How to Use SharePoint Online as a Business-to-Business (B2B) Extranet solution

Topics: Office 365, SharePoint Intranet Portal

Written by Sajin Sahadevan

One of the major requirements of our customer in the chemical industry asked us to configure SharePoint Server 2016. When we started to custom build a lot of forms and workflows, the need of mobility came up. Spread across 5 different cities across the region, they rely on VPN access to use the systems due to one reason: their software must be hosted on their own servers and no third-party company should keep their data. In general, banks and other institutions have the same concern about their company policies and forced to choose server-based solutions. This was a challenging task for us to think about, but now, thanks to Microsoft, we can have SharePoint Online as an extranet site for 3rd party/vendor access.

SharePoint Online allows external users to access specific folders or files and collaborate with their team. Extranet sites are the gateway for your third-party users to securely conduct business with your company. Users can classify the content specific for partners. This avoids back and forth emails with attachments. If there are large documents, it’s going to be difficult to bypass the email policies setup by your IT Team.

Configuring SharePoint On-Premises extranet sites were difficult and there were hassles to setup sites with proper security and governance, allowing access to the corporate firewall and maintaining hardware costs.

The reason why Office 365 is clearly a winner in this scenario is because, you don’t have to worry anything about the servers/storage. Bandwidth issues are a thing of the past as Microsoft takes care of all the technical sides. All you need to do is create users and share your required content with your vendors/partners. This will restrict the access to your SharePoint On-Prem environment or any other Office 365 Sites. Be sure to have a reliable internet connection, login details and they are good to go!

Here's an example of how Dock On-Prem and SharePoint Online acts as an External Site for collaboration between partners and vendors.

Dock Office 365 Tenant

Advantages of using SharePoint Online for Collaboration

  1. Restricted Domain Sharing: The SharePoint Admin ensures the control of partner domains where the internal users can share information with external parties outside the company. Deny list/Allow list of email domains can be configured to achieve the same.
  2. Allowing users for inviting new partner users: Admins can allow users for inviting their partner users to access their Intranet. An email invite is sent to the desired partner contact and the user needs to use the link to gain access to the system/folders.
  3. Site Sharing: Restricted to Site Owners only – Just like the above, the designated site owners will have the power to share content and add new users. The site members can only see the existing site members within the site and work on the files. With this feature, the site owners can ensure governance by controlling what the external users can see and to whom they can and cannot share content/collaborate with.
  4. Auditing: The Office 365 Activity Reports helps Admin to audit the user activities (external users) and generate reports accordingly using the Office 365 Activity Reports.

Also Read: How SharePoint Usage Reports Help Our Clients Track User Activity

Why is Office 365 Recommended for B2B Extranet Sites?

There are four reasons why Office 365 is recommended for B2B Extranet Sites:

  1. Secured Sharing: Microsoft Office 365 complies with IT governance and policies providing highly secure sharing environment.
  2. Cost Effectiveness:As mentioned earlier, there is no need for servers/hardware as it removes labor/resource expenses. Office 365 B2B extranet sites eliminates the need for building costly on-premises extranet sites for your company. The IT Department can invest their time on other IT tasks instead of maintaining the extranet installations.
  3. Collaboration and Communication: With this feature, you can now collaborate with your external users as if they belong to your organization. They can use Skype conferencing facility to communicate with you and your teams seamlessly.
  4. Governance: With Office 365 Business to Business Extranet, the admin has got complete visibility into access of the content by external users. Also, your Admin can focus on auditing the usage with the help of Office 365 Activity Reports.

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