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What is extranet and why does your company need one today

Extranet is not exactly a new concept. Still, it is not as popular as one might think, since not all companies have discovered its potential to elevate their business to another level. Simply put, an extranet is a private, password protected and controlled environment that can be accessed via the internet. The manager can decide who has access to it and to what parts, and each actor in the process may have different privileges in their area - whether just to visualize certain contents, or to edit, make changes and add new material.

An extranet is a secure space that you can access from outside your business - this is what the "extra" in the name refers to. This digital environment can be accessed by a number of stakeholders of your business, for example your all team, or just the vendors, customers, suppliers and basically anyone you grant to have access to certain kinds of content, materials and processes.

One of the most interesting features of an extranet is the fact that you can have different areas to different profiles. So, your commercial team may have access to all the contracts and deals, while your IT team will be able to see the tickets and requests in different projects. It all depends on who your players are and what makes sense for them to access, based on their attributions.

On your extranet, you can upload all kinds of content and materials and processes that are relevant to your company. Contracts, orders, news, reports, manuals, training material and whatever your personnel might need to keep operations running.

Today's market operates in a digitized and decentralized way, with many teams working remotely and in different geographies. This can be a challenging situation for managers and leaders, but an extranet offers a solution. Having a secure environment where you can concentrate all your key content and processes to be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection is a step further in your digital transformation process. Not only can it optimize your customer relations, it can also improve the communication through your entire company.

Extranet vs intranet: main differences
Being unsure about the differences of extranet vs intranet is very common. In fact, some of the functionalities of both intranet and extranet are similar, but these two platforms hold essential differences. Let us break each term, so that you have this clear once and for all.

Intranet
An intranet is a private, secure and controlled computer network that will only be accessible from within your company's boundaries and exclusively to those who work in your company. It is an internal communications tool that can only be used by the company's employees.

Extranet
The main difference here are the actors who have access to your platform. While the intranet is an internal communications tool, the extranet may be accessed from external stakeholders. This apparently small difference opens a number of new possibilities, since you can create areas for third parties and completely dematerialize your company's management and customer relations operations.

Example of uses for an extranet
In some industries, extranets are already very well established and represent a world of possibilities. In the following topics, we are going to analyze a few examples of different uses for this tool.

Companies that need a channel to communicate with their customers
It is a very common thought that digital and innovative solutions are tools accessible only to big companies. However, the truth is almost all companies must communicate with their customers, and having a secure and dematerialized environment to do so can make all the difference on the operational level. 
An extranet is a tool that can be used by any company, no matter how big or small, to improve their relationship with customers and other stakeholders. On this channel, your client can place orders, monitor their requests, sign and see contracts and much more.  This is a way to build a more transparent relationship with your customer and, at the same time, a tool that will allow you to manage your customer relations in a more efficient way.

Internationalized companies
If your company has offices in different geographies - or if you plan to internationalize your business -, having a digital environment where all your teams can have access to important documents is vital. 
An extranet brings a number of benefits to companies in this situation. First of all, the communication is much faster and efficient, since you don't depend on numerous emails that may get lost in people's inboxes. What's more, you can have a client's area, where your clients will have access to all the relevant information in their relationship with the company - and it can be accessed from virtually anywhere on the planet, which increases your business opportunities. 
Another great advantage of this tool is that it can actually represent an economy to your company. With a dematerialized network, you can have your teams working remotely most of the time. This will reflect on smaller needs when it comes to office space and services.       

Schools and universities
Many education companies and organizations nowadays use an extranet as a platform for students and teachers. In this platform, teachers can upload support materials for classes, directions for papers and projects, videos and also notes about the subject and the organization of classes. 
The students, on the other hand, can share their homework, papers and projects, create a learning diary, communicate with their classmates about relevant themes. 
It is also possible to create an area for the administrative staff of the school or university, where they will be able to access all documents from students, other departments in the organization and from partners.

Municipal Chambers
Public bodies have many publics with which they must interact. There are suppliers that need to know information about their contracts and see in real time what the demands are; residents who must have access to a number of data and services that could be optimized with some digital support; there is the staff, who need centralised and organised data to be more productive in their functions. 
An extranet can provide this kind of support. It is possible to create a residents' area where they will have access to the most frequently asked services without having to actually go to the chamber. Also, the agency can create different areas for their suppliers, for the employees and any stakeholders that are involved in the body's work.

Laboratory or clinic
If you own a clinic or a medic laboratory, an extranet can be particularly helpful to your business. There, you can have all your patients' protocols, prescriptions, exams and notes. The patient can also have access to relevant documents of their own medical history. 
So, let's suppose a patient went to your clinic and was diagnosed with diabetes. The clinic's nutritionist can access the patient's records and prescribe a personalised diet, and the patient can access it without having to physically go to the clinic once again. Also, they will have all their medical history a few clicks away, which can be very helpful in trips, for example.

How to implement an extranet in your company? 

There are a few steps you should take before hiring or implementing an extranet, which we are going to explain in the next topics. Read on.

Define the purpose
By now, you probably already understood what is an extranet and how powerful this tool can be. However, for you to take the most out of it, you must have a good plan. So, the first step is to define the purpose of your extranet. 
Who will have access to it, to accomplish which tasks, what is the scope of your platform, how are you going to manage the content you upload there, what are the main security challenges are some of the questions you have to think about.

Decide on the features
After setting the purpose of your extranet, you will need to decide on which features you will want it to have. Since this is a highly customizable tool, you can think of your company's needs and feature the tool to your context. Here are some functionalities you might have:

User friendly interface; 
Customer area; 
Documents and materials; 
Onboarding environment for new hires; 
Training area;
Discussion forums.

Technical aspects
An extranet will require some infrastructure in terms of software, hardware and also human resources. This is why most companies decide to commission the implementation to a partner, who will design, host and also maintain your extranet. 
Helping clients with their web based technological needs is what Scriptor Server does best. Created by Viatecla, a Portuguese company with over 25 years of experience in web based technologic solutions, it works both as a BPMS (Business Processes Management System) and CMS (Content Management System). The software helps you create an online environment that will improve the management and communication of your entire company.    
Scriptor Server's extranet is a low code solution that can be easily customizable. What's more, it responds promptly to any changes your company may need to perform. With a user friendly interface, your teams won't need much training to start using it.

Tell us your needs, and we will be glad to co-create a customized solution with you!  

Pedro Seabra
CEO, Partner and Co-founder
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