As public-facing websites on the Internet have proven to be a successful part of most businesses, many organizations are exploring Intranet and Extranet solutions to streamline communication. But what exactly is the difference between these two terms?
An Intranet is a private network accessible only by members of an organization. A private network can include employees, contractors, or even customers who have access. An Intranet typically uses the same infrastructure as the Internet but is restricted by some type of login authentication, VPN, or firewall.
On the other hand, an Extranet is a less private network that allows access to authorized members of an organization as well as authenticated 3rd party organizations.
What is the Purpose of an Intranet?
There are many types of Intranets your organization may benefit from. Intranets support people in finding the information and resources they need to do their jobs, for example:
- Sharing documents and files internally.
- Collaborating on projects.
- Employee career lifecycle management and benefits documentation.
- Company news and announcements.
- An internal knowledge base for operations processes.
- A portal to manage single sign on across multiple platforms.
An Intranet provides a secure way for employees to access company information and resources. If you feel that a lot of knowledge about your organization is “tribal” and relationship-based, you might find that a well-managed Intranet helps your organization scale.
Example: Internal Communication Intranet
The Internal communication department at BASF’s needs to keep over 100,000 employees around the world on the same page about company wide news and developments. BASF picked Concrete CMS to build a new internal communication Intranet that was a pleasure to read and easy to manage. This destination needed to be secure and follow a demanding style guide developed by the Germany-based HQ, while being flexible enough to let different departments present information in ways that made sense for their needs. Login requires BASF employees use their single sign on (SSO) solution which includes a USB based identity card.
Example: Sales Training Intranet
The Home Depot needed to keep front line sales people continually up to date with the best information on the wide range of appliances they sell. This includes features and specifications, but also current deals and promotions. By having an Intranet that can be quickly updated from HQ, it’s easier for Home Depot to move inventory quickly.
Blue Atlas Interactive created an innovative online training solution that would empower sales representatives at Home Depot with better product information and warranty plan details. An Intranet like this runs on computers within a physical location, so it could be secured either with an individual login or with generalized VPN/Firewall authentication that simply checks to make sure the visiting computer is on the local store network before rendering the website.
What is an Extranet?
An Extranet is a website that securely shares part of an organization's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, or customers. Think of an Extranet as an Intranet that extends to include authorized outsiders.
Extranets differ from Intranets:
- Intranets are closed networks that only authorized users within a single organization can access. Extranets can be accessed by anyone who has been given permission, typically partners, suppliers, and customers of an organization.
- Intranets are used primarily for communication and collaboration within an organization, Extranets are mainly used for communication and collaboration between organizations.
Types of Extranets
There are three primary types of Extranets:
- Business-to-business (b2b) Extranets: b2b Extranets are used by organizations to share information and resources with their business partners. They act as collaboration spaces where organizations can work together on projects, share documents, and communicate with each other.
- Business-to-consumer (b2c) Extranets: b2c Extranets are used by organizations to share information and resources with their customers. They act as a gateway for customers to access an organization's online services, such as online banking or shopping.
- Industry-wide Extranet: industry-wide Extranets are used by organizations to share information and resources with other organizations in the same industry. They allow industry-wide sharing of ideas to develop better products & services and improve processes & operations. They help create an ecosystem where all key players can communicate and collaborate with each other.
Extranet Use Cases
Extranets serve many different purposes. Some common uses for Extranets include:
- Sharing documents and files: Extranets can be used to securely share documents and files with suppliers, partners, or customers.
- Collaborating on projects: Extranets can be used to securely collaborate on projects with suppliers, partners, or customers.
- Sharing customer data: Extranets can be used to securely share customer data with suppliers, partners, or customers.
- Sharing product information: Extranets can be used to securely share product information with suppliers, partners, or customers.
- Managing supply chain: Extranets can be used to manage the supply chain securely.
- Customer self-service: Extranets can be used to provide customers with a self-service portal.
Benefits of Using an Extranet
Businesses can benefit from using an Extranet in many ways. Here are some benefits of using an Extranet:
- Extranets improve communication and collaboration. Extranets can help improve communication and collaboration between organizations by providing a central place for employees, partners, suppliers, and customers to share information and work on projects together.
- Increased efficiency. Extranets can help increase efficiency by making it easier for employees, partners, suppliers, and customers to find the information and resources they need.
- Reduced costs. Extranets can help reduce costs by eliminating the need for paper documents and physical meetings.
- Improve customer service. Extranets can help improve customer service by providing a central place for employees, partners, suppliers, and customers to share information and work on projects together.
- Enhanced security. Extranets can provide enhanced security by using the public internet to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, or customers.
Example: Partner Product Information Extranet
Weyerhaeuser.com makes hundreds of products for the building industry that have complex features and specifications. Picking which type of manufactured lumber is the correct choice for a given application requires a great deal of knowledge about a constantly changing range of products.
Weyerhaeuser used Concrete CMS to build a large marketing site sharing as many resources as they can about their products. They also built a native iOS mobile application that connects to the website to get access to a complete document repository. Users have to create an account to access this data, which they can then organize into binders for projects. 3rd party sales reps can put together packages for specific projects, making it easier to close more deals. Authentication is easy. Much of the content is available without login on their website, but using the app requires users make an account. Weyerhaeuser can see analytics data about who is using the system and use that to drive their own sales efforts.
Intranet and Extranet: which is right for your business?
The answer to this question depends on the type of problem you’re trying to solve. Not all company information should live on the Internet, but you can create some dramatic efficiency improvements by taking a more open approach.
If you are not sure where to start, we can help. We’re always happy to hear about your project ideas and suggest different ways you might achieve your goals within different budgets.