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External Chat Enhancements, Improved IT Controls and More Coming to Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams users can now chat with personal account Teams users situated outside their organizations, without switching tenancies.

Microsoft also announced a partnership with Network-Value to help organizations scrap their old unified communications systems for new Microsoft Teams devices.

Lastly, Microsoft announced Teams feature improvements that took place in January, mostly for end users, but the announcement also included some IT pros bits.

Teams External Chats with Personal Account Users
The ability of organizations using Teams to chat with external Teams users that just have personal Teams accounts is "rolling out now," Microsoft indicated in a Jan. 26 announcement. It's a capability that was promised back in November with the Microsoft Ignite announcements.

Teams callers can connect with personal Teams account holders for one-to-one calls or for group calls. The caller just needs the user's "full e-mail address or phone number." When calling external parties who lack Teams use, there's an e-mail or text message invitation process, encouraging Teams personal account creation. Organizations can send 10 invitations to external parties, but if they aren't accepted, such messaging gets blocked.

It's also possible for external callers with personal Teams accounts to call organizational Teams users. Invitations from external callers to connect can be declined, though.

Microsoft also indicated that there are IT controls over this external calling capability, suggesting that the process depends on an organization's administrative settings. IT departments can enable or disable outbound chats with external Teams personal account users, but the enable option is the default setting.

IT departments also can enable or disable the ability of external Teams users to connect, but the enable option is the default. It's possible to exclude communications with certain Teams users within an organization, such as "members of your executive team," Microsoft indicated, but it involves setting up policies using PowerShell commands.

There are some safeguards added to this communication scheme. External users are marked by "external badging" in a message's "chat list and chat header." The messages get checked for spam before delivery, and 10 invites is the limit. Personal Teams account users can "opt out from being discoverable by other Teams users."

Despite the safeguards, plenty of lively comments about security and possible impersonation issues were raised in the comments section of Microsoft's announcement. One big issue discovered by one reader is that Microsoft's "data-loss prevention (DLP) and information barriers don't apply to External Access chats," per this Microsoft support document.

IP Phone Scrapping Partnership
Microsoft announced on Jan. 27 that it has partnered with the company Network-Value on a program that buys or scraps Internet Protocol (IP)-based desktop phones and videoconferencing room equipment.

The program, called "Device Trade-In for Microsoft Teams," is billed as being for organizations that are switching to Microsoft Teams. The program is wholly run by U.S.-based Network-Value, which assesses the equipment prior to paying for it or scrapping it. The program is currently available worldwide.

Under the program, Network-Value promises to pay for "the most common" unified communications meeting room devices, network infrastructure equipment and IP desktop phones at "fair market value." Organizations send the equipment to Network-Value and get payment, if approved, after 30 days. Network-Value will pay for returned equipment shipment costs only. A recycling effort is part of the arrangement, and Network-Value will issue certificates of device destruction in such cases.

Network-Value sees the recycling effort as disburdening IT departments, per Microsoft's announcement:

Some aging devices will unfortunately have no resale value, but still occupy valuable storage space in your facilities. Network-Value will provide you with options for recycling and safely disposing of these devices, which relieves IT departments of some of the challenges of managing reverse-logistics.

After the device scrapping, Microsoft offers its Device as a Service program for organizations wanting to finance the buying of Microsoft Teams devices. There's also a Microsoft Teams Devices website for buying new devices.

January Teams Features
Microsoft described Teams features that arrived for some subscribers in January in this Jan. 31 announcement.

Most of the improvements described are for end users, such as an unmute keyboard shortcut. There's also a preview of a "front row layout" view for Microsoft Teams Rooms device users on Windows systems, which puts event attendees at the eye level of a remote viewer. Another notable feature for end users is transcription of one-to-one Teams calls. Microsoft also made it easier to access "VoIP and PSTN call recordings" in Teams' call history.

IT pros got some Teams perks in January, too. For instance, Teams Rooms devices on Windows can now use "Azure Active Directory (AAD) device-based conditional access controls." Access to Teams and Microsoft Exchange services can be based on compliance policies set for devices.

IT pros also are getting a new policy that automatically sends Teams meeting recordings to the "recycle bin after 60 days." If IT departments want to change this default period, though, they'll need to use PowerShell, which is described in this announcement.

A "scoped Teams device administration role" is available. It's based on "administrative units in organizations," which lets organizations with global operations designate administrators in specific office locations.

The Teams Admin Center is said to show more information on applications and management options. Teams administrators also now get notifications when "developers submit a new application for review and approval." Microsoft also added its own Surface Hub as a Teams device that can be managed in the Teams Admin Center.

Teams also now supports "Sensitivity labels" for the content of Government clouds users, which gets overseen using the Teams Admin Center.

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