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Fax Servers: Serving Faxes More Than Ever!

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The continued—and still growing!—reliance on faxes for secure, easy document transmission has more and more businesses moving from traditional fax machines or PC-based faxing programs to dedicated fax servers. Should you join them?
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Despite the continued growth of email, instant messaging (IM), cell phones, SMS (Short Message Service text messages to and from cell phones), the World Wide Web—and any other messaging and document moving systems in vogue—fax serving is not only still alive, but apparently more active than ever, and continuing to grow. Not bad for a technology invented over 160 years ago!

NOTE

To learn a little more, see Mary Bellis' article "The History of the Fax Machine - Alexander Bain" at About.com.

Although annual email is in the trillions (granted, half or more is spam, bounces, etc.), companies in industries such as finance, healthcare, travel, and legal still do lots of faxing. According to Peter Davidson, president of Davidson Consulting, five billion faxes are sent annually. While that's a drop in the virtual bucket compared to the trillions of email messages sent annually—according to a recent IDC report, in 2005, over 36 billion person-to-person email messages will be sent per day worldwide—that's still a lot of fax messages.

Medical offices do lots of faxing. So do banks and legal firms, airlines and travel agencies (although they're increasingly offering a choice of email or fax). And, of course, so do many lower-tech spammers.

"Over 90% of U.S. companies are fax-enabled," Davidson reported in 2003. And while faxing may not make it to its bicentennial anniversary, IDC projects that faxing will remain "a major form of document distribution at least until 2020."

In case your company is still faxing after all these years—and possibly expecting to increase fax activity—here's a brief survey of what's available in the way of fax servers, and other information and advice.

Why Fax? Why Network-Enabled?

Although email and IM and often even voice mail have their advantages, according to fax vendors and pundits, faxing retains some competitive benefits:

  • Faxing is more reliable and secure than email or other Internet methods. Faxes certainly can't contain viruses. A fax connection lacks the "hackability" of a more general network port, to be sure, and won't let you further into the network.

  • Faxes are considered legally binding documents. One of my sources used phrases like "tamper-resistant," although it strikes me that faxes can be easy to forge. On the other hand, it's not as if digitally signed email or any other form of email authentication has caught on in any big way. New laws and regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA have increased concerns for privacy and audit trails, which, in turn, have led to more faxing.

"Problems with email have made fax a more interesting choice for contacting lots of people, especially involving transactional documents," comments Davidson. But, of course, as anybody who has spent time working the fax machine knows, faxing the old-fashioned "walk to the machine and feed the paper in" way is a time-burning activity. Maury Kauffman of The Kauffman Group offers the math: "If a 25-person organization manually faxes 30 two-page documents daily, it is squandering approximately 1,000 man-hours per year."

By contrast, Captaris, for example, claims their RightFax products "have proven to reduce document delivery costs for [their] customers by 90%."

Using corporate servers and LANs saves on shoe leather, increases the privacy of faxes (no sneak-peaking at not-yet-delivered faxes), increases the odds of delivery accuracy, and helps reduce the number and costs of associated phone lines.

Fax servers also make a lot of sense when documents start out digitally, especially when there are multiple documents or pages, or to reduce inbound paper that needs to be routed and stored. For example, for a company that has 10,000 purchase orders to be sent out by fax, generating the faxes directly instead of first printing them is a compelling approach. Ditto large runs of faxing of mortgage rates, car loan paperwork, or workflow automation such as orders for just-in-time inventory. "Production fax" applications like these—the largest-growing segment of the LAN fax market, according to Frank Potocnik, senior market fax development manager at Brooktrout Technology—automate the sending of faxes to large number of addresses. Hence the keen desire, where feasible, to marry faxing with computers, back-office systems, servers, and networks.

Not surprisingly, today's fax servers and software reflect now-standard office realities such as web-based access and the ability to work from and to PDF files.

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