Collaboration Software

External Federation: Where Will It Be 1 Year From Now?

Discover the current state and future of external federation across popular team collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Webex, exploring its history, challenges, potential solutions, and insights from industry experts.
Dominic Kent
Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers.
External federation

By now, you've learned the differences between the expectations and realities of external federation.

In this post, we'll take a look at what the state of external federation will be in a year's time.

Table of Contents:

Perhaps, it will even be a precursor to our next piece of independent research?

If you haven't already seen our Workplace Messaging Report for 2019, you can download it for free here. (This post will remain open so feel free to switch between tabs to compare the state of workplace messaging today and in a year's time).

The History of External Federation

We covered the full history of external federation in this post but we'll break it down for you here too - platform by platform.


  • In team collaboration, the term appeared in the Microsoft Lync world
  • Admins could opt to turn on federation which enabled users of Lync in different organizations to chat with each other via Lync
  • Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 and rebranded Lync to Skype for Business in 2015
  • Skype for Business federation supported users in different organizations chatting from Skype for Business to Skype for Business and from Skype for Business to consumer-grade Skype
  • Microsoft Teams has recently taken over as the flagship Microsoft collaboration tool
  • Microsoft Teams guest access and external access are alternatives to federation but not exactly the same functionality
  • Skype for Business users move to Microsoft Teams and are slightly disgruntled as there is no natural federation functionality like that are used to in Skype for Business
  • At Microsoft Ignite in March 2021, Microsoft announced Teams Connect - at this time, it's unknown how many users of organizations will be supported but expect Slack Connect-esq functionality
  • There remains no way to chat with users on other platforms natively


  • Jabber integrates with Skype for Business for internal use
  • Spark (now Webex) is launched by Cisco as their flagship team collaboration tool in 2015
  • Jabber and Webex have the same interface as of mid-2020
  • Cisco worked on a way to create a Cisco Spark Bot that can create guest users at a network level
  • Ultimately, customers invited partners to utilize the free Spark version so all Spark users could communicate, regardless of paid or free accounts
  • When Webex replaced Spark, Cisco solved the guest access issue
  • You can now invite any Webex user from another organization, assuming your policy doesn't restrict you from doing so
  • There remains no way to chat with users on other platforms natively


  • Launched in 2013 and heavily targeted smaller business for internal comms
  • Slack acquired Astro in 2018, prompting speculation that it was looking at external comms
  • Due to rapid adoption in larger businesses, Slack launched shared channels in 2019 so users could create a Slack channel to use with external parties like contractors, suppliers, and clients
  • In June 2020, Slack launched Slack Connect as an enterprise edition of shared channels
  • There remains no way to chat with users on other platforms natively

The Current State of External Federation

Today, we know that 91% of businesses use at least 2 messaging apps internally.

Typically, the more employees per company, the more messaging apps in place.

Mio has been solving that issue for some time now. Internal messaging is solved with our full synchronization feature in our enterprise product.

When it comes to external communications, the experience is equally as fragmented.

Messaging should be conducted from one app. But the reality is we are drowning in apps.

As Dave Michels points out below, often up to 6 messaging apps are in use, not rolled out across all devices, and messages often get missed.

External federation; Dave Michels Twitter

Here's a list of use cases our customers have asked us to replicate from our internal messaging interoperability product...

  • When messaging customers or prospects
  • To message partners that use different apps
  • For talking to one-off and recurring external companies
  • When collaborating on bespoke projects
  • If they work with a reseller but prefer different apps
  • When mid-merger or mid-acquisition and domains and platforms have yet to be merged

A major issue when defining the current state of external federation is the lack of it.

What Happens Without External Federation?

As mentioned three times in the above section, there is no way to natively chat to external contact across platform.

This means both parties often resort back to email - the very tool your team collaboration app was bought in to replace - and go back to previous and less productive ways of working.

Outside of email, it is not uncommon for niche groups or departments to break out and start using their own tool that is ungoverned by IT.

