intranet context, meeting the needs for internal groups and company data security. Additional security layers are often deployed for extranets to protect external access to confidential data and tools. This might include firewalls to isolate certain information away from the private network. Identity authentication plus access and permission management can also be used as an additional protective layer.
Do You Need an Intranet or an Extranet?
If you’re deciding on whether to build or extend an intranet or an extranet - or both - the main question to answer is: Do we have the resources to make it a great experience for users?
Companies have to be intentional about maintaining and improving their intranets and extranets so that they are user-friendly and provide true value to users. This means regularly seeking out feedback and incorporating fixes and feature requests into your updates. This may be something your team can monitor, or you may want to bring in a partner manager to offer their perspective on what partners want.
Keep in mind that intranets and extranets have different goals. For example, while it’s appropriate for your intranet to have a page for the company jogging club, that kind of culture-building will be less relevant to your vendors. Stay aware of the relationships you’ve built with partners, and make sure that your extranet appropriately reflects that work culture. You’re designing a tool for them, not for your own corporate initiatives. When done well, the loyalty and satisfaction earned will prove its own ROI in the long run.
Learn more about Liferay’s modern intranet solutions, which are designed to help your business run more efficiently, better address the needs of an evolving workforce, and drive consistency in service delivery for employees across the world.