KM Component 44 – External Access and Extranets

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

February 10, 2022

External access is the capability for users outside a company’s firewall to access selected websites and team spaces to allow collaboration with retirees, partners, and customers who would otherwise be blocked from the company’s internal network. It requires technical, security, and legal elements.

Extranets are intranets that can be partially accessed by authorized outside users, enabling businesses to exchange information over the Internet securely. Extranets are controlled private networks that allow partners, vendors, suppliers, and an authorized set of customers to access a subset of the information accessible from an organization’s intranet.

In The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas Stewart, in chapter 5, pages 85-87, the following key elements of a KM program are defined based on the experience of Steve Denning at the World Bank:

  1. communities of practice
  2. place (online presence for the communities)
  3. help desk
  4. Yellow Pages (who-knows-what directory)
  5. primer (FAQ)
  6. knowledge artifacts (records of previous projects, emphasizing best practices and lessons learned)
  7. bulletin board
  8. doorway (a provision for outside access)

The final item, doorway, is often overlooked as an enabler for knowledge sharing to occur. Here are three examples of why external access can be valuable to an organization.

  1. There is increasing concern about the loss of valuable knowledge as the workforce ages and the baby boomers retire. Many of these retirees are willing to continue to share the knowledge they have gained over many years of experience. In order to do so, they need to be given access to community tools such as portals, team spaces, and threaded discussions. Providing this access poses minimal security risks and offers great benefits in ongoing contributions from the most experienced community members. See Knowledge Retention: How to deal with a departing workforce.
  2. Partners need access to similar information to the internal sales force in order to effectively sell and deliver products and services as part of the partnership. Giving them access to the relevant knowledge bases, under appropriate nondisclosure agreements, will greatly enhance the success of the partnership. And partners can contribute their knowledge to communities within the organization if they are allowed to do so.
  3. Customers may also be able to share knowledge as extended community members. They also can benefit from having access to problem resolution knowledge bases so they can solve their own problems, product information databases so they can buy more products, and logistics and support tracking systems so they can stay current on the status of pending deliveries and services without the need to contact a call center. For projects being delivered to customers, it is very beneficial to include them as participants in the team spaces for their projects.

Dealing with each of these opportunities in a way which maintains required levels of security, protects intellectual property, and enables the right level of access can be tricky. But it is worth creating the people, process, and technology mechanisms to make it work. The technology elements include providing gateways, secure servers, and identity management hardware and software.

Use Cases

Here are possible uses for providing external access to internal systems.

  1. Prospects: Interact with those who can help persuade them to become customers.
  2. Customers: Participate in their projects, monitor delivery of their purchases, get support from those best able to provide it, and support one another.
  3. Partners: Access information needed to support the partnership, collaborate with the right people, and directly use relevant business systems.
  4. Vendors, Suppliers, and Providers: Deliver support for products being used, see problems for themselves, and interact with one another.
  5. Analysts: Access appropriate information to help develop and update analyses of the company and its offerings.
  6. Contractors: Use time reporting, expense reporting, scheduling, project management, and team collaboration systems as if they were employees.
  7. Collaborators: Suggest improvements, collaborate on initiatives, and deliver innovations.
  8. Alumni and Retirees: Participate in communities, answer questions, and provide support.
  9. Candidates and Recruits: Interact with interviewers, hiring managers, and one another.
  10. Officials, Reviewers, and Auditors: Access relevant systems and databases, interact with appropriate contacts, and communicate progress and results.


Here are examples of systems that could have external access, along with the categories of users who would benefit from this.

  1. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), Transaction Processing Systems: Vendors, suppliers, providers, contractors, officials, reviewers, auditors
  2. Travel reservations: Travel agencies, travel providers
  3. HR (Human Resources), Recruiting, LMS (Learning Management System), e-learning; Vendors, suppliers, providers, contractors, candidates, recruits
  4. Engineering, Manufacturing, Distribution, Logistics, Scheduling: Vendors, suppliers, providers, contractors
  5. Enterprise Search and Enterprise Taxonomy: Search and taxonomy vendors
  6. CRM (Customer Relationship Management): CRM vendor
  7. Collaboration and Gamification: Customers, partners, vendors, alumni, retirees
  8. Idea Management: Collaborators
  9. Customer Support Knowledge Bases: Prospects, customers, vendors, alumni, retirees
  10. Market research, Competitive intelligence, Customer intelligence: Vendors, analysts

Requirements for Enabling External Access

Here are recommended steps to follow in implementing external access.

  1. Define goals, objectives, and benefits: Clearly explain why external access is being provided.
  2. Define user roles: Specify exactly what external users should be able to do, and what they should be restricted from doing.
  3. Set expiration dates and require access approval renewal: Limit the duration of external access.
  4. Define approval and governance processes: Specify how external access is granted, revoked, monitored, and controlled.
  5. Provide clear alerts to users: Let external users know the limits of their access and make internal users aware of the possible presence of external users.
  6. Restrict permissions, and let users know what these are: Limit rights of external users to just those absolutely necessary for their role and inform them of these limits.
  7. Create user classes with default permissions: Define typical external user profiles with associated use cases and grant just the permissions needed for these roles as defaults.
  8. Wall off access to internal systems and data: Use data security to make it impossible for external users to access key confidential information.
  9. Flag external users: Create and apply special designations, icons, naming, colors, etc. to clearly differentiate external users so that their presence is made obvious.
  10. Set absolute limits: Make it impossible for external users to create new team spaces, delete information, write into read-only access databases, or take other high-risk actions that should never occur.
Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please enjoy  Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s  Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge curation and sharing. 

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