Nowadays the terms intranet, extranet and portal are often used interchangeably. It can, therefore, be very confusing to work our exactly what the differences are, let alone decide which option is the best for your organization. In this article, we’ll help you to understand what the terms really mean and in what situations the technologies are best applied. You’ll then be able to make an informed choice as to the best option for you.
In a general sense intranets, extranets and portals are all online tools that will help to reduce the amount of time spent on completing everyday tasks, enhance productivity in the workplace and improve communications. Any business or industry can take advantage of the benefits that are on offer. There are, however, unique aspects to each option and so let’s look in detail at intranets, extranets and portals.
As the name suggests, an intranet is essentially an internal platform. It is a private, secured network accessible only to employees and is designed to facilitate connection, collaboration and communication as well as streamlined business processes. The average intranet will include a number of standard features such as a document management system, staff directory, company calendar, news blogs and newsletters. In fact, an intranet often quickly becomes fundamental to a company’s internal workings.
Businesses are using intranets for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to deal with a particular pain point such as improving internal communications, promoting opportunities for collaboration across a disparate workforce or increasing employee engagement. Often it’s in response to a general need to make it easier to communicate and share documents within the company, to streamline day-to-day activity and to help organize people and data.
Certainly since more and more work is now being carried out away from the traditional 9 to 5, centralized office set up, the intranet has really come into its own lately. The fact that staff members can still access the intranet and utilize all the tools and features while telecommuting, working remotely or in a different office location, and while representing the company out on the road is a real boon to productivity. It’s also a very attractive proposition for those companies that want to offer workers flexibility and a better work/life balance while also maintaining company profits.
Unsurprisingly, an extranet is a private network that is designed for your company and staff members to share information and data with specified external parties in a closed, virtual space. These external parties could be customers, vendors, suppliers, etc. And so an extranet can be used for private communication, collaboration, as well as knowledge and document sharing. But perhaps the best application of an extranet though is for transferring data between organizations. Extranet access is different to the intranet which means that external parties will not have access to confidential internal information and data.
Businesses have found a variety of uses for extranets: from the university or college utilizing an extranet for the payment of fees and sharing of information with students and parents, to the car manufacturer using an extranet to enhance collaboration and communication with suppliers thereby streamlining the supply chain and saving many dollars. Extranets are also a great option for companies that need to share information backwards and forwards with clients and customers – such as a graphic design company, accountants or law firms – as it will save valuable time and resources in comparison to the more traditional media of emails or phone calls.
From a customer’s perspective an extranet offers the potential for more direct, personalized and responsive customer relationships with your business. They will be able to communicate directly with you and can have real two-way conversations. And from the point of view of business partners or suppliers, extranets allow for the easy transfer of information and data and are a great vehicle for collaboration and joint working. They will save time and will help to cut down on the email and paper trail, making both parties more efficient and effective.
A portal is a gateway or window that allows you to interact with enterprise systems and applications. As well as bringing together your intranet and extranet, a portal can also connect you to external enterprise systems and applications as well as access to selected public websites and vertical-market websites (suppliers, vendors, etc.). Common enterprise systems that portals connect to include human resources and customer relationship management software. It is perhaps the most comprehensive option available as it brings together in one platform all the systems and information that your employees refer to on a daily basis without the need to log in and out of multiple applications or remember countless passwords. It will save your staff members time and allows for a seamless, self-service approach.
From banks and accountants to colleges, universities and healthcare providers, even childcare centers, a great many businesses and industries are utilizing portals, particularly in response to the challenges of information management that exist in all organizations. The single-sign on and integrated nature of the portal appeal to many companies, especially those that make use of multiple systems and apps. Many portals also offer the possibility of customization and personalization for staff members. So instead of every employee accessing the full range of tools and apps that are available through the portal, they can customize it to those that are pertinent to their role or team. The ability to provide a streamlined, coherent working environment in this way is a powerful concept in today’s complex business environment.
The Best Option?
As we’ve seen, when it comes to intranets, extranets and portals there are some features that are common across the platforms, and there are others that are specific. Which option is the best one for your organization will largely depend on what your objectives are. It’s important to remember, however, that the options are not mutually exclusive. In fact, increasingly companies are utilizing software that seamlessly combines two or more of the options into one integrated digital platform. The end result is the same though: a more productive and efficient workplace.
If you would like to find out more about intranets, extranets or portals then get in touch with the expert team at MyHub for an informal discussion.