Intranet vs. Extranet: What’s the Difference?

People sometimes find it difficult to differentiate intranets and extranets. Intranets are internal sites, and are designed for employees to work with other employees. Extranets, on the other hand, are for employees to work with external parties, such as authorized customers, partners or vendors.

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.

Extranets can extend a lot of these intranet benefits to your partners, while 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 the customer data you store securely. An extranet can make the most of the collaboration features of an intranet for those who are outside the organization, while keeping any sensitive information securely stored within the organization.

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 ensures that security policies are correctly applied according to site 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

Extranets are suited for managing extremely complex business processes and relationships, beyond what an intranet can achieve on its own. 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 an intranet and an extranet to manage more than 30,000 users across 5 brand sites. While the intranet features employee-specific services, such as booking a conference room, the extranet allows all authorized 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 Volkwagen’s team.

Do You Need an Extranet?

If you’re deciding on whether to build an extranet, the main question to answer is: Do we have the resources to make it a great experience for users?

Just like with intranets, companies have to be intentional about maintaining and improving 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 intranet team can monitor, or you may want to bring in a partner manager to offer her 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.

How to Build an Intranet That Boosts Productivity

Read five intranet case studies that improved employee productivity, plus guidelines for designing your own.

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