Extranets can take on many different forms depending on the purpose they are designed to serve and the collaborators who will be utilizing them. Consequently, arriving at a cohesive definition of the term can prove challenging. Gartner defines extranets as:
"A collaborative, internet-based network that facilitates inter-company relationships by linking an enterprise with its suppliers, customers, or other external business partners. Extranets provide secured extensions of internal business processes to external business partners"
As Gartner’s definition illustrates, the primary focal point of extranets is third-party collaboration. Virtually every enterprise works in conjunction with some external source, whether that is customers, suppliers, freelancers, outside investors, or a combination of these groups. Extranets enable stakeholders to create digital workplaces that reach outside the bounds of an organization and cut down on much of the silos that typically occurs during external collaborations. Some stakeholders may choose to utilize an extranet that sits within their company intranet and is supplemented with various authentication methods. Other leaders might opt for a platform that is entirely separate and distinct from an enterprise’s internal network.
Extranets can fulfill a variety of different purposes for enterprises and their collaborators. Some of the fundamental types of external networks are as follows:
When several different parties are involved in an upcoming initiative, an extranet can be an efficient and useful tool for managing the project. Customizable permissions and privacy settings help ensure that confidential information remains in the right hands. Cross-organization collaboration is a mainstay for many industries from healthcare to architecture to retail and e-commerce. Extranets are an easy way to ensure every collaborator remains accountable for their share of work and prevents components of the project from slipping through the cracks.
Extranets can be particularly integral for companies within the e-commerce space. These platforms can connect suppliers to distributors to couriers to customers and keep these pathways open when an exchange or modification is needed. Logistic extranets can help enterprises improve consumer experience by ensuring customers can easily access real-time updates on their products and services.
Another game-changing tool for brands that sell products online: an integration extranet keeps track of inventory and updates it instantaneously. This data can be used for stock-taking purposes and ensures that information is easily accessible by multiple relevant parties. Integration extranets can be built upon an enterprise’s intranet or hosted on an entirely separate platform.
For franchises and other enterprises with a large frontline workforce, extranets can be a useful tool for disseminating employee information. The platform can host employee timesheets and other worker-specific information as well as serving as a direct line to an enterprise’s corporate office. This type of extranet can also allow employees to submit any concerns or recommendations confidentially. Employee extranets can be a valuable resource for connecting with front-line staff, a vital subset of the workforce that can be notoriously challenging to engage.
Extranets are one of the safest and most secure methods for sharing confidential information, which is particularly important when dealing with sensitive material, including finances. One use case that illustrates how extranets can be utilized in a financial setting involves accounting firms during tax season. During this high-stakes time, enterprises need to exchange highly confidential facts and figures quickly, without compromising confidentiality. Extranets can help partners efficiently share updates and ensure that only the proper eyes have access to important metrics.
A platform dedicated to consumer information can help drive efficiency, improve accuracy, and put the customer in the front seat. Organizations that give consumers access to an extranet in order to self report various data and metrics will essentially automate this part of the work process while implementing self serve functionality.
For Unily, we use our Universe portal to host a wealth of information like how-to guides, webinars, and more. It also allows customers to interact with one another, sharing tips and success stories from their own experiences.
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