Using SharePoint Online to create an external portal

September 14, 2017

Creating an external portal to improve information access and sales order process

An organisation has external contractors that regularly need work site information. An organisation also has customers that fill out sales orders to pass back to the organisation. What do these two functions have in common? They both require a flow of information to sources outside of the organisation. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Well that’s exactly what we at Acclario did.

The organisation in question has an On-Premise SharePoint environment, and as we know, using a VPN or remote desktop to connect to an On-Premise environment can often be clunky and unreliable. Not to mention the security concerns of giving someone access to your most sensitive organisational information. So how do you provide information to external users in a secure, cost effective, and user-friendly manner? The trick is using SharePoint Online as the access point. There are a number of reasons why this is an ideal choice, so I’ve taken the liberty of listing a few below.

  • SharePoint Online platform is designed as an intranet and DMS which makes it extremely user friendly to navigate as well as a perfect choice for organising and displaying information
  • Cloud hosted so external users can access anytime from anywhere
  • Highly granular user security gives you extreme control over what users can see and how they can interact with it
  • Configurable views means two different users can access the same document library yet see completely different items based on their log in permissions
  • Auditing capabilities to see what external users are doing and how they access things

Using SharePoint Online to create an external portal diagram

All of the above are important issues we considered when determining the best way to tackle the solution. So, what exactly did we do? Well, in SharePoint Online, we created document libraries and lists that replicated the On-Premise libraries and lists. Using a connector that synchronises fully encrypted SQL databases with Cloud Services, we were able to transfer all information from the On-Premise environment to SharePoint Online and vice versa. This means that any changes to documents, lists, and libraries in either environment would be instantly reflected in the other, so no need for manual copying and moving of information. With the connection in place, it was just a matter of bringing the Look and Feel of the online environment in line with the On-Premise environment. The final step was setting up the logins for the external users and the permissions to ensure they could only ever see what they are allowed to see.

The result of all of this was an Online environment that a contractor or customer could log in to with a username and password. Depending on the credentials, the external user would see a page that was branded in a way to let them know they were in the right place. This page contained all of the information (not just documents and lists but also maps, calendars, news etc.) that was relevant to that user. Customers could easily fill in their sales orders, which would appear in the On-Premise Environment straight away, and contractors could see all the necessary information that was added by the On-Premise users.


Syncing SharePoint Online vs On-premise

Office 365 lets you sync SharePoint Online and On-Premise SharePoint


This is just one example of how SharePoint Online can be used as a portal for external users. There’s any number of ways to go about creating a portal depending on what information you need to make available, the directional flow of information, and how users will access it. We’ve even expanded some of our solutions to incorporate forms for external users to fill in and business intelligence to analyse information coming from external users. The possibilities are limitless, and with our experience and guidance, we can tailor make a solution that perfectly fits your organisation.