Several months ago I wrote a blog on SharePoint Online Partner Access (http://www.astaticstate.com/2012/06/sharepoint-online-partner-access.html). It was the first release and it worked pretty well. With the new SharePoint Online there have been a few improvements and changes that are worth noting.
If you are not familiar with SharePoint Online, there is a solution for Partner support. You can read about it my old blog. The ability to use SharePoint for external is nothing new and has been done many organizations with SharePoint on-premise. For SharePoint 2013 on-premise additional information is here (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc263199.aspx). End of day the organization must deploy SharePoint in your DMZ, secure and then manage user access. External users are typically stored in LDAP directories, Forms Based Authentication could be used, sometimes a custom authentication provider maybe written or even users are managed in AD. This is a great solution but the implementation and management can be costly to an organization.
SharePoint Online is a great solution to reduce those costs. SharePoint is securely managed and highly available in Office 365. No more management of infrastructure in your DMZ.
Another great thing about using SharePoint Online in general with external partners it the corporate control you can. This is important because I have seen situations far too many times where organizations quickly jump to use free document sharing solutions. These solutions present real challenges to enterprise organizations because they typically do not provide enterprise solutions for eDiscovery, legal hold, put on retention, etc. Nor can they be managed by your corporate Active Directory and policies that you need to manage centrally. With SharePoint Online, you can do this.
New Features and Improvements
As I mentioned at the top of this article there are some improvements to the Partner Solution that is now available with the new SharePoint Online.
- Change in the Steps – The steps for adding partner support to a site collection has been streamlined. By default it not enabled and an SharePoint Online tenant administrator will have to enable this. It can be done on as many site collections that you want to enable it on. All you need to do is give the Site Collection the ability to allow “Partner Support”. Once the Site Collection has been given partner support, then you will need to activate the external user invitations feature. Follow the new instructions here - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/share-a-site-with-external-users-HA102476183.aspx.
- Sharing a Site – Sharing a site has been streamlined. When you share it with external users you enter in their email address and you now have the ability to select which SharePoint group you want those external users to be associated to. This is really convenient if you are managing all your external users in specified SharePoint User Groups. Here is some more information - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/share-sites-or-documents-with-people-outside-your-organization-HA102894713.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA102476183#_Toc335658100.
- Revoking an Invite - External users have 7 days to accept an invitation. There is a new capability to revoke an invite - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/share-sites-or-documents-with-people-outside-your-organization-HA102894713.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA102476183#_Toc335658104.
- Managing Users Access – You have the ability at any time to remove an external user by removing them from the SharePoint permissions just like an internal user.
- Sharing a Document – There is some new capabilities as well to support just sharing an external document. You have the ability to require the external user to sign-in or be able to view a document anonymously. You also have the ability to remove the external sharing of the document at any time (i.e. you keep the document where it is but no on externally should have access to the document anymore). For more information read here - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/share-sites-or-documents-with-people-outside-your-organization-HA102894713.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA102476183#_Toc335658101.
- External Usernames Appearance – External users now appear in the People Picker just like internal users. You will know that a person is an external user by the email address that is shown alongside of the external user’s full name. If the email address is external to your organization, you know it is an external user.
- SharePoint Online PowerShell – There is new SharePoint Online PowerShell that will allow you to manage external users in an automated fashion. This is a big deal because you can actually run a report of all external users who have access to anything in SharePoint and then create processes to remove people - http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/fp161364.aspx.
- Number of External Users – Depending on the plan you have, you have permission to allow X amount of users during a period of time. If you are considering purchasing Enterprises / Education / Government you can add up to 10,000 unique external partner users per month.
- External Users Capabilities – Generally External Users can do many of the same things internal users can do. They can use Office Web Apps, collaborate, take part in workflow, search, etc. using the permissions that was given to them just like any other SharePoint Users. General features they do not have access to are: they do not have MySites (but can use SkyDrive Pro features in team site document libraries), they do not get access to companywide feeds, they do not give the organization additional pooled storage, they cannot be assigned as an administrator, etc. For more information please review this - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/what-is-an-external-user-HA104036809.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA102694293. For detailed information, there is a column called External User here that details each and every feature of SharePoint Online an External User will have access to http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj819267.aspx.
Additionally this is a really good article for you to read - http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-sharepoint-online-enterprise-help/manage-external-sharing-for-your-sharepoint-online-environment-HA102849864.aspx?CTT=5&origin=HA102476183. Discusses many questions you should ask yourself on how you plan to share data externally and what controls you would like to put in place.