Microsoft has introduced universal guest access to its team collaboration platform, following the lead of competitors such as Cisco Spark and Slack. The expansion of Microsoft Teams guest access comes amid reports that the company may soon offer a freemium version of the platform.
When Microsoft Teams guest access was first announced in September, it was restricted to those with Azure Active Directory accounts. As of this week, Teams users can invite anyone to join their internal channels for instant messaging, meetings and file sharing.
Cisco Spark and Slack rolled out external collaboration features last year, while smaller-market players like Symphony, Zoho Connect and Flock have also embraced guest access. Vendors are also making it easier for their customers to talk with one another: Slack said more than one-third of its paid users now have shared channels with external partners.
"Microsoft added guest access to keep up with some of the leaders in the market," said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. "Microsoft is paying a lot of attention to Teams, and this is one more step in that direction."
Microsoft Teams guest access follows a market trend
Adam Presetanalyst at Gartner
Companies that were able to increase productivity internally with the adoption of team collaboration platforms now want to use those same apps to improve the efficiency of communications with external collaborators, Kurtzman said.
"It's all about getting the right decision made faster, with the right people, whether they are inside or outside the enterprise," Kurtzman said. "It's a lot easier when the decision is made all together in a collaboration platform. It can cut down on meetings."
A marketing department could use Microsoft Teams guest access to coordinate with their graphic design consultants, or an IT department could use it to make sure they are buying the right equipment from a vendor. Instant messages could replace conference calls and reply-all email chains.
"The ability to bring external parties into a workstream collaboration application is more important now than ever before," said Adam Preset, analyst at Gartner. "The reason for that is we are doing more collaboration with external parties than ever before."
Some companies are even using team collaboration platforms to connect with consumers. In a 2017-2018 Nemertes Research study on contact centers and customer engagement, 19% of organizations surveyed said they planned to use team chat applications to converse with customers, according to Irwin Lazar, an analyst with Nemertes, based in Mokena, Ill.
Microsoft mum on freemium rumors
Despite the growing demand for freemium offerings among early adopters of new technologies, enterprises interested in deploying Microsoft Teams must first subscribe to Office 365. But that may soon change.
The latest developer preview for Teams includes references to a freemium offering, according to a report by Petri IT Knowledgebase, a tech site focused on Microsoft products. Asked by TechTarget whether Microsoft planned to introduce a free version of Teams, a company representative declined to comment.
Freemium models contributed to the growth of many workstream collaboration platforms, including Slack, Preset said. Microsoft is in a position now where it is almost forced to offer a free version of Teams to match competitors.
Cisco Spark, Slack, Atlassian Stride, Unify Circuit and Alcatel-Lucent Rainbow are among the platforms that already offer freemium versions.