Sharing with others has become as easy as point-and-click.
One of the most powerful and under-utilised features of Office 365 is the ability to work with people outside of your organisation.
Previously with on-premise servers this would be difficult and expensive, potentially requiring technical know-how, firewalls and proxy servers, additional server roles, additional licences and security certificates to encrypt your data. All of this was beyond the reach of the average business.
With Office 365 it is a short hop to collaborate with people outside of your organisation. One of the things that blew me away after I started using Office 365 myself was how I was able to share information and access with people outside of my organisation. I work on a daily basis with people all over the world, and the sharing features of Office 365 allowed us to work as a single team, regardless of time zone or employer.
Countless emails and attachments are a thing of the past. Office 365 breaks collaboration with external parties into two main methods: partner access (for SharePoint Online) and federation (for Exchange Online and Lync Online).
Sharing with SharePoint Online
Previously to grant remote access to an on-premise SharePoint environment (either the free or paid version) it would require at least the purchase of a licence to stay legal, then add a certificate for data encryption, firewall modifications to allow traffic, and someone smart enough to put it all together.
With SharePoint Online this is as simple as selecting “Share Site” under Site Actions and adding a person’s Office 365 account (if their company also uses it) or Windows Live ID (aka Hotmail) address. You can then specify what level of permissions that person has, and on what content. Out of the box each Office 365 customer is granted 50 Partner Access Licences (PALs), however you can buy more. Licences can also be re-used by revoking the permissions of someone previously granted access.
Communicating with Lync Online
Lync Online is also extremely easy – it really is a case of flipping a switch. Go into the Lync Online administrative interface and selecting “Enable” under the Domain federation tab. If you want to communicate with people on Windows Live Messenger then also enable Public IM. That’s it – you’re done! (Don’t worry, you can disable these features on a per-user level too.)
Scheduling with Exchange Online
Exchange Online is very easy on an individual basis but a bit more complex on an organisational level.
Effectively all Office 365 customers are pre-approved to federate with each other, so all a user needs to do is share their calendar with someone from within Outlook. This allows the other user who is also an Office 365 customer to see your calendar with the same level of permissions that you grant internal users (you get to choose how much information you show them).
Outlook also supports the ability to share your individual calendar with people using a .ICS file.
This can be achieved on an organisational level however it requires some PowerShell scripting which your Office 365 support partner should be able to help you out with. This is known as Exchange calendar federation and allows you to publish your Free/Busy or actual schedule information with other partners on either Office 365 or Exchange Server 2010.
Loryan Strant is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Follow him on Twitter @TheCloudMouth.