An ideal SharePoint collaboration solution would provide external users:
- Easy, but secure, access to the files and information they need
- The functionality to accomplish the task, or to collaborate on it effectively
- The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with other members of the team (internal and external users) in the collaboration environment
- The capability of effectively using the full range of tools that the collaboration solution provides
A SharePoint extranet hosted on-premises makes the full range of SharePoint functionality available to each user, whether internal or external, according to the limitations set in place by the extranet administrator.
The addition of Extranet Collaboration Manager for SharePoint (ExCM), a SharePoint add-on product by PremierPoint Solutions, enables streamlined, powerful, management of SharePoint extranet users, while simplifying access and use for extranet users. It is fully integrated into the SharePoint management interface, and its features are accessible through Site Settings.
These days, however, a growing number of organizations are moving away from SharePoint on premises to Office 365 SharePoint Online, a subscription-based online solution hosted in the cloud by Microsoft. Office 365 provides limited external collaboration capability through its External Sharing feature. But is this scaled-down extranet substitute, with its limited functionality, a worthy replacement for a full-featured extranet? Let’s think about that for a moment.
Here is how Microsoft defines an Office 365 external user:
“An external user is someone outside of your organization who can access your SharePoint Online sites and documents but does not have a license for your SharePoint Online or Microsoft Office 365 subscription. External users are not employees, contractors, or onsite agents for you or your affiliates.
External users inherit the use rights of the SharePoint Online customer who is inviting them to collaborate. That is, if an organization purchases an E3 Enterprise plan, and builds a site that uses enterprise features, the external user is granted rights to use and/or view the enterprise features within the site collection they are invited to. While external users can be invited as extended project members to perform a full range of actions on a site, they will not have the exact same capabilities as a full, paid, licensed member within your organization. The limitations are described in the table below.”
Microsoft then presents a chart showing the three things an external user can do, and the many things he/she CAN’T do.
According to Microsoft, external users can:
- Use Office Online for viewing and editing documents
- Perform tasks on a site consistent with the permission level that they are assigned
- See other types of content on sites
But the list of things that external users cannot do goes on and on. External users are restricted from performing the following functions:
- Creating their own personal sites, editing their profile, etc.
- Creating their own OneDrive for Business document library
- Acting as a Site Collection Administrator
- Seeing the company wide newsfeed
- Adding storage to the overall tenant storage pool
- Accessing the Search Center to execute searches on “everything.” Other search features that may not be available include: Advanced Content Processing, continuous crawls, and refiners
- Accessing site mailboxes
- Accessing Power BI features including Power View, Power Pivot, Quick Explore, or Timeline Slicer
- Opening downloaded documents that are protected with Information Rights Management (IRM,) a Microsoft encryption feature enabled by many organizations for security and privacy
- Using eDiscovery
Other features that may not be available to external users include:
- Excel Services features, including Calculated Measures and Calculated Members, decoupled Pivot Tables and PivotCharts, Field List and field support, filter enhancements, search filters.
- SharePoint Online data connection libraries
- Visio Services
The list of what external users can’t do is 4 times as long!
If the Office 365 subscriber (the organization) wants the external user(s) to have these capabilities, the subscriber must purchase an Office 365 license for each external user.
But with SharePoint on-premises, an unlimited number of external users (non-employees) can all use ALL OF THE FEATURES of the edition of SharePoint that the organization is using (Foundation, Standard or Enterprise) with no additional licensing, and at no additional charge.
And with the ExCM add-on deployed, both the users and the administrator will enjoy an easy and efficient SharePoint extranet experience.