Despite the rapid growth in adoption of meeting and team apps in the last year, many organizations still struggle to enable effective cross-company collaboration, instead relying on disjointed approaches, including email and file sharing, to allow teams from multiple organizations to interact. Setting up a cross-company project team may require creating a team shared calendar, file shares, team messaging workspace, and the integration of one or more meeting app instances.
As team collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack become an internal hub for work to unify messaging, applications, meetings, and data, just 36.9% of the 476 participants in Metrigy’s “Workplace Collaboration: 2021-22” global study allow external participants into their team spaces. This means that organizations are unable to realize the measurable benefits for cross-company collaboration that we’ve documented from the use of these apps internally, including fewer and shorter meetings, reduced email, better customer service and sales support, lower operating costs, and gains in productivity.
A successful cross-company collaboration strategy means taking advantage of the tools that are available to enable collaboration in context, within a unified hub that provides access to messaging, content, data, applications, and meetings. As IT leaders evaluate their alternatives to extend team spaces beyond the firewall, several viable approaches are available:
-Guest Accounts – This approach allows for participants outside of the organization to join team spaces as guests. Avaya Spaces and Microsoft Teams, for example, support guest accounts, controlled by team owners or administrators, with guests clearly delineated as such within team spaces. Guests have accounts on, and log into, the team workspace administered by the organization owning the instance.
-Federated Accounts – These allow users on one company’s application domain to participate in or create groups that include others from outside organizations. Today, vendors such as Cisco (Webex), RingCentral, and Zoom offer federated accounts with varying controls, such as the ability for an administrator to whitelist domains, control what features are accessible to guests, or prevent employees from joining team collaboration instances outside of their organization.
-Federated Channels – This approach allows use of shared channels between two or more organizations, with each having the ability to control access to the shared workspace. Examples here include Slack Connect, as well as the recently announced Microsoft Teams Connect.
-Third-party Federation – All of the above solutions require all participants to use the same app, but say one company is using Slack, and another is using Microsoft Teams, and a third is using Cisco Webex? The solution here is a third-party federation service that enables federation between team and IM services, allowing meeting space participants to stay within their own app. Examples of vendors providing such services are Mio and 8×8 (Sameroom). Alternatively, Cisco offers federation using XMPP, a messaging and presence protocol, between Webex and legacy IM platforms, including its own Jabber and Microsoft’s Skype for Business.
Each of these approaches have drawbacks and benefits. Guest and federated accounts are the simplest to set up, but guest administration may be difficult to control. If someone with guest access to a workspace leaves their organization, they may still retain access to the guest space. Companies must proactively create data loss prevention policies to control guest access, and companies that have employees connecting to team spaces outside of their organization via guest accounts may have no control of what their employees are sharing into external team spaces.
Federated channels offer the most granular control of cross-company collaboration, allowing companies to control what is shared into channels, and in the case of Slack Connect, maintain control over encryption and messages should a security breach occur. In our research we find that the most successful companies, in terms of measurable revenue gain, cost savings, and/or productivity improvements, are using federated channels.
Third-party federation provides the most flexibility, but may not allow for establishment of voice or video calls, and breaks end-to-end encryption by inserting a third party in the middle of conversations.
Guest accounts and federation aren’t the only possible solution for cross-company collaboration. Companies may establish workspaces, using tools like CafeX’s Challo, purpose-built to support cross-company collaboration, providing shared workspaces for messaging, file sharing, and meetings. Additional applications, such as virtual whiteboards, may also be part of the cross-company collaboration mix and require consideration of access and security controls.
Absent a proactive strategy for cross-company collaboration, employees will implement what works for them, potentially putting their organizations at risk of data loss, and an inability to enforce security and compliance policies. Collaboration and security leaders should work together to evaluate options for external collaboration and to implement a strategy that allows for teams to optimize their performance while minimizing risk.
Metrigy is an innovative research firm focusing on the rapidly changing areas of unified communications & collaboration (UCC), digital workplace, digital transformation, and customer cxperience (CX)/contact center — along with several related technologies. Metrigy delivers strategic guidance and informative content, backed by primary research metrics and analysis, for technology providers and enterprise organizations.