For more than a decade, accounting firm Saw Meng Tee and Partners stuck to an antiquated e-mail system that did not allow employees to synchronise messages across PCs and devices.
Whenever an employee sent out an e-mail message using Microsoft Outlook on his PC, that message could not be accessed from other devices, such as smartphones, via the firm's Internet e-mail server.
To get around the problem, all employees at the 14-year-old firm had to include their e-mail addresses in the recipient list to ensure that a copy of a sent message was duplicated on the company's webmail server.
Mr Saw, who founded the firm and remains a partner, said maintaining copies of sent messages is vital to the firm. For auditing purposes, it is required to track all messages and files it exchanged with its clients.
"Because our e-mail messages were not synchronised, we often did not know what was sent out until we logged on to the webmail server. That was very troublesome for us," he said.
It was also cumbersome and time-consuming to upload e-mail attachments using the webmail service.
"We had to upload the files to the webmail server first, before attaching them to our messages," he explained.
"We also tried to send out professional-looking messages as much as we could, but the old webmail service did not support features such as bulleted text."
To make matters worse, all 60 employees at the company were required to back up all their e-mail messages on their own, using backup software installed on their PCs.
"As this was done manually, we had to send someone to remind our staff on all three floors of our office to back up their e-mail messages every day," he said.
Things got better only late last year when the firm switched to using Office 365 for Business. This is Microsoft's office productivity suite, which lets consumers and businesses access e-mail messages and documents through the cloud, and allows co-workers to collaborate.
The company uses only Exchange Online, an e-mail and calendar service that is part of Office365 for Business. But its employees are already benefiting from it.
Said Mr Saw: "Our e-mail messages are now synchronised across multiple devices, including our BlackBerry smartphones.
"E-mail messages are also backed up automatically based on a schedule. That helps our IT manager, who is a much happier person now."
According to tech research firm Gartner, global revenues for e-mail and calendar software reached US$4.4 billion (S$5.47 billion) last year, and are expected to grow to US$6.1 billion in 2015.
By then, it expects that cloud-based e-mail and calendar services will represent 15 per cent of that market.
Last month, Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service went offline for about 12hours because of an expired security certificate.
While all cloud service providers have had their fair share of breakdowns, companies are aware that the lower cost of cloud services generally outweighs the potential downtime and security concerns of hosting corporate data on the Internet.
With Exchange Online, priced at US$4 per user per month, Mr Saw does not need to hire more IT staff to manage a physical e-mail server.
"What we are paying is reasonable compared with what it would cost to hire someone to manage the e-mail server," he said.
"As for cloud security, there will always be some concern at the back of our minds, but we'll have to live with what we have."
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This article was published on March 27 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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