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Managing external collaboration from start to finish

External collaboration is difficult to manage at every step. This FAQ explains how to prepare, manage and complete collaboration initiatives with external partners.

Collaboration is an essential part of productivity, but some forms of collaboration are easier to facilitate than others. Managing collaboration with external partners is especially complicated. A lack of interoperability between collaboration platforms means organizations need a plan for handling collaboration with partners outside of the organization.

IT decision-makers need to consider which platforms best support external collaboration. Additionally, IT decision-makers should plan how to provide access to external partners and manage the end of a collaborative project.

Which platforms support external collaboration?

Choosing the right platform is the first step to support external collaboration. IT decision-makers need to choose between an on-premises platform or a cloud service. Cloud-based platforms are generally better suited for external collaboration than their on-premises counterparts.

Cloud services, such as unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and communications platforms as a service (CPaaS), naturally communicate across network boundaries because they are located outside the organization, said Tsahi Levent-Levi, analyst and founder at BlogGeek.me.

While UCaaS and CPaaS both support external collaboration, CPaaS is a particularly good option, he said. CPaaS APIs enable integration with necessary business processes to create a seamless experience. Additionally, APIs can quickly add new functions as the need arises.

Discover more about how cloud delivery models support external communications.

How can external parties access collaboration tools?

Interoperability vendors, like Mio, use APIs to federate between messaging applications. But interoperability for collaboration platforms is still new, and options are limited. Vendors Microsoft and Cisco, for example, only recently focused on interoperability between their respective Teams platforms.

A lack of interoperability and federation means external partners need access to the same tools as employees within an organization. Collaboration groups can take two approaches to bring external users into a collaboration environment.

The first approach is to assign external collaborators their own accounts and licenses for the chosen platform. In this case, external collaborators have access to all the same information and tools as employees inside the organization.

While this approach provides a cohesive experience, it has pitfalls. Organizations will need to establish, manage and enforce access controls to prevent external partners from using resources, or accessing information, outside of what is necessary for the given project, said Andrew Froehlich, president of West Gate Networks.

The second approach is to give external users access to platforms and tools through a guest account. Guest accounts provide restricted access to participants on an as-needed basis, leaving sensitive company information and other tools protected from misuse.

Some platforms, like Microsoft Teams, provide freemium guest accounts that have a limited set of tools. If the project requires additional functions, the external partner will need to purchase a license, Froehlich said.

Learn more about how to support external collaboration with guest access.

How do you manage the end of an external collaboration project?

Concluding a collaboration project with external partners has its own set of complications. When projects end, the cleanup process is often forgotten, said Kevin Tolly, founder of The Tolly Group. Leaving shared files in applications like Dropbox or working credentials for external partners creates security concerns where sensitive data could be left exposed.

Some collaboration platforms, such as Slack, offer single-channel guest licenses. These licenses give external partners a guest account with all the tools of a licensed account. The license for the account can be reclaimed at the end of the project, terminating access for external partners.

For collaboration like file sharing, IT needs to have a plan for removing shared files and folders. Organizations can compromise security if an employee accidentally saves sensitive files in a defunct Dropbox folder left over from a previous project, for example. At the conclusion of an external collaboration project, organizations should delete everything from any shared environments and shut down external user access, Tolly said.

Read more about how to manage external collaboration projects.

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