Microsoft has launched in beta a Teams feature that lets companies set up channels for collaborating with partners and customers -- a capability that rivals Cisco and Slack have had for some time.
Microsoft introduced Teams Connect this week at its annual Ignite conference. The company has released the feature to select customers and plans to make it generally available later in the year.
Teams Connect will include all of Teams' collaboration features. Companies that subscribe to Teams can chat, conduct video meetings, collaborate over apps and share documents. Administrators will add individuals from outside an organization into shared channels and control the data those users can access.
"Microsoft is addressing a gap that has limited the usability of Teams beyond internal collaboration," said 451 Research analyst Raul Castañon. "[It] could significantly add momentum to adoption and overall usage [of Teams]."
Teams customers have been asking for intercompany channels for years. The request has been posted on the Microsoft Teams user feedback forum since 2017 and has garnered more than 6,000 votes.
Customers expressed frustration on the forum that the lack of shared channels made cooperation between organizations difficult. Others pointed out competitors already have this capability.
Teams Connect is similar to a feature found in Slack and Cisco Webex Teams. Last year, Cisco tightened the control admins have over external communications. Slack launched intercompany collaboration last October.
Two months later, SaaS giant Salesforce announced that it would acquire Slack for $27.7 billion. Salesforce could make Slack a much stronger competitor to Teams after completing the transaction as soon as this summer.
None of the vendors provide collaboration between competing platforms, which is a disservice to customers, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research.
"This whole battle of the titans that's been created, I think, is bad for users, ultimately, because you'd want more interoperability," Kerravala said.
Microsoft announced other changes to Teams. Hosts will be able to set invite-only meetings, disable video and set end-to-end encryption for one-on-one sessions. Microsoft plans to make the changes over the next few months.
Other new features include editing PowerPoint slides within meetings. Hosts can also decide how to display the slides. Options include placing it over the presenter's shoulder, having it behind the presenter or on the side.
Microsoft has also certified additional video conferencing devices for Teams. It includes the Dell Monitor for Video Conferencing, the Poly Studio P21 and the Aver Cam130.