SharePoint Online Gets Closer to Azure AD

Azure AD B2B Collaboration and Guest Accounts for SharePoint Sharing

Two recent message center notifications highlight closer integration between SharePoint Online and Azure AD. MC526130 (11 March) says that new tenants created after March 31, 2023 will automatically enable the SharePoint Online integration with Azure B2B integration. Existing tenants aren’t impacted by this change. The associated update, also scheduled for roll-out in late March, is MC525663 (10 March). The news here is that SharePoint Online site sharing will use the Azure B2B Invitation manager instead of the legacy SharePoint Invitation Manager (Microsoft 365 roadmap item 117557).

Rationalization Around Azure AD

The two updates rationalize existing sharing methods with external users and focus on Azure AD as the driving force for managing invitations. The journey toward Azure AD B2B Collaboration started in 2021, so it’s been a while coming. The project makes a lot of sense for both customers and Microsoft (their gain is through reduced engineering expenses).

Ten years ago, it was reasonable for SharePoint to manage site sharing invitations. Today, when the site collection-based architecture is replaced by single-sites and most sharing occurs through Microsoft 365 groups and Teams, it’s illogical for SharePoint Online to have its own mechanism. 280 million monthly active Teams users create a lot of work for SharePoint.

Another factor is that site sharing with external users is a relatively uncommon action today. Most external users join groups or teams and gain access to the group-connected site. Although non-group connected sites do exist, they’re in the minority and some of those sites (like hub and communication sites) aren’t candidates for sharing with external people. And of course, even site owners might be blocked from sharing sites by a sensitivity label.

Time to Review Applicable Policies

Overall, I don’t think the change will disrupt many organizations. As Microsoft notes “You may want to review your Azure B2B Invitation Manager policies.” Two policies are worthy of note. The first is the Azure B2B Collaboration policy, which includes an allow or deny list (but not both) of domains.

The policy is now found under Collaboration restrictions in the External Identities section of the Azure AD admin center (Figure 1). It is commonly used to block sharing with consumer domains (deny list) or to restrict collaboration to a set of known domains belonging to partner organizations (allow list). If the organization already supports guest accounts, it’s likely that the collaboration policy already exists. Even so, changes like this are useful reminders of the need for regular review of any policy that affects how external people access tenant resources.

Azure AD B2B Collaboration policy settings
Figure 1: Azure AD B2B Collaboration policy settings

Azure AD cross-tenant access policies are a more powerful and flexible mechanism to control external access through both Azure B2B collaboration and Azure AD direct connect (used for Teams shared channels). Cross-tenant access policies are still relatively new and don’t need to be implemented unless required for a specific reason, so your tenant might not use them yet.

Although the Azure AD B2B Collaboration policy is likely to dominate for the immediate future, over time, I expect a slow transition to take advantage of the granular control available in cross-tenant access policies. When an organization changes over, SharePoint Online will take advantage. Leveraging advances made in Azure AD is an excellent reason for SharePoint Online to embrace Azure AD more fully.

Review Guest Accounts Too

Azure AD B2B collaboration works but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to manage guest accounts. As more sharing happens, more guest accounts end up in your Azure AD. Some guest accounts are used once to share a document. Others are in ongoing use as guest members of groups and teams access shared documents. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on guest accounts and remove them as they become obsolete.

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