How to Build an Extranet in SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint is one of the more popular intranet platforms on the market, used by organisations across the world. As an intranet, SharePoint improves collaboration and communication and removes obstacles to productivity, all through the lens of employee experience. With a suite of Microsoft 365 add-ons and features ready to be deployed, SharePoint is a gateway to the internal digital workplace. But did you know that you can also build an extranet in SharePoint and Office 365? 

Extranets are not a new concept – they’ve been around since the nineties., As SharePoint has advanced as a collaboration tool, organisations are recognising its potential as an extranet platform, too. If your organisation would benefit from more involved collaboration with external parties, we’ll explain how building a SharePoint extranet will help.

What is an extranet?

Intranet, internet, and now extranet? As similar as they sound, each serves a unique purpose. Put simply, an extranet lives somewhere between an intranet and the internet. An extranet is , like an intranet, that offers restricted access to external visitors who are required to sign in.. Where an internet website can be viewed and interacted with by any visitor, an extranet is typically invite-only. 

It is separate from the intranet where an organisation’s important and sensitive information is stored. However, an extranet allows for external parties to have select access to the information they need to work with you. Some organisations may call this a client or contractor portal.

Why build an extranet in SharePoint Online?

It’s no secret that communication is the key to a healthy relationship. That sentiment is as true in the business world as any other. Establishing good communication and engagement minimises obstacles and streamlines processes. And like an intranet exists to improve your employees’ experience, and extranet serves the same purpose for external parties. 

SharePoint Online is a superior extranet platform for the same reasons it’s so popular for intranet sites. First and foremost is SharePoint’s high-end document management capabilities. Users can organise, store, and share documents, take advantage of document co-authoring and version control, and implement content governance. It also offers complex search capabilities and tagging, reducing the time spent navigating through pages to find specific files. 

Additionally, SharePoint offers greater access management to administrators. With just a few clicks, users can share documents with colleagues and clients. Conversely, it’s just as easy to lock and protect particular documents from edits or alteration by non-authorised users. 

Amongst a multitude of other reasons, these two in particular point to SharePoint Online being a highly recommended extranet platform.

Building extranets using SharePoint Online

There are a few steps to building an extranet in SharePoint, starting with creating a site collection. A site collection is a group of websites that are owned by the same person and share administrative settings. To set up a site collection, follow the steps below: 

  • Go to https://admin.microsoft.com and sign in as Global or SharePoint admin. 
  • In the left pane, select Admin Centers, then SharePoint. 
  • If you see New SharePoint Admin Center, select Classic SharePoint Admin Center from the left pane. 
  • From the Site Collections Page, Select New and then Private Site Selection. 
  • Give Title and Website address, then pick the Team Site. 
  • Select Administrator, and then click OK. 

You now have a site to invite external parties to visit. Once it’s populated with the relevant information, you can then extend access to these parties.

Inviting external users to your SharePoint extranet

Just because you’re opening up your site collection to external parties doesn’t mean you lose control over who gets through the door. There are a few steps to put in place before you send out the invites. You can start by configuring the site to allow external access, as well as setting a site owner. Follow these steps: 

  • Go to the site that you created in the steps above and select Share. 
  • Here you can enter the email address(es) of users you wish to have site access. 
  • Pick Show Options and select a permission level. 
  • Hit Share.

Best practices for your extranet

Now that you know how to build an extranet in SharePoint, you need to manage it appropriately. These are our best practice recommendations for overseeing and sharing your extranet. 

Prioritise user experience 

Like any site you create, it must have a balance of function and form. Your extranet exists to serve a purpose; to allow external parties to interact with specific internal processes. For customer and contractor portals, it’s especially important to create an intuitive and enjoyable experience. You could be delivering a service or engaging a service provider to complete a job. Their experience with your extranet could determine how they review their relationship with your organisation. 

Figure out the purpose 

What functions is your extranet going to serve to external users? What are the main goals of providing this avenue into internal processes? This type of planning is probably more useful in your initial brainstorming. However, it’s worth keeping your intentions in mind as you expand or evolve your extranet down the line. 

Make it mobile-friendly 

Make it so that users don’t have to be sitting behind a desk to access your extranet. For external parties who are on the go, it’s great to have the ability to check a project’s progress from anywhere in the world. 

Take steps for security 

It can be a daunting idea to let external parties access particular pages and information. However, extranets – especially SharePoint extranets – can be equipped with high-end security. Administrators have control of how data and documents are shared and can customise security features and permissions controls.

Are you ready to build a SharePoint extranet?

Ready to take that next step with your SharePoint experience? At Propelle, we love building SharePoint extranets that help our clients and their customers collaborate and achieve great things. Our SharePoint experts are here to discuss your needs – get in touch with us today.