NET.COLUMNS: Extranets: Making Connections Across Companies

An Extranet enables communications across organisations using the Web and other Internet technologies as the common interface. It allows for the creation of a closed-user group between an organisation and its clients/suppliers. In India, since the domestic data network is still a missing component, the Extranet is what will come first.

A company can set up a Web site with restricted access (via logins and passwords, for example) on the Net. Its clients and/or suppliers need only have an Internet account to access the company’s information and interact with it. This distributed onus ensures that the set-up time can be much more rapid and the benefits immediate. In a way, companies like Microsoft and Netscape are already using the Net for distribution of some of their products: you make the call (and pay for it), and can download software and get access to technical information.

GE has built its own Extranet to take orders. Its Trading Process Network allows organisations to bid for GE’s contracts, irrespective of where they are located. Dell sells US$ 1 million of computers daily via the Internet. Who do you think is buying? Cisco expects to get 20% of its orders via the Net. Business-to-business commerce is a natural extension of integrating the information on the Extranet with the ordering system.

India’s first Extranet has been set up by
NFDC for Doordarshan. The system, termed NFDC Net, allows advertising agencies to book orders for Doordarshan programmes online. This is a process which is traditionally done by phone or fax. Now, the interactive system allows an agency to check various Doordarshan programmes and their television rating points (TRPs), make queries for programmes fulfilling specific criteria (category, broadcast time, TRP ratings), and finally complete the transaction by making a booking. It doesn’t matter where the agency is, as long as it has access to the system and an Internet account. NFDC has taken a leased line to VSNL in Mumbai, and unlike its brick-and-mortar offices, the Internet office can take orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Elbee is about to unveil a parcel tracking system for Indian customers: a first among the domestic courier companies. Go to Elbee’s site on the Internet, type in your Airway Bill number, and within seconds, you have all the information about your package. This is something for which Elbee has so far employed dozens of people in its various offices. Now, by moving it to the Net, Elbee allows us to make the queries and feel happy doing it. This is how information is transforming an industry: with all courier companies employing similar transportation techniques and subject to identical weather conditions, the business is not just about delivering the package but getting the information about the package on time to the end-user. In future, Elbee expects to also take orders through the Net, and provide customer-specific information pushed on to corporate networks.

These are just two examples of how Indian companies are leveraging the Internet to reach out. Air-India‘s recently launched Web site offers real-time information about its flights. Very soon, the Times of India group will be extending its Intranet to take online orders for classifieds and other ads. Many information service companies are already exploring the possibility of offering their bits-and-bytes via the Net. As electronic payment systems fall into place, the logical extension of an Extranet will be electronic commerce.

The Internet is not just for surfing. It can serve as a very useful business tool to communicate between organisations. Today, geographical and trade barriers amount to little in a world linked via the Net. The Internet knows no borders; why should your business?

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.