Let’s face it: Technology can be confusing. It doesn’t help when it all sounds the same as well—intranet, extranet… internet! We’re here to clear up a bit of the confusion and set the record straight on intranet vs extranet. We’ll outline what each system is, what their core similarities and differences are, and when a business should be using each. Hopefully, this sheds a bit of light on the concepts and knocks one thing off the list of misunderstood jargon. The better these technologies are grasped, the better they can be put to use to increase your business’s performance.
Understanding The Basics Of Intranet vs Extranet
First things first—what do each of these terms mean? Here’s a quick overview:
- Intranet: An intranet is essentially a software tool used for everything from your office’s water cooler chats, product information sharing, filing cabinet and noticeboard, just completely virtual and accessible from anywhere. Companies typically use their intranet to enhance internal communication, increase staff engagement, and encourage collaboration within teams.
- Extranet: An extranet, on the other hand, is a tool used for collaboration between your business and a third party. It allows for information and file sharing, rapid communication and fluid collaboration. Typically, organizations will use an extranet for gaining efficiencies and adding value to customer and supplier relationships.
To boil things down regarding intranet vs extranet, an intranet is just for your internal people to use, whereas an extranet is for your people to use, as well as external people. Both have different key distinguishing features, which we look at in more detail below.
Finding Common Ground
Though intranets and extranets exist to perform different functions, they do have several similarities. Ultimately, this stems from the fact that extranets are in some cases an expanded form of intranet.
Firstly, they both exist to drive collaboration. Intranets are designed to make it easy to communicate with your internal staff easily and for them to communicate amongst themselves as well. By providing one, uniform platform where all communication can occur, leadership teams are able to broadcast their messages more effectively. Separate team pages enable collaboration on particular projects in real-time, with instant chat and file sharing easy to use. Extranets function in a similar manner to encourage collaboration. Instead of having messy email chains and phone calls bouncing back and forth, companies can collaborate with their customers and suppliers in a much more effective manner, doing all their communication in one place. Information and files can be shared and stored within the extranet, increasing access to knowledge for both parties.
Secondly, both technologies share the benefit of being accessible remotely. For intranets, this dramatically increases the ability for organizations to maximize the efficiency of field staff, who are able to log in to their intranet and access all the information they need to tackle an issue or project. As well as this, an intranet’s remote accessibility allows companies to offer flexible working hours for their employees, without worrying about a lack of engagement or ability to access information. Similarly, extranets enable third-party information and communications to occur on the fly. Both parties can log in to the extranet and access the information they need rather than having to wait and find the appropriate physical file or record. Ultimately, both technologies enable flexibility, convenience and efficiency through remote access.
Finally, when it comes to intranet vs extranet, both can in some cases boast impressive functionality that can streamline a range of common business processes. Intranets offer file sharing, a newsfeed, private team pages, a company calendar, information storage and much more. Extranets build on this functionality, offering high levels of data sharing. Though the intention of this functionality is somewhat different with each technology, both are capable of performing a wide range of tasks.
Aren’t They Basically The Same Thing?
A common misconception is that because intranet and extranet both sound the same, they basically all do the same thing. Well, yes and no—as we can see above, they do function in overlapping areas, but also have distinct differences, mainly focusing around intent.
To reiterate, intranets are usually designed purely for internal use only, whereas extranets are designed for use both internally and for collaboration with a third party such as partners or customers. This may seem simple enough, but it has a flow on effect to the other, more nuanced differences between intranets and extranets.
One of the big differences is around engagement. Arguably, this is the main focus of an intranet—engaging internal staff. Whether sharing celebration and competitions, communicating company-wide, arranging social events, employee recognition, or encouraging company-wide interactions, intranets are designed around staff engagement. They put the ‘social’ in business social networks, intending to increase organizational productivity, by increasing moral, clarity of mission/vision, and cross-functional relationships. Extranets, on the other hand, although still a fantastic tool for engaging with key third parties, primarily serve a more conservative business function. Their intent focusses on clear, efficient communication, and secure sharing of data, information and knowledge. Typically, their use of the other, more social functions is limited.
Flowing on from this, the focus of value is different between the two technologies. Extranet software exists essentially to add value to customers and suppliers. The increased visibility of information, reduction in errors and response time and various other functionality available, are all about providing a more efficient service within the relationship with a third party. Whereas intranets are much more internally focused, intending to add value to the organization itself, through improving communications and engagement.
Intranet vs Extranet – Which Option Works Best?
Now that we’re a little clearer on the functions, similarities and differences when it comes to intranet vs extranet, it’s time to choose which fits your business best!
This decision should be quite a straightforward one. Simply ask yourself: What are we trying to achieve here? Do we need to improve the way we interact with our customers and create a platform for communicating better and sharing large amounts of data, or should we be focusing internally, looking to drive employee engagement higher? If a more efficient, valuable relationship with a third party is what you’re after, then an extranet is likely the right solution for your business. However, if your staff are struggling to work remotely, and don’t have any real clarity on your organization’s values and mission, then an intranet will work wonders for your business.
Many companies find that implementing an intranet can be a great launching pad for moving towards a fully functional extranet. Because of the similarities and the importance of internal engagement, starting off with an intranet can get your team used to using such a tool, which then leads into a smooth transition when an extranet is set up.
Talk With The Experts Now!
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