Do you need a private online network to share and collaborate with third parties? If so, you’re almost certainly in search of project extranet software. With lots of software packages out there, it’s vital to choose the right one for your needs.
Choose wisely and you’ll be repaid with a resource that makes working with external parties simple, rewarding and productive. Get it wrong and you could end up spending money on software that doesn’t have the functionality you need – or is much too complex for your purpose.
So how do you assess whether a project extranet offers what you need? Follow these tips and draw up a shortlist of options – and even put some software packages through their paces at little or no cost.
1. Be clear about your purpose
Organisations often make the mistake of choosing extranet software simply because it has lots of functionality.
Instead of focusing on functionality, focus on what you want to achieve with a project extranet. This will vary depending on what sector, organisation or even team you belong to. Examples include:
- Architecture & construction. Architects, engineers, builders, planners, developers, suppliers can come together in a secure project extranet to plan and organise development – from design to final construction
- Public sector. This sector has many different uses for project extranets, from developing shared services, working with key stakeholders, delivering emergency plans and managing development projects. See our blog for many more examples
- Law. Lawyers can use secure extranets to create online environments where they can share confidential case documents with clients, experts and other law firms
Whatever your initial purpose, it’s also a good idea to consult with colleagues and find out if they also have requirements for project extranet software. By doing this, you will be in a better position to select a solution that can be implemented for use across your organisation – reducing the risk and expense of using a variety of different packages.
2. Map tools to your purpose and stakeholders’ needs
Now you have defined the purpose of your project extranet, you can focus on the tools that can help you achieve it.
Different project extranet packages offer different tools, and it can be difficult to know in advance which ones you will need.
The best way to do that is to consider your stakeholders. Do you want to use the extranet to inform, consult or collaborate with them – or a combination of all three? Once you know this, you can refer to our post on collaboration tools that boost stakeholder engagement. Here you’ll find a matrix that makes mapping tools to your intended level of stakeholder involvement much simpler.
The results of this exercise can be used to rule out software that doesn’t offer the range of functionality you need – or appears to offer too much additional functionality at a premium.
3. Make sure that workspaces are flexible
Once you have shortlisted software packages that have the tools you need, the next step is to make sure that their online workspaces are flexible.
For example, if you plan to use your project extranet to work with external partners or stakeholders, you will need tools such as document version control, team diaries, task lists and more. On the other hand, if you simply need to consult with third parties, you’ll rely more on file sharing, questionnaires, polls and discussion forums.
Whatever your requirements for a collaborative workspace, it’s essential that you are able to configure it with only the tools you currently need – this will ensure your users do not get distracted by functionality they don’t yet require.
4. Put software through its paces
Any cloud-based project extranet worth its salt will offer you some form of free trial. This is perhaps the most important stage in selecting any package.
When you have shortlisted a small number of candidate project extranet packages, use the free trials to evaluate how each one performs and how easy they are to use. User feedback is vital at this stage, and will give you a keen insight into the software that will not only best help you achieve your purpose, but which is most likely to be embraced by your colleagues and external stakeholders.