By Mark S. Merkow (Mark.Merkow@aexp.com)
As far as inter-company communication is concerned, there's never been a better time to be in business. By virtue of the Internet and Web technologies, companies are building intranets that reduce or eliminate problems they face with internal communications. The same technologies that work inside the company are just as effective between different companies too. Whether it's CAD files, purchase orders, design specs, payment instructions, or wherever information is present, extranets can easily handle it. Extranets have indeed arrived and may well mean changes to how you view your business relationships.
Bridging The Internet And The Intranet
The most commonly used definition of extranets involves building bridges between the public Internet and private corporate intranets."An extranet, a business-to-business network based on Internet network technology, will be one of if not the most exciting innovation in the next year. It will affect ISPs, it will affect consumers, it will affect cryptography" says Marc Andreessen, Netscape Communications Corp. co-founder.
An extranet can be viewed as part of a company's intranet that is made accessible to other companies, to the public, or comprises components that enable the collaboration with other companies.
The most famous example of an extranet is Federal Express' Tracking System (www.fedex.com). Through the Web, you can access FedEx's public site, enter your tracking number and locate any package still in their system. Their package shipping service (also available on their site) is nothing short of a stroke of brilliance. In a single session you enter all the information needed to prepare a shipper form, obtain a tracking number, print the form, and schedule a pick up. By getting their customers to do some of their work for them, their site serves as an example that's been followed by dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies.
Other uses of extranets include:
- Private newsgroups that cooperating companies use to share valuable experiences and ideas.
- Groupware in which several companies collaborate in developing new products or services.
- Training programs or other educational material that companies develop and share.
- Shared product catalogs accessible only to wholesalers or those in the trade.
- Project management and control for companies that are part of a common work project.
Comments are welcome
Created: Aug. 27, 1997
Revised: Aug. 27, 1997