Have you signed up for Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) 2001? Believe it or not, Microsoft has already opened this year's MEC registration. This might be the earliest I've ever seen MEC registration available. I have an opinion/observation that might explain Microsoft's early-bird approach.

My first reaction when I visit the MEC home page is that MEC is not MEC anymore. The page lists the conference as "Microsoft's Premier Exchange, Windows, & .NET Enterprise Servers Event." What happened to my Exchange conference? Will I have to wade through endless session content to find the Exchange information that I really want? Maybe—but the change might be good for us all.

As you know from previous commentaries, I feel strongly that, from a professional viewpoint, Exchange professionals need to get out of the Exchange business—sort of. I don't mean that we should forget Exchange and move to something else; I just think we need to stretch beyond our comfort zones (as Exchange gurus) and broaden our horizons to include the bigger Microsoft picture. Exchange is still an awesome product that I believe is the leading messaging platform available. Exchange won't go away—already, more powerful and feature-rich Exchange versions are in the works. However, Microsoft is thinking bigger, and Exchange is only one piece of the .NET puzzle. To survive long term, we Exchange professionals need to broaden our horizons.

This big picture scenario hits home for IT departments that are realizing they can no longer be just a cost center to the organization. IT departments must add value to the business by building business solutions that encompass more than messaging systems. If your organization has bet its business on Microsoft technology, you need to know about more than Exchange technology to architect Microsoft .NET solutions. The focus now becomes a business problem that you must solve instead of an application you need to deploy. IT departments need to fundamentally change their thinking and become .NET architects instead of Exchange, SQL, or Win2K experts.

At MEC 2001, Microsoft will try to assist us in that quest. While it won't be "our father's MEC," the conference will provide that leg up we need for understanding more about Microsoft's directions, strategies, and technologies. Don't worry, you'll still get your fill of great Exchange content. However, the new MEC will also provide an opportunity to grow your knowledge beyond Exchange and make yourself even more marketable or valuable to your employer. See you at MEC 2001!