Whether you’re at the start of your intranet journey or well-versed in intranet software, the terminology can be confusing. This article outlines the differences between intranet vs extranet sites and highlights how to use both to benefit your organization.
Intranets have been in place, under one guise or another, since the widespread explosion of the internet in the late 1980s – 1990s.
Descriptions of intranets vary due to the vast range of functions and capabilities available. However, at their most basic level, a common definition of an intranet is that it is a private digital network, accessible only to an organization’s staff, and home to all the organization’s important knowledge and processes.
Intranets are most routinely used to:
- Communicate within a business: This includes top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer internal communications.
- Manage documents and business information: Intranets offer a centralized location to host, search, and access vital business content, such as HR policies.
- Facilitate common business processes: An intranet enables users to self-serve for many common business processes, such as booking holidays or reclaiming expenses. This reduces the workload for IT and HR and empowers users.
- Enable collaboration: Functionality such as team areas, discussion forums, blogs, and social media tools can support employees to work together effectively, regardless of their department or location.
- Support strategic business objectives: These may span improving employee engagement and morale, boosting company culture, increasing staff retention, or encouraging productivity and efficiency.
At their most basic level, intranets support employees to do their jobs. In an increasingly globalized workplace, they provide huge benefits by connecting employees across organizations and delivering the digital tools they need to perform and thrive.
From a strategic perspective, these benefits have a measurable impact on employee experience within the workplace. This can then enhance the experience employees deliver for customers, which contributes to business growth and success.
Before we give an extranet definition or explore the intranet vs extranet question, it’s worth touching on intranet portals as they are another term that frequently comes up for people researching new intranet software.
The difference between intranet and intranet portal is mainly semantics, so a good way to understand the distinction is to consider the definition of a portal in isolation.
The focus is on an opening that provides access. So, an employee intranet portal is really just part of how an intranet can be used rather than a separate category of software.
A well-deployed intranet will feature integrations with other software applications, so employees can log in to the intranet homepage and then have easy access to the systems they need. This may include document management systems, CRMs, HR software, or IT ticketing systems. When configured correctly, this will turn an intranet from a secure private network, into a secure network that allows access to other digital places through a single sign-on process.
This is all now standard in modern intranet solutions because employees have increasingly high expectations of the technology they use in the workplace. In fact, a trend towards improving employee experience in line with consumer-grade software has caused a shift in enterprise technology development in recent years.
The desire to improve user experience, maximize productivity, and support employees to collaborate now means that the ability for applications to seamlessly connect to other systems is top of the priority list for the C-suite.
Using your intranet as a portal to other business applications such as Workday, Zendesk, or Salesforce will empower users to access dashboards and applications quickly. By integrating your intranet with Active Directory or HR software, your intranet can also bring together all relevant employee information, connecting colleagues and supporting better communication and collaboration.
If an intranet serves to restrict important and confidential content to a core internal audience, an extranet permits controlled access to authorized external users to a company intranet.
Essentially, extranets take the concept of an intranet to another level, allowing customers, vendors, partners, or selected third parties access to a company intranet, or designated areas of it. Extranets offer the same benefits to users as an intranet: centralized hosting of content and information, ensuring a single version of truth and efficiency, and communication and collaboration tools.
How are extranets used?
An extranet can be extremely valuable in organizations where you need to share information or confidential data with a third party, by providing a more secure and efficient process than traditional channels, such as email.
For example, an organization can provide extranet access for a supplier to manage ordering, tracking, and inventory management, improving efficiency and lowering business overheads.
In a collaborative industry such as healthcare, extranets can be used to bring together different care providers or authorities to share best practices and improve patient care—all of which can still be managed and controlled in a secure environment.
If your organization is undertaking a project that requires input from third-party vendors, limited access can be provided to support efficient collaboration. With effective security and permissions settings, dedicated areas of your intranet can be opened securely to third parties, while protecting your company assets.
Intranet vs Extranet
So… what’s the difference?
As the digital workplace continues to evolve, more and more companies are bringing together dispersed or silo-ed employees and partners to communicate and collaborate more effectively.
As a result, intranets and extranets are being used by the world’s leading organizations to support business growth, company culture, and employee experience.