"Companies put someone in charge of the portal, but they never ask, 'Have you ever organized an online community before? Can you name the five things a facilitator should do during the launch process?'" says Bruck.
Once people are in place and trained, process comes into play. Both the community leaders and members need to understand how to use the set of tools that they have at their disposal and the procedures for setting up online meetings, gaining approval for actions and posting or modifying documents. It also requires establishing rules for how often members need to log in to get updates or participate in sharing of information; the types of communications that are acceptable and procedures for mentoring new group members.
"If you want to increase the probability of success you should try to capture the end-user requirements accurately," says Antonopoulos. "Also, by working closely with the end-user community, you can get valuable contributions during the design that will make user acceptance of any process changes much easier."
Next comes the technology to implement the process. The most popular features are not the high-level ones like video-conferencing and live collaboration for document creation. Rather, they are teleconferencing and a shared document repository.
Whatever technology is used, however, it must not only be robust enough to provide the right level of collaboration, but also intuitive enough for end users. This involves such basic actions as setting up a single sign-on for users. If the system is too difficult, though, many users will abandon the extranet and go back to their old ways of doing business.
Security, also, should be worked out to achieve the right balance. Since 9/11, most companies have beefed up their security perimeters and have been more reluctant to grant easy and deep access to those outside their own organization. But without this access the process of establishing an effective extranet can fail.
"If someone really needs to use the extranet, they will hang in there until any problems are solved," says Jessica Lipnack, CEO of NetAge Inc. and author of the book Virtual Teams. "But if its use is optional, they will give up."
Despite the many pitfalls encountered in setting up and getting people to use extranets, however, they are gaining in popularity, particularly in areas such as technology, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and energy. Whatever the headaches, the bottom line is that there is no better way to easily bring together a large group of people in order to execute major projects.
"Any complex project of any size now is using people from more than one company," says Lipnack. "The brain power needed is rarely resident all in one company so the ability to create these collaborative zones is critical."