Exchange admins are a loyal bunch, as witnessed by the fact that the Exchange community remains cohesive despite what sometimes seems like Microsoft's best efforts to discourage it. For example, back in the 1990s, the annual Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) was a highly successful gathering of Exchange enthusiasts. These dedicated professionals enjoyed getting together with Microsoft and learning from each other. But in the wake of the tech crash, Microsoft consolidated its conferences and rolled MEC into TechEd. Too bad, Exchange community: You've been assimilated into an all-encompassing IT assembly and the focus on Exchange has been dispersed. However, not to be discouraged so easily, this resilient group has rallied around the Exchange Connections conference and kept the spirit growing. That's what I call bonding with a technology.
Considering Microsoft's focus on IT community in the past few years, you'd think the company would be holding up Exchange as a shining model of customer engagement. Here's an organic, thriving, and authentic community that persists because people identify with the product, not because Microsoft has decided community is the answer to poor customer satisfaction.
Keep the Choir Singing
Just when I think Microsoft gets the idea of customer service and community, the company decides it can take an enthusiastic group of customers for granted in order to steer them toward a shiny new technology. Dismal IT customer satisfaction resulted when Microsoft dropped Windows NT devotees like hot potatoes after the launch of Windows 2000 (Win2K). The company's attitude seemed to be, "If we build Win2K, IT will come." Back in those days, I can't tell you how often I heard Microsoft say the company didn't need to waste time "preaching to the choir."
The launch of Windows Vista, Office 2007, and—oh, yeah—Exchange 2007 gives me the feeling that Microsoft is once again testing the resolve of the Exchange community. It seems the company just expects Exchange users to jump on the Exchange 2007 bandwagon, so there's no need to celebrate the launch and the community's responsibility for Exchange's success. More significantly, though, Office Communications Server (OCS, the successor to Live Communications Server—LCS), which is the company's strategic priority, is scheduled for launch by mid-2007 and it seems that Microsoft is trying to shift the focus away from Exchange to OCS, the enabler of the company's new Unified Communications (UC) effort.
Think Like Your Customers
Of course, focusing on UC as a way to get IT excited about a new direction is absolutely appropriate and points to an evolutionary change in how people will be able to communicate efficiently. I just think Microsoft's long-term strategy for UC is clouding its judgment about the importance of keeping Exchange enthusiasts engaged and excited along the way.
But more important, I believe this lack of consideration for IT is connected to Microsoft's moving Exchange, a server product that used to be part of the Server and Tools Division, into the company's Office business unit. The company has always considered Office an enduser product—the Office division's name is Information Worker Business Unit (IWBU). Although the Office team does an outstanding job of serving information workers' needs, I haven't noticed the team investing much effort in understanding IT customer satisfaction. In fact, I've been shocked at the arrogance of some Office representatives when I've tried to talk to them about the issues that are of importance to IT. But the Office group has always considered itself fairly unassailable in its dominance of the desktop, so it makes sense that this attitude would transfer to new members of the Office family.Celebrating, Not Relegating
The good news is that Microsoft people who have been associated with Exchange since before the organizational move do understand IT's needs. Evidence of their commitment to the Exchange community is a series of local events starting in March under the title Microsoft Unified Communications: Featuring Exchange Server 2007 and cosponsored by this publication and Microsoft ( http://www.windowsitpro.com/roadshows/exhange2007usa). Although these events fall under the umbrella of UC, the focus will be on core IT considerations: Exchange 2007 architecture, deployment, management, security, and mobility. These events will provide an IT context and demonstrate how Exchange fits into the bigger picture of UC.
If the IWBU doesn't want to test the strong loyalty of Exchange admins yet again, the division needs to get attuned to the IT folks who are and will continue to be responsible for Exchange—not to mention OCS. It would be a shame to start hearing again that Microsoft doesn't need to preach to the IT choir. Even if no highly attractive alternatives to Exchange are available to tempt current customers, neglecting a vital community is never a good idea.