As a followup to last week’s post, Why SharePoint is the Best Intranet, here’s why SharePoint is also the best extranet.
Partner collaboration, or B2B portals, are very valuable in helping reach and better communicate with your partners. SharePoint has traditionally been a fantastic platform for partner collaboration. Today it is used in all sorts of ways for collaborating with suppliers, partners and sales channels, and as contractor portals.
What is an extranet and why do I need one?
“Extranet is an intranet that can be partially accessed by authorized outside users, enabling businesses to exchange information over the Internet securely.” – Wikipedia
Flexible Authentication Methods
Most collaboration platforms only support their own method for authentication, meaning they don’t integrate with Active Directory and often don’t support forms-based authentication or claims-based authentication.
I’ve seen great examples of SharePoint configured claims to support Google authentication and Facebook authentication. If you’re familiar with SPSEvents.org, it is a SharePoint environment set up in that way. No need to create accounts for users, they can simply request an account and it is configured to support authentication through Google, Facebook, Windows live, or Yahoo.
Even the popular platform WordPress doesn’t give you that simple and flexible mode of authentication. For WordPress, all of the users need a WordPress account, and that account can be used across WordPress sites, which is nice, but not as nice as a single sign on solution backed by the 2 billion accounts that already exist in Facebook as an example.
The sharing feature in SharePoint allows you to share a file with someone inside or outside your organization so that they can contribute without having to jump through all of the infrastructure hoops to setup sharing.
SharePoint Platform features
There are a plethora of features in the platform designed for external collaboration and sharing of content gathering data through forms and more.
- News (check out the communication sites)
- Document libraries and Document Center
Other related Platforms
- Outlook Groups – group mail, groups, calendars
- Teams – chat, channels, live meetings, screensharing and more
And more features are coming.
External Groups and Community
Yammer is a very plug-and-play platform and external groups are fantastic for unstructured partner collaboration. You could easily create an external group for each partner, but you should be very cautious about putting too many partners in one big bucket without a good community manager. That goes for SharePoint too. You don’t just setup these platforms and hope that they work well. They must be well governed and lifecycle managed.
SharePoint has a number of features around auditing and reporting, but the actual web analytics you may be most interested may require a third party for the best reports.
There is simple web reporting in Excel for pages and documents. Popular documents and what’s new using search web parts can be put together along with a feed part to keep the site engaging.
SharePoint 2013 has a community feature that has a number of features in it for forums, but many of those features have been downplayed in the Microsoft roadmap, with Yammer and Teams playing the roll of chat and channels for more ad hoc sharing and collaboration. SharePoint is more structured and can be used to present up events, announcements, featured or filtered set of documents, images, and catalogs of rich products with some light development.
Flow and powerapps combined with SharePoint can create rich orchestration of workflows with other cloud apps and create forms solutions for gathering data.
SharePoint is a base platform that can be extended with products like Nintex which can take it tons further to support anonymous forms and mobile forms with offline capabilities.
This is just scratching the surface. SharePoint is a very rich platform and very popular for partner solutions.