If you are considering introducing an extranet into your business, make sure that it is flexible enough to meet your current needs, as well as any future requirements as your business grows.
Purpose of your extranet
An extranet can add value to your business by helping you communicate and collaborate more effectively with clients, customers, and partners. See what is an extranet.
However, before you set out to create an extranet site, you must consider some important. For example, you should:
- define the purpose and intended audience of your extranet
- determine what return on investment you expect
- develop a content management strategy
- consider security issues and threats
Make your project objectives clear from the start. Ask yourself:
- Will you restrict access to your site, or will you allow all of your customers to use it?
- Do you want to promote flexible working by catering to your remote workforce?
- How will you measure the success of your investment?
Decide which extranet features to include
Extranets can take different forms. Depending on who your users are, you may want to include a different set of features in your extranet. Some common elements include:
- search functionality
- easy to use interface
- web-based access
- self-service applications
- discussion forums
- content or links aggregation
Think about the type of information and content you wish to offer to the extranet users. For example:
- company policies, news, forms and corporate branding
- a shared online document library
- information about the services or products that you provide to customers, eg service manuals, marketing materials, product galleries etc
- online tools, such as product registration, warranty claims etc
Technical considerations for extranets
To host and manage your extranet in-house, you will need:
- webserver hardware and software - the size of the server will depend on the number of potential users and whether or not you will need a lot of bandwidth to support audiovisual content, eg video feeds
- computers connected via a local area network - a closed, private network
- firewall software and hardware - to prevent unauthorised access from outside your organisation
- a content management system - to add and update intranet content
Alternatively, you could commission an external provider to design, maintain and 'host' your extranet for a monthly fee. In this case, users will log on to the extranet via the provider's website. This may be suitable if your business is just starting up.
Find out how to choose an internet service provider for your business.
Extranet support costs
Running the extranet site on a day-to-day basis may incur certain costs. For example, you may require technical support or additional staff to help you manage the extranet content.
Remember that security is paramount since any security incident will directly affect you as well as your key business partners. You should establish what levels of security are provided when choosing a technology solution. Read about IT security.