Don’t Give Up on Azure AD Guest Accounts

Azure B2B Collaboration Likely to be Dominant for Immediate Future

The introduction of shared channels in Teams is a big deal, as is the advent of Azure AD Direct Connect, the vital underpinning that enables tenants to accept the credentials granted to accounts in other Microsoft 365 tenants. Cross-tenant access policies control who can share channels in your organization and who can share channels in other organizations.

Some might have missed the news that cross-tenant access settings can also control Azure B2B collaboration (guest accounts). This is also a big step forward because it addresses the need some tenant administrators have expressed to be able to control the organizations where their users can join groups using Azure AD guest accounts. Control over inbound guests has been available with the Azure AD B2B Collaboration policy for several years, so adding outbound control is welcome.

Sharing with Teams

Last week, Microsoft posted about the ways to collaborate externally using Teams. The descriptions of Azure AD Direct Connect, Azure B2B Collaboration, and external federation (one-to-one chat and calls with people in other organizations) were accurate, and the information was well-timed. Many Microsoft 365 tenants are figuring out their external collaboration strategy and wondering where to put their effort over the coming years,

I’ve heard a few commentators say that Azure AD guest accounts now have limited usefulness. The theory is that everyone will move to shared channels. I think that’s overstating the case more than a little. Shared channels are very convenient, especially in their accessibility. There’s no need to switch to another tenant to access information. Shared channels are right there, listed by your favorite Teams client alongside the other teams and channels from your home tenant.

For now, shared channels are only sharable with accounts from other Microsoft 365 tenants. Shared channels will reveal their full potential when they support access from Microsoft Services Accounts (MSAs), a feature that Microsoft is working on.

Azure AD Guest Accounts Still Super-Valuable

But even when that happens, I think Azure AD guest accounts still continue to offer a lot of value. Switching to another tenant can slow access down a tad, but switching performance is much faster now than it used to be (even if it’s not one of the improvements listed in Microsoft’s latest news about Teams performance), and I think I am now immune to the need to switch to a tenant to collaborate with people in that organization. Muscle memory is a great thing and it’s one of the reasons why many of the teams I use feature lots of Azure AD guest accounts (Figure 1).

Team with multiple Azure AD guest accounts in its membership
Figure 1: Azure AD Guest Accounts are a big part of a many teams

Once added to a tenant, a guest has full access to the teams and groups they are a member of. Within a single team, they can access up to 200 regular channels and, if added as a member, they can participate in another 30 private channels. A shared channel has its own roster of members and if a team supports multiple shared channels, the channel owner must share with external users in each channel.

Most of the external organizations I work with have teams with multiple channels. Some are channel-happy and explore the limits set by Teams. Others are more restrained. Even so, the teams usually have several channels to support discussions about different topics. Private channels don’t seem to be popular but are present and I use some in other tenants. Shared channels might be a better choice than private channels in many cases, especially when MSA support is available.

The Question of Guest Hygiene

Mention guest hygiene and you’re probably thinking about the mess unwelcome guests can make in your house. Microsoft says that using Azure B2B Collaboration means that organizations should implement “a guest hygiene process to remove guest accounts when no longer needed.” In other words, instead of remaining passive and letting Azure AD guest accounts accumulate over time, organizations should review old guest accounts and figure out if they should remain.

A simple check against age will often highlight unused guest accounts. If you have Azure AD Premium P2 licenses, Microsoft offers a more sophisticated account review process. No matter what approach you take, it’s a good idea to run an annual review to clean out old accounts.

Overall, it’s likely that Azure AD guest accounts will remain the foundation for most external collaboration based on Microsoft 365 groups and teams. Shared channels will nibble away and take some of the work, but it won’t take over from Azure AD guest accounts in the immediate future.

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