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A company extranet: A key platform for improving business processes and relationships

5 minutes read - Technology
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If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how to quickly implement new platforms to keep businesses running and employees efficiently. The digital surge during COVID-19 inevitably incited a meteoric rise of both intranets and extranets to keep communications flowing between employees, departments, partners and customers.

While the past few years have forced IT teams and their third-party collaborators to adopt new technologies for better collaboration, the widespread use of these intranets and extranets, companies are now aiming to optimize their functionalities even more in order to mitigate some of the pitfalls and clunky user experiences that initially challenged adoption and prevented maximizing use.

Initially, companies focused on the inside, meaning designing robust intranets that would maintain, if not elevate, employee efficiency. Then, developers got to work on extranets to connect employees with vendors, suppliers, customers and other businesses.

Despite initial hurdles, intranets fostered an ever-increasing strong collaboration. However, there remains a much-untapped potential for extranets and their tremendous positive impact on business processes and relationships—as well as a company’s bottom line.

Let’s take a look at how a new generation of extranets can unlock hidden opportunities.

Better systems integration

From their nascency, extranets were created for very specific functions, such as order-placing, access to product information or account data, billing, etc. But many businesses are now looking to provide end-to-end workflows and experiences for their third-party users. Rather than go down the rabbit hole with just one or a few functionalities, extranets are broadening their reach to streamline all types of processes so that partners, vendors and customers can conduct business with minimal friction. In turn, a company’s “extranet 2.0” can significantly reduce administrative workload, processing times and overall labour costs. Faster response times and automated processes with less human error will make for increased satisfaction.

Elevated user experience

An optimal and engaging user experience is the holy grail for any developer creating an extranet. In fact, without a user experience that is designed specifically for how third parties carry out business with a company, an extranet can quickly become useless. Negative dwell times. Incomplete orders. Constant support emails and calls. Dissatisfaction. The list goes on and on for a poorly thought-out extranet. And because uses are so ingrained in experiencing easy and fluid experiences with technology platforms, they will probably skip the extranet altogether. As with all other CAPEX investments, the extranet’s ROI can take a profit-busting plunge if an extranet fails across the board.

However, if businesses take a more collaborative approach upstream to upgrading their extranet, involving partners and customers in the design of the user experience flow, an extensive and consistent user is likely to follow.

A new level of communication and collaboration

More mature extranets include communication and collaboration tools between businesses, their customers, and partners. These centralized platforms enable information-sharing, such as product updates, promotional materials, industry news, and chat features for timely responses.

Furthermore, extranets are breaking down the silos in project management with internal and external stakeholders. On top of centralizing documents and providing real-time messaging, extranets have become true shared workspaces for projects, with task management embedded, scheduling, and updates embedded right in. This collaborative environment can result in more efficient and effective problem-solving, ultimately benefiting both parties.

Several companies are even developing several extranets for different business units, markets or geographical regions, with connectors to a main extranet, or hubs within one extranet with fewer “memberships” dedicated to specific functions. The main difference between the hub approach and original extranets with limited functionalities is that the hubs are nevertheless linked to a more expansive extranet design that addresses many of a company’s operational workflows.

Engaging customization and personalization

Another crucial advantage is the ability to customize and personalize an extranet experience based on a third party’s unique needs and preferences. By tailoring the content and features to their specific requirements using in-house or add-on enterprise search and relevancy software, businesses can create a more meaningful and relevant experience for their partners and customers. This level of personalization boosts efficiency and engagement, generating a stronger sense of loyalty.

Advanced security and confidentiality

With cyberattacks rising at break-neck speed, more and more companies are preferring data exchange through more secure environments than email or popular file-sharing applications on the Internet. Extranets can provide a secure environment for conducting business and sharing sensitive information with customers and partners. Through the use of encryption, secure socket layer (SSL) protocols, and other security measures, businesses can protect first- and third-party data to ensure that only authorized users have access to the network. Extranets can be less prone to vulnerabilities and compromising attacks when developed with the latest best cybersecurity best practices and constant cybersecurity awareness among all users. This level of security is essential for maintaining trust in the company’s ability to handle its information responsibly.

Unprecedented scalability and flexibility

Finally, extranets offer a high degree of scalability and flexibility for businesses and their third-party partners and customers. As a company grows, it can easily expand its extranet to accommodate more users, add new features, or integrate with other systems. This adaptability ensures that the extranet remains a valuable resource for internal and external users, regardless of the company’s size or changing needs. The notion of relevance is key here. The more relevant an extranet can be for suppliers or customers, the more likely they will remain entrenched in a company’s processes, increasing retention.

In conclusion, the importance and benefits of extranets for business relationships cannot be overstated. As companies continue to seek innovative ways to meet the ever-changing demands of their clienteles and partners, extranets will undoubtedly play an increasingly significant role in delivering superior customer experiences and driving business success. Embracing this technology is not only a strategic move but also an investment in fostering valuable relationships that can stand the test of time.

Contact Nexus Innovations to learn more.

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