Microsoft has updated its Teams collaboration software, adding guest account access and beefing up security and management capabilities for IT admins.
The guest access, rolled out today, means that Office 365 users can now add people from outside their company to a team, enabling third-party users to participate in chats, join meetings and collaborate on documents.
The new feature means that IT staff will now be able to centrally manage guest accounts, enabling them to add, view or, if necessary, revoke access.
“This is a very significant milestone for Teams, as up until now it was only available for internal use,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “Now customers will be able to collaborate with people outside of their firewall, opening up a much broader range of use-cases.”
Anyone with an Azure Active Directory account can be added as a guest in Teams.
Microsoft said that there are currently more than 870 million Azure Active Directory user accounts.
While guest users must have an Azure Active Directory account to use Teams, there are plans to allow anyone with a Microsoft Account to be added as a guest. If a guest doesn’t have an existing Microsoft Account, they would have to create a free account using their email address, whether they use Outlook or other email providers such as Google’s Gmail.
Guest user access will fall under the same compliance and auditing protection as the rest of Office 365, the company said.
Security is an important factor when enabling guest access for users. With this in mind, Microsoft said that guest accounts will be added and managed within Azure Active Directory via Azure AD B2B Collaboration. Azure Active Directory provides features such as conditional access policies for guest users as well as machine learning algorithms to detect anomalies and suspicious incidents, and it can automatically trigger security processes such as multi-factor authentication when required.
The addition of guest access brings Teams in line with competing messenger tools such as Slack and Cisco Spark, which also enable external access, as well as Microsoft’s own Yammer collaboration software.
“It is encouraging that Microsoft is rolling out the ability to allow external users to collaborate in Teams, but it is a feature most collaborative applications have had for a while,” said IDC research director Wayne Kurtzman.
“To be a serious contender in the collaboration applications market, has to catch up with the market on a lot of features and functions,” he said.
In addition to the new features, Microsoft offered insights into how Teams is faring six months after its launch. According to the company, 125,000 organizations have now used the Slack competitor, compared to 30,000 back in January. That leaves plenty of room for growth, of course; Microsoft claims there are currently around 100 million Office365 users globally.
The Teams update comes as two of Microsoft’s competitors in the messenger-based collaboration market hold major user conferences. Both Slack and Atlassian are hosting events this, week with the latter offering a glimpse of its new collaboration platform, Stride, before its conference kicks off on Tuesday.
Slack Frontiers also begins on Tuesday.