Intranets VS Extranets – What’s the difference?

Axero intranet extranet

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What is the difference between intranet and extranet?

An intranet is a network where employees can create content, communicate, collaborate, get stuff done, and develop the company culture. An extranet is similar to an intranet, but also provides controlled access to authorized customers, vendors, partners, or others outside the company.

For many, understanding the difference between an intranet and extranet can be confusing—especially for those who have never used them before.

Intranet and extranet software supports two different areas in a business, but has similar goals: to improve how employees work with clients and each other. Sometimes they are combined in the same software, other times, separately.

Once integrated into a business model, these portals can make day-to-day activities more efficient, more streamlined, better connected, and more productive.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you plan on implementing extranet or intranet software, you need to understand how these platforms work, what their features do, and how they will benefit your business. The better you grasp these concepts, the more likely you’ll reap their advantages.

What is an intranet?

what is an intranet

The prefix intra means within or inside. Therefore, an intranet is the company’s digital workspace that centralizes and streamlines every person, document, tool, conversation, and project in your company.

The major difference from an extranet, however, is that an intranet is used internally. While an extranet allows businesses to communicate with clients and vendors, an intranet allows employees and colleagues to work together in a virtual space—for the most part, no outside parties are involved.

Businesses use intranet software for a variety of reasons—like extranet software, a company intranet streamlines daily activity, organizes people and data, improves internal communications, and increases employee engagement. It also solves many challenges for remote teams and large organizations by connecting staff with colleagues, information, and projects, no matter where they are.

Strong intranet software is packed with features that improve three main areas in your business: communication, collaboration, and connectivity. When you prioritize all three, your staff will work better, smarter, and happier. Let’s take a look at how these features work.

Bonus: Learn everything you ever wanted to know about intranet software in this  free download, What is an Intranet?

The benefits of implementing an intranet.

There are many reasons why it might be beneficial for your business to implement an intranet.

  1. Improved internal communication.
    Fluid conversation spurs creativity and productivity. Instant messenger, notifications, and spaces are specific intranet features that improve communication in the workplace across your entire company.

    business communication trends for 2022 - intranet chat platform

    Let’s say you’re in a meeting and your CEO has a question that a team member who is not present has the answer to…or maybe you need a document in the hands of a colleague but don’t have time to stop at his desk before a conference call. With instant messenger, you can ask your peer(s) instantly and directly without an email going unnoticed. You can even drag-and-drop files and create group threads.

    Accessing and dispersing department information is also important. With online workspaces, departments and internal groups have their own livable homes in your intranet. Everything imperative to that department—team members, documents, articles, news, etc.—exists in one dedicated area in your intranet and are shared directly with its members. Users receive alerts whenever a space moderator shares information—another method of communicating without sending emails that could get lost, unread, or take up unnecessary space.

  2. Efficient project management and workflow systems.
    Have you ever managed a project but had a difficult time tracking your team’s progress? It’s no secret: how your staff executes projects will effect your company’s overall success. An intranet will assist your employees and managers with every stage of a project through organized and easy-to-use features. If a director wants to assign a task, for example, he or she can alert team members within seconds and share assignment details. Every aspect of the project will be recorded in a task management tool and trackable through an activity stream.

    intranet and extranet - activity stream

    Team members can comment in discussion forums, digital workspaces, and files. So long are the days of confusion for team players and leaders. The intranet keeps everyone on track.

  3. Centralized information that connects members.
    The intranet becomes the ultimate company knowledge base where your entire staff receives company-wide announcements, asks general questions in Q&A forums, or accesses internal documents. By dispersing knowledge, you set every employee up for success. You also align staff with your company’s goals and people.

    intranet and extranet - document management

    The information you share must be useful, which means it must be relevant. Your intranet ensures content is both. Alert authors to update documents by specified dates, add expiration dates for content, and make sure employees are reading important information with a Required Reading tool (this feature notifies recipients when content is mandatory reading by prompting them to hit a “confirm” button after completion.) This way, you never have to worry if content is outdated or unread by teams. And your intranet is always the source for current and important information.

In short…

The intranet is your digital workplace where employees chat directly with colleagues, access department information, and collaborate on projects as efficiently and successfully as possible.

When you provide your business—no matter the industry—with modern tools to streamline these efforts, you create an informed and connected staff, which in turn, optimizes your company’s success.

For more details on intranet software, uses, benefits, and more, check out this article: What is an Intranet?

What is an extranet?

what is an extranet

If an intranet is a digital workplace for internal communications, an extranet is a digital platform used for external communications.

