“An extranet just isn’t right for my company, my industry, my product, my service”, this or statements like this can be heard time and time again. Especially small and medium-sized companies are still struggling with the topic of extranets. The communication channels email, telephone and mail are too ingrained, and the time and outgoings needed to implement an extranet are too uncertain. An area with many misunderstandings.

But it’s actually quite simple – if you know where your company should start. We have collected a few use cases that should help show that professional extranets are worthwhile for many industries, products and services as well as for many medium-sized companies. Your employees will quickly notice how work is simplified and errors are reduced. At the same time, you will have more satisfied customers, partners and suppliers – a win-win situation.

Three fundamentally different extranet approaches:

a. Customer portal
This definition applies if the customers are business customers (in some cases private customers as well). Customer portals usually have the highest significance among B2B portals as they have a direct and measurable impact on business success. Companies can offer their customers direct added value. Customers receive up-to-date information (manuals, tips etc.), product descriptions (updates etc.), a virtual customer community or support services. In some cases, customers can even place orders directly here or view and track the current status of their orders. Sometimes, customer portals allow customers to customize their orders, such as product color, etc. This information can then be passed on to the production department in a fully automated process.

b. Supplier portal
This improves communication with suppliers. Information can be exchanged here. In addition, offers can be made or orders placed directly. As a result, the ordering process is simplified considerably. Depending on the portal, incoming communications can then be processed directly via automated processes.

c. Sales portal
This integrates internal and external sales partners. They can find information, access sales materials, order goods, apply for customer protection and much more.

The different approaches may overlap when it comes to the procedures and processes. For example, customers and sales partners can complete purchasing processes, or customers and dealers can download information material. Decisive factors include options to make detailed adjustments to the portal and a precise permissions management system. In principle, however, numerous use cases can be modeled.

Seven opportunities for your new extranet

1.) Sales and distribution networks
For companies that sell products through a sales network, it is important to maintain straightforward communication with suppliers and dealers. For example, the company’s marketing department can use the extranet to inform dealers about prices and new products. Queries can be made or marketing materials can be made available in one central location. In addition to the many advantages, centralized communication also guarantees compliance with the CI and uniform and therefore professional communication in general. Classic use cases are pharmacies but also office employees who order e.g. pharmaceuticals or office supplies from wholesalers via an extranet.

2.) Franchise companies
Due to the standardized processes and the uniform appearance, both visually and in terms of communication, franchise companies need to communicate branding and marketing approaches stringently across all licensees (cities, states, countries, etc.). Product information, manuals, operating instructions, new marketing signage, advertising instructions, corporate news, compliance and legal changes, food hygiene materials, health and safety guidelines and much more must be communicated clearly and always up to date. Without a centralized collaboration solution such as an extranet, this can be challenging and provides a major point of failure, which damages your image in turn.

3.) Authorities and public administrations
Authorities and administrations often work together – or at least should. To facilitate cross-hierarchical projects, they need a way to securely distribute and exchange messages. They traditionally use email or, in the worst case, the fax machine. An extranet provides them with technical possibilities to take collaboration to a whole new level. This makes it easier and more efficient to exchange information, and if automated processes are integrated, inputs can be processed directly. Especially as an interface between authorities and citizens, there are still many undiscovered opportunities here.

4.) Member associations, clubs, NGOs and charities
Clubs, associations and professional societies usually have internal staff and hundreds to thousands of members – sometimes worldwide. An extranet can be useful in many ways. Internally, staff can communicate on organizational matters, assign tasks related to services for members and keep members informed of news and changes in the association. Externally, members can participate in discussion forums, communicate with other members via social feeds and contact internal staff on membership issues. Especially the social component in the form of a closed social network provides communication-heavy organizations with the ability to communicate securely and to receive all released materials in a central location. Additionally, in the NGO and charity sector – which may involve events, financial contributions, donations, etc. – clear and above all legally compliant communication is extremely important.

5.) Tax and financial advisors
Only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Taxes are an annually recurring and very unloved topic. Many unenthusiastic taxpayers appreciate the help provided by an (extranet) portal. Documents, inquiries, queries, up-to-date legal information, invoices, etc. – all this information can be managed centrally in one place. And it doesn’t matter whether tax clients upload their documents to the portal or whether the tax advisor communicates the latest regulations to his clients in a target group-oriented manner. Especially financial documents require a highly secure solution and a strong relationship of trust.

6.) Reseller and booking portals
Umbrella companies such as hotel and vacation portals use extranets to provide their members with a convenient overview of all the important information they need for their bookings. This way, user can directly manage their rooms and holiday apartments including all information, photos, special offers, etc. and directly see all bookings of their guests. At the same time, useful analyses of performance, sales, tips and tricks can be provided, and automated message templates can be created. Consequently, the portal offers all the necessary settings that hotel managers need to provide their end customers with a professional service. If there are any questions, the internal messaging system allows users to contact the portal contact persons directly.

7.) Board and committee portals
Within a corporate network, there may be groups that are connected to the company but are not employees. Management boards, supervisory boards, unions, industrial councils, all these stakeholders have slightly different communication and security requirements than regular employees. And depending on the size and structure of the company, it can make sense to outsource this communication, including the relevant documents, to an extranet.

Extranets always provide enormous advantages when a lot of information of all kinds must be exchanged with external stakeholders long-term and in a secure environment. Standardized processes and allowing everyone involved to access the respective information not only accelerate processes and avoid errors but also increase the satisfaction of everyone involved.


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