Intranet and Extranet Explained - The Differences and Benefits

Intranet and extranet are two types of network. They differ from the Internet, also known as the World Wide Web, which is the global public network which people all around the world connect to.

Intranet

You'll most often encounter an intranet in the workplace, particularly in medium to large companies or organizations such as schools, hospitals and other such places. An intranet uses exactly the same technologies as the Internet itself uses. You access webpages through web browsers and, for the most part, it works just like the Internet. However, an Intranet is a private network which is cut off from the global web.


Intranets are used for keeping employees, students, or anyone else in the organization connected. Intranet administrators may, for example, publish webpages about company events, policies and newsletters. People with access to the private network will be able to view these pages through a web browser, just as they would view a page on the regular Internet. An intranet may also include a variety of web-based applications to assist with organizational functions.


An internet is more secure than using the Internet itself for such situations, since it is typically completely cut off from the World Wide Web. It is protected by firewalls and those with access to it need to log on using a password and user name provided by the network administrator.

Designing Your Intranet: Determining What Information You Need to Provide

What do you think the reason is that companies have an intranet today? If you said to “share information”, you’d be right. But it’s not as simple as going out and buying a content management product and then posting a bunch of information. You need to ask yourself (and your employees) some very important questions when you get started and constantly re-ask them throughout the life of your intranet.

Who is the Audience?

You are likely to have more than one audience. Employees are an overall audience, but then if you look closely, you should be subsets within this core audience. For example, managers, sales representatives, call centre operators and help desk personal are all audiences with unique information needs.

What do they need to know (to do their jobs)?

Take each of your defined audiences and ask them questions. What information do they need to do their jobs? You’ll likely get a list a mile long for each audience. Try to get some degree of priority of the information to help you prioritize later on.

What do they want to know?

There are going to be areas on the intranet that contain information that is not applicable to a specific job function. Payroll information, statutory holidays, the weather, cafeteria menu, these are all examples of things employees want to know and see on the intranet.

Who owns the information you need to provide? Who knows it the best?

Find your information owners and the experts who know the material the best and how to explain it to online writers/authors or who can write it themselves. These people can help you answer the next two questions:

  • In what format(s) is the information available? Is the information available online already? Is it available externally on the internet somewhere? Is it on document format, audio, video? Knowing this helps you understand how easy it will be to migrate it to the intranet site. You can also determine if the intranet is going to be your record of source for this information going forward.
  • Does the information need to be updated? How often? Does the information need to be updated on a regular basis? Does it need to be updated before it goes on the intranet for the first time? Knowing that it needs work before can be made available to the audience helps you prioritize as does knowing how often it needs to be updated.

These are just some of the questions you need to ask and answer to plan your intranet. It’s important to provide the right information to the right people, in the right format at the right time. The best approach is to create a number of spreadsheets, one or more for each audience, and then start documenting the answers to these questions. These will very likely be living documents as information needs tend to change on a regular basis.

You also need to keep in mind that you can’t provide all the information immediately and get your intranet up and running quickly. You will need to prioritize the information that is provided and the functionality that is available, giving the most important information and capabilities first.

In some cases, information that is high profile but not necessarily required for a job gets put to the top of the pile. These tend to be quick wins to help gain support as you build the intranet. Asking these questions should help you prioritize the order of information availability.

Note that these questions can also (and should also) be asked when designing and maintaining your internet website. The answers will be different depending on the purpose of your internet, but the questions are the same.

Intranet and Extranet Explained - The Diferrences and Benefits

Extranet

Extranets are similar to intranets, although they take the whole concept a step further. While they are also separate from the Internet itself, extranets are intranets which are accessible to certain people outside of the company such as clients, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc.


In some cases, extranets are even shared among multiple organizations. Many organizations and public services use extranets. For example, a hospital may allow doctors working in separate branches or organizations access to its extranet in order to securely and efficiently exchange important data. The main advantage of this is that it is more secure than sending information over the Internet which is a public network.

Intranet and extranet also have their drawbacks. They often rely on software and web design standards which are programmed specifically for use on that network of that organization. Developers often make these applications with the intent of them lasting many years. Because of this, it's often necessary to use old, obsolete browsers which are still capable of rendering the old websites and running the old applications.

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