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To paraphrase John Donne, “no company is an island, entire of itself.” Instead, organizations need to interact with customers, partners, suppliers and other entities outside their corporate borders more than ever before. As a result, over the past decade we’ve seen a tremendous boom in technologies, such as extranets, that help organizations interact more efficiently and effectively across corporate boundaries. Typical implementations of extranets can range from supplier extranets to customer support extranets to citizens-oriented extranets (for government agencies) to many other kinds of deployment scenarios. The main commonality is that they provide access to data or applications that reside within an organization to external users or populations of users.

At the same time, organizations have been ramping up their investments in corporate portals and capabilities that allow them to consolidate and disseminate information and application access via consistent methods. With these concurrent but sometimes inconsistent approaches, perhaps it made sense to briefly explore the differences between building internal portals and building externally oriented portals or extranets. In addition, to round out the discussion, in my following column I’ll highlight a few of the extranet technology and business trends that ebizQ has identified in recent extranet research, including a brief overview of three of the key extranet and portal trends.

Let’s take a quick look at the first issue—the key differences between the overall requirements for extranets portals vs. the requirements for internally focused portals, such as the intra-company portals that many organizations have probably already deployed. There are many differences between extranets and internal portals but I’ll focus on four key ones. First off, there’s a difference in volume.

While it may seem obvious, extranets typically have to be designed to reach many more people. Since extranets interact with customers, suppliers, and partners, there can be considerably more users than on an internal portal. Thus organizations need to carefully consider the underlying portal architecture, the IT infrastructure required to support it, and other factors. For example, running an Internet banking portal with millions of users is much different than providing the latest HR documents to hundreds or even thousands of employees.

That larger user population also means greater variability. Since the users of extranets generally come from a much wider pool of people, there’s likely to be much more variability in the interface and computer that the user is employing. This means that a well-designed extranet needs to take into consideration a range of factors, including such things optimizing the user interface for different connection speeds and browsers, that may not have to be taken into account for strictly internal deployments.


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