MEC early bird discount closing

Early-bird discounted registration for the much-anticipated relaunch of the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) finishes on May 18, which is tomorrow for most people. This public service message is brought to you in an attempt to help resolve the nagging question “which conference is likely to deliver the best Exchange content for me in the next year”.

The operational and technical environment that people deal with differs enormously from deployment to deployment and a single answer won’t apply in all cases. For instance, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft will use MEC as the launch vehicle for Exchange 2013 with Kevin Allison, GM of Exchange, promising that “MEC will be full of Exchange 15 content” when he keynoted at TEC in San Diego earlier this month. Therefore, if you really must learn all you possibly can about the latest and greatest version of Exchange, you’ll be one of those who packs their Mickey Mouse ears and heads to Orlando in September to join the MECfest.

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in the details of practical deployment, tips and techniques, and the nitty-gritty of current versions of Exchange, you’d probably be better off investing in a conference fee for either TEC or Exchange Connections. That is, if these conferences continue to function in a world where a lot of the available attention and attendee dollars is being vacuumed up by MEC.

It’s great to see MEC back because it was a very important element in the development of an Exchange community and its supporting ecosystem in the early days of the product, when fights were fought against Lotus Notes and other competing email systems, and there was much to learn and debate at a time when the Internet wasn’t quite so available or so full of information as it is today. MEC can’t serve the same function today as it did in the 1990s. I imagine that Microsoft knows this and the 2012 event will be different to what went before.

But the presence of MEC is causing concern for people who are interested in independent conferences. To their credit, Microsoft has said that they’ll continue to support these events by sending speakers along to share the engineering and development perspective of Exchange and keep people informed about future directions. That’s good, but it can only work if people sign up to attend the independent conferences. The safe choice, after all, is to go to the Microsoft event.

I strongly believe that the independent conferences can continue to prosper. To do so, I think that they have to change and evolve away from the “talking head” model that has served them well for the last decade. There are lots of online conferences that you can attend to get your fill of talking heads. Face to face conferences should be more exciting and offer the chance to engage, learn, debate, and resolve questions and other issues connected to Exchange, SharePoint, or whatever other technology a conference focuses on. I hope that the organizers of these events have their thinking caps on to figure out how they’ll attract attendees away from the magnetic pull of MEC.

Some have suggested that the independent conferences should focus on Unified Communications rather than just Exchange. There seems to be a lot of value in this approach, especially as Office 365 gives access to SharePoint Online and Lync Online as well as Exchange Online. It’s good to know how to link these products together to achieve business solutions.

I think the independent conferences have a fair shot at success, perhaps after adjusting their plans to develop true differentiation to generate real value for attendees when they see just what Microsoft will deliver in Orlando next September. All aboard for the MEC train…

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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