When I spoke with Chad Reese, IT Director at Pro Football Hall of Fame, he mentioned the challenge IT faces with shadow messaging.

"People didn’t know you could install Microsoft Teams on your phone. We saw the younger generation start using WhatsApp groups.”

Rather than letting your app count increase and increase, which is the current state of external federation, there must be a solution to remedy this mass collaboration chaos.

Where Will External Federation Be 1 Year From Now?

I could tell you what I hope will happen in a year's time. It would go along the lines of everybody will be using Mio with the team collaboration tools of their choice, triggering an exponential increase in productivity in external communications.

Instead, I reached out to analysts in the Unified Comms and Team Collaboration industry to hear what they had to say about the future of external federation...

Dom Black, Cavell Group

Dom Black, Cavell Group

Dom Black, Head of Research at Cavell Group, mentioned consumer demand for federation and how it will force collaboration providers to start to work closer together.

He said that Cavell already sees this happening but it is not full federation and the services do not work seamlessly together.

Dom references the Cavell Group 2019 Enterprise Survey (sample: 1800, North America, EMEA) and points out one of the key improvements enterprises want is different collaboration tools integrated together.

"One collaboration tool does not solve all business needs. Multiple tools are used to communicate internally and externally - causing operational silos."

Dom Black, Head of Research at Cavell Group

Dom added that "Over 28% of organizations not using collaboration tools want to adopt within 2 years."

Concluding that huge growth is anticipated, Dom said: "Federation is likely but will be a gradual process with different services federating at different levels to start."

Irwin Lazar, Metrigy

Irwin Lazar, Nemertes Research on external federation

Irwin Lazar, President and Principal Analyst at Metrigy, said we’ll see more federation option for two uses cases:

  • Same platform federation: like Cisco federation and Slack shared channels
  • Third-party services like Mio and NextPlane to connect across platform

Irwin also added that he thinks there will be growth of cross-company focused services like CafeX and Avaya IX Spaces.

"The need to support cross-company collaboration will continue to grow."

Irwin Lazar, Nemertes Research

What is Driving External Federation?

You, actually.

The simple answer to this is the disconnected experience you experience every day in intercompany collaboration.

I'll run through some examples and you might read one that reflects how you work...

  • I work in sales and chat with prospects every day - instead of staying in Slack where I am most productive, I chase emails and try to arrange meetings, eventually losing some clients due to a clunky comms experience
  • With external federation, I could increase deal close rate, improve win rate velocity, and reduce churn.
  • I work in customer success and chat with customers every day - instead of getting them onboarded swiftly and growing the account, I juggle the apps they want to use and miss notifications from my other customers
  • With external federation, I could accelerate onboarding, get repeat business, and be more proactive
  • I am the VP of Business Development and chat with partners all day every day - instead of keeping my documents in one app and messaging with my favorite shortcuts and integrations, I spend hours per week learning how the partner works to protect the relationship
  • With external federation, I could build better relationships, make faster decisions, and keep communications in one place
  • I am the Director of IT and chat with every department in the organization - instead of having a single platform, I have to implement governance plans to cover recurring shadow IT and create new accounts across multiple platforms
  • With external federation, I could scrap guest account administration for good, manage team collaboration apps the way I want to, and reduce shadow IT

Said it was you, didn't I?

How Can I Sign Up?

Mio has created universal channels to enable external federation between Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Cisco Webex…

Federation for Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex Teams

You can stay in Teams and send messages to your contractors, suppliers, or clients that use Slack or Webex (and vice versa).

They stay in their platform too and Mio translates the messages across platform.

And it’s not just messages that are supported! GIFs, emojis, channels, DMs, and message edits/deletes are all supported.

If this sounds like something you need, install your first universal channel free here.

From there, you can start benefiting from federation for your combination of Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Webex.

Read next: 7 Problems With External Federation And How You Can Fix Them

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