Think of it this way:

“Extra” refers to any contact or activity outside of your business, such as clients, vendors, and suppliers.

Therefore, an extranet is a private network where these individuals (clients, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc.) can communicate with you and your employees in a closed digital workspace. Extranet software serves an extremely important role, as it allows for private communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, document sharing, and data transfer between partners and organizations.

An extranet supports a variety of needs. Large volumes of data can be exchanged between parties via extranet software, for example, thus facilitating easy collaboration. These collaboration tools are particularly useful for companies that need to brainstorm or communicate frequently with clients and customers. It saves hours of time in comparison to email and telephone. Extranet software also monitors and fixes potential bugs or issues that can occur with a company’s products or services—almost like built-in quality control.

The benefits of implementing an extranet.

There are many reasons why it might be beneficial for your business to implement an extranet.

  1. Streamlines repetitive business processes.
    Let’s say you order from a particular vendor on a regular basis using email or phone as a conduit. With a well-designed extranet, all of your ordering can take place via your secured private network in a virtual space. Interactions with vendors occur in real-time, and you can store invoices, along with other pertinent information, in one place. This makes referring back to prior purchases easier. Storing everything in one virtual space not only saves time, but accelerates B2B interactions.
  2. Increases customer satisfaction.
    One of the key benefits of an extranet is the accessibility 24/7 for you and your clients to work together.

    intranet and extranet - discussion forums

    Clients and customers can upload documents, ask questions, or approve designs/concepts around the clock, thus breaking down the barriers often caused by different time zones and work schedules.

  3. Highly secure when properly designed.
    In some industries, such as the medical or insurance worlds, security is of the utmost importance and a breach could be disastrous. In many ways, email and other tools often used to transfer documents lack the security to avoid potential breaches. Modern extranet software is designed to ensure these concerns are not an issue and sensitive information is protected.

In short…

Extranet software plays an integral role for companies that conduct business with other organizations. Sharing large bulks of information, collaborating on projects, and discussing private information with individuals outside of your company can be done in one place. This streamlines projects and creates a pleasant experience for your clients and partners.

How to launch an intranet

Intranets and Extranets of the past vs. today.

Although intranet and extranet software is relatively new, these two mega platforms have advanced rapidly in the last 20 years.

Frontier Technologies was the first major company to release an intranet platform. It was back in 1996—seven years after the invention of the World Wide Web—when Frontier Technologies launched Intranet Genie. Intranet Genie was the first platform to combine document management and messaging for internal communication.

Though Intranet Genie was a revolutionary step in advancing how companies worked internally, it was a clunky platform, difficult to download and even more difficult navigate.

Intranets and extranets evolved from networks that were simplistic in design with minimal augmentation or tweaking capabilities. Companies and their clients or vendors could communicate and share small documents, but that was the extent of it.

So, what can you expect from your intranet these days?

business communication trends

To put it lightly, modern intranet and extranet platforms look and function entirely different than what existed years ago.

Today’s platforms are far more versatile and flexible. Intranet and extranet software has multiple communication options, project management tools, document storage, and integrations. In many ways, they’re becoming a B2B necessity that simply can’t be overlooked any longer.

Sharing large files is easier than ever, real-time conversations are possible, and two-way sync calendars keep everyone on the same page. Intranet and extranet software are full-fledged digital, interactive, collaborative communities for you and your customers. Every action is intuitive. Every feature supports your people.

Tying it all together with modern intranet software.

business communication trends for 2022 - intranet software - online workspaces

In the past, intranet and extranet software were two separate entities.

Multiple programs were typically involved, and getting them to communicate and integrate was next to impossible in many cases.

Today, intranet and extranet software live in harmony as part of modern intranet software—one of the biggest advancements to hit the professional sector in recent years.

One of the top benefits of intranet software is that it combines intranet and extranet into a single package, cutting out communication and integration issues of different software platforms. Platforms such as Communifire are equipped with features that enable collaboration with internal employees and external stakeholders.

This way, you can communicate with clients, vendors, employees, and colleagues all in the same place, which saves a great deal of time, money, and energy. Other internal processes such as sales and marketing are also incorporated, with the end result being a “one-stop-shop” digital workplace where you can address a variety of different business needs.

Intranet and extranet software are no longer mutually exclusive, and they’re highly beneficial when properly implemented. With intranet software, you can ensure that both internal and external processes are carried out in a smooth manner.

Learning how to use intranet software is easy, and the sooner you get started, the more your business will benefit. Download the free guide below to learn more about launching an intranet for your organization.

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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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