Exercise an Extranet

An extranet is a private network that uses Internet technology and the public telecommunications system to securely share part of a business’s information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers or other businesses.

Why Consider It?
When properly deployed, an extranet can add value to your company by helping communicate and collaborate more effectively with clients, customers and partners. In our “Time is Money” business environment, extranets can be a solution to streamlining traditional business functions.

Save Time
Given the opportunity and tools, customers can be their own best customer service representative. Sure it seems impersonal, but it’s proving to be a reality. An extranet allows customers to do what they want, when they want. Whether it’s placing an order, looking for an invoice copy or tracking a backorder, it can be done without you lifting a pencil or, more important, a phone. Most companies experience a substantial reduction in customer support phone calls following a successful extranet launch. However, like any service, it needs to be properly marketed and supported.

Reduce Errors
Extranets can reduce data entry errors, especially when used to extend internal applications. This could involve something as simple as giving customers access to order histories and the functionality to develop a point-and-click order list. How many phone calls are made as the result of an unreadable fax or illegible handwriting? Eliminating manual entry is eliminating chance for error.

Extranet Diagram


Gain Flexibility
When you use an extranet to make information and applications available to customers, everyone can operate when and where it’s most convenient. Let’s face it, technology has turned us into the “I WANT IT NOW” generation. An extranet is the perfect solution to the instant gratification problem.

How Do I Get One?
Chances are, your software provider offers a bolt-on extranet application. The key to a successful extranet launch is seamless integration to the business system. Consequently, your software provider has a leg up on getting you there with the least amount of pain. If your current provider has no solution, there are oodles of third-party providers that can get you started. Google search “extranet software” and take your pick.

Add Visibility
An extranet is a peep hole through which the customer can view whatever you decide should be visible. With visibility comes risk. Exposing your internal data to the outside world can be a scary thought. If your current data is inaccurate or confusing to you, imagine the likely frustration for the customer. House cleaning can be a formidable task in a successful launch. If customers are allowed to view your internal data, it’s imperative the data are accurate and meaningful.

Attain and Retain Customers
The bottom line: An extranet makes it easier for your customers to do business with you. Early extranets were considered a luxury. Today, they come closer to being a requirement. The more you make timely, accurate information available to your customers, the more likely it is you’ll get, and keep, their business. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Doug O'Dell Meet the Author
Doug O’Dell, technology director at Linweld, Inc., is a member of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee.