Microsoft Exchange Conference Returns After 10-Year Hiatus

The Microsoft Exchange Conference makes its return to the tech conference lineup after a 10-year absence as the company recognizes the importance of the platform in a business’ overall communications strategy.

The Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) convened again in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 24 as Microsoft touts email’s continued importance as part of a unified communications strategy along with instant messaging, presence, voice, text and enterprise social media.

MEC returns after a 10-year absence mainly to help Microsoft promote the coming Exchange Server 2013 and its cloud counterpart, Exchange in Office 365 for Enterprises.

MEC was a standalone Microsoft event until the company decided to roll it into Microsoft TechEd, which is a conference dedicated to training users on a variety of Microsoft application and development platforms, said Julia White, general manager and head of Microsoft Office Division Product Management. But the Exchange community has always been an active one and has been asking for a return to the idea of a standalone conference.

“And we said, ‘You know what? The community is so strong and so hungry for this that we’re bringing back the Exchange Conference,’” she said.

The 2012 MEC will focus on new features of Exchange 2013, which is a much richer platform than it was a decade ago, including unified contact management, integrated voice mail that offers the ability to convert voice mails to text, archiving, e-discovery, data loss prevention and anti-spam/antivirus protection, White said.

The Outlook calendar application includes a new Outlook Web interface that is now touch-enabled so users can access their calendars on mobile devices, including tablets or smartphones.

Another new Exchange 2013 feature, called “Site Mailboxes,” allows for the creation of a unique mailbox and distribution list for a specific project. Project organizers create distribution lists adding or removing participants as needed to share correspondence, documents, PowerPoint presentations and other attachments via email.

“They’re actually still out on the SharePoint site [too], but I can see them and manage them, open them and edit them right within my Outlook experience,” White said.

Businesses are gradually embracing delivery of Exchange via the cloud over on-premise, although it varies by size of business. She said the majority of small businesses use cloud-based email. For medium-sized businesses of from 25 to 250 employees it’s about a 50-50 split between cloud and on-premise access to Exchange. About 90 percent of larger enterprises still rely on an on-premise system. However, enterprises are increasingly running cloud-based email in certain areas.

Microsoft shared the results of a survey conducted in early September by Harris Interactive, which reveals that 90 percent of IT professionals say they would be comfortable using a cloud-based anti-spam application, with more than 40 percent of them extremely or very comfortable with it. Also, almost two-thirds of them are extremely or very concerned that their organization could lose sensitive data without them knowing it.

Lastly, protecting sensitive company information and guarding against malware or other security threats were the top two concerns of IT professionals regarding cloud-based systems.

Various reports have documented a decline in the use of email as alternative communications methods such as instant messaging (IM), text or social media grow in popularity. A ComScore report from early 2011, for instance, documented a 6 percent decline in the number of visitors to Web-based email sites, a 9 percent decline in the number of minutes spent on such sites and a 15 percent decline in the number of page views. But that is more the case with consumers’ use of email. Email is alive and well in the business world, said White.

Gartner analyst Matt Cain reports an average 15 percent annual increase in the use of email, ranging between 10 percent and 20 percent in recent years. Rather than replacing email as a form of communication, it is being used in conjunction with those other communications options.

“Email is evolving and it has to be a much more integrated experience. People don’t want to have to move between silos of technology to be able to communicate; it should be wherever they are,” White said.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with the new title of Julia White, general manager and head of Microsoft Office Division Product Management.