Yammer is branching out, allowing users to bring their colleagues at other companies into the loop.
The new External Groups feature, launched yesterday, builds on Yammer's existing external contacts and networks functionality to extend team collaboration to colleagues that may be on the same project but draw a paycheck from different employers.
"Office 365 customers can now create external Yammer groups for seamless and secure collaboration across company and organizational boundaries," said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office 365 Client Applications, in an April 26 announcement.
"External groups work just like internal groups by enabling conversations around topics, documents, notes and links that can now extend to customers, partners or people in other organizations," continued Koenigsbauer.
While meant to improve collaboration between suppliers, consultants and workers at outside organizations, Microsoft has included some safeguards to prevent employees from over-sharing.
In Yammer, external groups appear as a separate section under the Groups menu, reducing the chances that users will share confidential information with unauthorized external contacts.
Notifications alert users when external group members sign on. The feature also includes tools to help administrators assign access, according to Angus Florance, a Microsoft senior product marketing manager.
"Each external group requires group admin approval for external members to join, and a set of proactive controls via Exchange Transport Rules prevents sensitive company information from being shared," wrote Florance in a company blog post. "We also added functionality to our data export to help verified administrators see which files and conversations are accessible to external users."
To use External Groups, customers will also need to enable Yammer's External Messaging functionality, according to a FAQ published by Microsoft. The company explains that since they are built on the same architecture, both the External Groups and External Messaging functionality must be turned on for either to work.
In addition, all users, both internal and external, must belong to a Yammer network in order to belong to a group. The company hinted that it plans to someday add support for users with email addresses belonging to consumer domains like gmail.com or Microsoft's own outlook.com.
For businesses that would rather not create external groups, the company recommends that administrators enforce their Exchange Transport Rules in Yammer. In Exchange, transport rules allow organizations to manage or restrict how emails and messages flow throughout an organization.
Microsoft offered somewhat of a timeline regarding when it expects to integrate Yammer Groups and Office 365 Groups. Inspired by Yammer, the Office 365 Groups social collaboration feature allows users to collaborate on Office files and participate in discussions. It has been available to business customers since September 2014.
"We plan to have Yammer groups integrated with the Office 365 Groups Service in the second half of this year," according to the Yammer FAQ. "Initially, external groups won't be part of this integration, although it is something we will look at building in the future."