In today’s age of remote work and flexible working environments, virtual collaboration has become more important than ever—and organizations are looking for tools to foster better communication and maximize knowledge sharing and community management within those environments. According to a recent TechRepublic survey, collaboration platforms are primarily used for connecting remote workers (91%), improving communication between coworkers and managers (84%), team management (61%), and project management (54%).
While the intranet is a go-to tool for managing internal communication between employees within an organization, an extranet is equally beneficial to exchange knowledge and ideas outside of an organization.
An extranet is an incredibly useful tool—but only if you know how to use it. Let’s take a look at five best practices to create an extranet for your organization—and foster better communication and knowledge management with your external partners in the process:
Define the purpose of your extranet
The first step to creating an extranet is to understand what it is, what it can be used for, and who will ultimately use it.
According to Gartner, an extranet is a controlled, private network that allows third-party partners to gain access to specific information, data, or communication features—without granting access to an organization’s entire network. Depending on your organization’s needs, there are several types of extranets. For example, a project extranet may be used when several stakeholders both internal and external, are involved in a campaign or initiative—and one streamlined platform is needed to manage timelines and share information.
Or you might need an extranet to securely share sensitive information with an external partner (and vice versa)—for example, clients sharing their credit card information to process invoices or your organization sharing financial data with a tax consultant.
Extranets are also an excellent tool for establishing communication guidelines and timelines. For example, let’s say your company sells products through a distribution network—and you need to maintain clear communication with your suppliers and distributors. With an extranet, your marketing department can use an extranet to update distributors on appropriate pricing, share new product information, and answer questions—all in one central location.
Now that you understand what an extranet is—and how to use it—let’s jump into best practices for creating an extranet for your organization:
Decide which features to use
The key to success when creating an extranet is defining your objectives from the start—because knowing your objectives will help you determine what features and functionality you need from your extranet.
As mentioned, there are a variety of directions you can go with creating an extranet—so before you take any steps towards creating one, make sure to reflect on the main goals and tasks your extranet will need to support.
For example, let’s say you’re looking to use your extranet as a knowledge base, where both employees and customers can find more information about your products (like how-to guides or product specs). In that situation, you’d want to look for an extranet with a drive feature that allows you to easily store and share documents to build out your knowledge base.
Or let’s say you want to create an extranet to empower better communication between your team and your customers. In that scenario, you’d want to look for an extranet with a robust, easy-to-navigate chat platform.
The point is, the functionality you need from your extranet will determine what solution is the best for you and your organization—so make sure to decide on the features you want and need from your extranet from the get-go.
Ensure your extranet is secure
Security is an absolute must for any organization. Because data leaks and security breaches are a serious threat, companies need a way to safely store and share sensitive information and documents, both internally and externally. And, with the right extranet, they can find that safety and security.
Look for an extranet that comes equipped with customizable security features—like personalized sharing options that allow you to control who has access to what information.
For example, let’s say you’re working on an upcoming marketing campaign and are building out your logo and visual design assets with external agencies. An agency that’s developing the branding and logos will need direct access to company brand guidelines—information that can be securely shared through the extranet. But a different agency that’s partnering with you on promoting the campaign may not need the same levels of access. With varying permission levels and customizable sharing access, you can choose what each external stakeholder sees, and update sharing controls as needed—which puts you in control and helps keep your company information safe and secure.
Keeping your data and information safe is a must—and the right extranet delivers the security you need to achieve that level of safety.
Take your extranet mobile
As more and more companies expand into a virtual workforce—and teams are spread across cities, countries, and the world—having mobile access to work materials is an absolute must. (Currently, over 75% of U.S. employees use their mobile devices for work purposes.)
And so, a definite best practice you’ll want to consider when you create an extranet? Making sure your employees can access the extranet—no matter where they are and what device they’re using.
Being able to access and share data on your phone, tablet, or other mobile device is key to more efficient collaboration. For example, let’s say one of your clients has an urgent request—but their internal contact is at an appointment when the request comes in. If the employee doesn’t have mobile access to the extranet, their contact won’t see the request or be able to respond, which could strain the relationship.
Or let’s say one of your employees is on vacation and meets a potential new client. If they have mobile access to the extranet, they could easily access and share relevant sales materials—and potentially close a deal. But if they don’t have access to the extranet, it’s a missed opportunity.
Bottom line? In today’s work culture, a huge percentage of work takes place on mobile devices—so if you want to get the most out of your extranet, make sure it has mobile access.
Create the best extranet for your organization with Talkspirit
Clearly, extranets can benefit your organization—but only if you have the right technology.
And that’s where Talkspirit comes in.
Talkspirit is an all-in-one collaborative work solution that gives teams and employees the tools they need to do their best work—including a chat platform, an internal drive, project management and collaboration features. And because Talkspirit allows organizations to invite external stakeholders as guests, it also can act as an extranet—allowing organizations and their clients and customers to streamline communications, better organize their projects, and collaborate more effectively.
Want to learn more about how Talkspirit can help you create the right extranet for your business? Schedule a demo today!
Author : Deanna deBara