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Microsoft Test Drives 'Information Barriers' for Teams

Microsoft this week announced a preview of a new communications blocking capability for its Teams collaboration service called called "Information Barriers."

The news was part of Microsoft's April Teams release information, which was mostly a recap of past announcements, such as the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams application being available at the "commercial preview" stage, which had been announced back in March. The ability to send praise to co-workers via the Praise feature in Teams was announced back in January but it's apparently available this month. With Praise, bosses and co-workers can send employees a digital graphic signifying appreciation, such as the "Kind Heart" badge or the "Awesome" badge.

Of note for IT pros, the expansion of teams to 5,000 members is effective this month. Microsoft also released the Teams PowerShell Module in April.

Information Barriers Preview
The Information Barriers blocking capability for Teams, mentioned back in March, is now at the preview release stage. Microsoft is working to make it "available to all in the next few weeks," according to its announcement.

The Information Barriers capability runs contrary to the spirit of the Teams collaboration workspace solution because it'll block certain parties from being able to communicate using the service. However, it is being added largely to meet the needs of the financial services industry. It's needed to avoid conflicts of interest in some organizations, according to this Microsoft document. These organizations have needs for so-called "ethical walls" to limit internal communications. The point is ably explained in this video by Justin Morris, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and global director of strategy at Modality Systems.

Microsoft created an Information Barriers administrator role for this solution. IT pros use PowerShell cmdlets to set Information Barriers policies via the Security and Compliance Center portal. When those policies are set, it won't be possible for some end users to see a Teams member by search. Moreover, Teams calls can't be placed and chat attempts will draw error messages.

The use of Information Barriers, when it reaches general availability, will require having the Microsoft 365 E5 plan in place, which is Microsoft's top-priced offering.

Teams Commercial Cloud Trial
What's also new in the April Teams announcement is a clarification about the Teams Commercial Cloud Trial. It's one of those sneaky Office 365 changes alluded to back in January.

With the Teams Commercial Cloud Trial, a one-year trial of Teams is offered, even if an organization lacks the proper Office 365 licensing to use Teams. Moreover, any end user could trigger the trial if IT pros haven't blocked the ability of end users to install trial apps and services. The trial supports "500,000 users per tenant, with 2 GB of SharePoint Online storage per user," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft did make a change this month so that it'll be easier for IT departments to manage the Teams Commercial Cloud Trial, but it mostly facilitates billing. Here's the management change, per the announcement:

As of May 2019, we are making it easier to manage all end-user initiated Teams trials. All of the Teams trials started by company users will be owned and controlled by the billing admin of the tenant, making it easy to manage and consistent with the other Microsoft 365 offers. Any existing Teams Trial licenses will be migrated to this new license when the associated users log into Teams in near future. Once this support is rolled out, users will be migrated automatically the next time they log into Teams. No admin actions are required. Learn more about Commercial Cloud Trial management.

Typically, Office 365 Business plan users are the ones who don't have Teams use rights, but they can trigger the Teams trial if they have install rights.

The Teams Commercial Cloud Trial currently is the only Office 365 program that gives end users the ability to initiate the use of an unsubscribed service companywide. It's likely not the last such program, though, as trial install rights "might apply to other similar programs in the future," Microsoft's "Commercial Cloud Trial" document noted.

In other Teams news, Microsoft recently announced tutorials for people new to Teams in this blog post.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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