Benefits of an Extranet for Your Business

1st August 2016

According to a 2014 study by the CIPD, client perception in certain areas was a key part of a business being successful.  The values that clients felt were most important in their business partners were accountability and transparency.  This means being able to communicate well with clients to provide them with the information that they require in a timely manner.

Historically, most client reporting required a good deal of manual input throughout the process, and needed a lot of staff input for sign off, but in a modern business setting, where timely provision of intelligence is essential, the ability to automate the process of reporting core data is useful.  As a result, service businesses are increasingly adopting extranets for client reporting that provide all the information a client needs online so that it can be accessed in real time.

An Extranet using SharePoint provides a number of benefits to an organisation – in some cases, beyond basic reporting functionality.  The ability to customise permissions for different user levels in a partner organisation means that the Extranet can act as a resource hub for everything from client reports through to specific documentation.  This streamlines the overall communication between parties, and reduces the need for reliance on internal team members to provide documentation on demand.

A solid extranet can combine a number of features that enable better communication.  It can act as a news hub containing information about the business that partners might find useful.  This can streamline communication between parties and ensure that clients are fully engaged with important developments in the relationship.

An extranet can also be configured to incorporate real time reporting on what actions are taking place on a project.  This means a client can see the current status of any work that is being undertaken and provide feedback as and when required.

One of the most important features of any extranet is the ability for two-way communication in a way that is fully audited.  Rather than relying on email, where messages are often not tracked, communication via a SharePoint intranet can be used to set off specific workflows – for example an escalation process might automatically trigger internal meetings and provide a set of requirements for management to follow up on.

Using an extranet as a content and contact hub provides easy access to all members of a team for both sides – a directory function can be implemented, along with information about staff availability during periods of leave.  This means that a client will always have access to an informed member of their team.

A web based extranet built in SharePoint can be fully branded to match corporate identity, and incorporate all of SharePoint’s functionality to enable better sharing, permission setting, and user management.

With fully responsive master page designs, clients are able to access information about the relationship at any time, and from any device.  This can really improve the way in which information is shared between parties, and increase the ability a company has to deal with communication issues.

Reporting on Reports

Additionally, an extranet can be configured to incorporate sophisticated usage reporting with services such as Google Analytics.  This provides the owner with the ability to review engagement data and to see whether services are being used correctly, and by which members of the partner organisation.

This usage reporting can be developed to provide insight into the way in which clients prioritise information and then fed back into the design as it would be with a regular website to provide an ever improving user experience.

Planning an Extranet

When planning an extranet for your organisation, it’s essential to invest time in understanding the precise requirements of clients as well as those of internal stakeholders.  We’d recommend including clients in the initial workshops in order to get their feedback on what information they will actually value being able to access through the service.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the information that needs to be included, the development process should involve an audit of how that information can be collected internally to be exposed through the Extranet.  This may involve the creation of multiple workflows and sign off processes internally, as well as some investigation through the development team to ensure that the desired information is accessible.

the build process for the extranet will normally fall into two main sections: the actual technical development phase in which the specification will be agreed and enacted, followed by a branding exercise to bring the user facing design in line with your overall corporate identity.  This may involve stakeholders from various areas of your organisation including marketing, client services, and also technical development.

Ongoing Support

The primary goal of the Extranet is to enable clients to access information in a timely manner while freeing up internal staff from additional communication.  With this in mind, a robust technical infrastructure is essential.

Cloud Hosting for SharePoint or using SharePoint Online will help to give a more robust platform for access – ensuring that at times of peak demand such as the beginning of the month there are no outages or unnecessary slowdowns that might undermine end user confidence.

At igroup we provide ongoing technical support for SharePoint and supported applications to give our clients confidence that their clients will be able to access their extranet data simply and effectively when they need to.

For more information about how a SharePoint extranet can benefit your business, and to discuss your needs with a member of our consulting team, please contact us today on 0207 099 0632, or visit our Extranet and SharePoint development pages to read more about the way we work and help our clients to get more out of SharePoint.

 

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