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If you want to remain competitive these days, nothing’s hotter than staying in touch with your customers and the market. That’s why many organizations have placed a real focus on building up their extranet capabilities—they’re trying to use technology to help not only provide information to their customers, suppliers or partners, but they’re trying to build and extend business processes through extranets that can make it easier, faster, and more efficient to complete all types of business processes.

In our last column, we explored a few key differences between traditional intranet portals and extranet portals. Now, let’s take a look at some of the trends driving underlying changes in extranet technologies and infrastructure capabilities. I’d like to highlight three main changes (of course, there are a number of other ones occurring at the same time).

The first change is that extranets are becoming more process oriented. In the past, many organizations viewed extranets as a way to disseminate information or push information out to selected populations. While that’s certainly still an important function, extranets are not just for disseminating information or sharing documents with external users. Instead, extranets and extranet portals are taking on process capabilities, so that they can help implement processes that were previously handled piecemeal or done independently and manually by employees. In other words, process-oriented extranet portals can simplify external interactions and include them as part of a larger business process. They streamline an organization’s processes, reduce errors and make it simpler for both internal and external employees to interact with each other.

The second change that we’re seeing is that extranets are becoming a key component for analyzing customer needs and market directions. Extranets are often a key interaction point for customers and partners with a company and as a result they can help drive important analytics and analysis. In many companies, sales, marketing and business line management are using the wide range of data and usage information that are generated by an external portal. Such analysis can help business process owners understand their audience better, while web statistics can help IT understand usage patterns and allocate resources. For example, a manager might want to analyze what types of customers are accessing a company’s support site or what pages they’re using.


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