Is the fax machine still relevant to your business?

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The fax machine refuses to die. Although it might seem like a Stone Age technology by today’s standards, many companies are still using them.

Fax machines are still widely used in medical, law, insurance, and government offices. In these fields it can be a better way to transmit sensitive documents such as contracts which, if sent over an unencrypted email, could be vulnerable to interception. If sent over a phone line with a fax machine, intercepting them would take special phone tapping equipment which not everyone has access too. Sending a fax also provides you with verification that your message was sent to the recipient, and this can provide a certain peace of mind to the sender.

As Fast Company writes, to some, faxes might seem safer than digital communication methods. “Phone lines are vulnerable to surveillance, but cyber-threats tend to draw more attention and thus seem more likely. After the hack at Sony, employees reportedly resorted to using phone calls and fax machines again in order to avoid hackers,” the article reported.

The fax machine has gained such a foothold in business practises that in some select circumstances it’s more accessible and even a bit faster compared to other technologies. The email process of print-sign-scan-return can be time-consuming for some people. If, for example, you need to send a bill of lading to a vendor to attach to a pallet they’re about to ship to you, it’s just easier for both parties to send it via fax. There is also the fact that business owners don’t always have everyone’s email on file and directories often list phone number and fax numbers, but no email.

Some businesses use them out of necessity as is the case with Guaranteed Removals, a company that removes customer complaints from websites like Yelp, and Scam.com. Reputation consultant Chris Nicholls says, “We use them because our clients use them. That’s the only reason. Usually we provide clients with the option to either fax their contract or scan it. I’d say it’s still about 30 per cent of people who will choose to fax it.”

He goes on to say: “Some of them like to write comments on the contracts to make changes, and that’s easier to do with a fax.” The clients that prefer the fax machine are mostly doctors and lawyers. Doctors are required by law to use a fax machine when they want to transmit sensitive information like medical records, so they are justified in not junking their fax machines. Until electronic medical records systems become more efficient and easy to use, the fax will remain the way to go for some professionals.

Just the fax please

There is also the case for fax marketing, a somewhat old-fashioned style of direct marketing that can still have some impact today. Fax flyers can still be one of the cheapest ways to advertise. By sending out fax blasts, you can send an advertisement to thousands of companies at a time for pennies on the dollar, and thanks to vfax technology it can all be done using software.

Fax marketing also has the advantage of a high open rate, meaning that they are more likely to be read than an email.  Why?Someone, at some point, will have to remove the ad from the fax machine tray and look at it.

There are still some arguments against the fax machine, and one of them is the enormous amount of paper that is used in the process. According to a survey done by Coupon Chili, nearly 17 billion faxes are sent every year, and this amounts to a staggering amount of paper.

“For most business holding on to paper is an environmentally unfriendly way of dealing with information, not to mention the inefficiencies that you get when dealing with paper,” says Lubor Ptacek, VP of Product Marketing with OpenText, a company which specializes in virtual fax servers. “We support the notion of the paper free office, and paper free business processes. We believe that there is a way of transmitting data that is much more contemporary than using fax.”

Today there are many vfax service providers on the internet such as MyFax and RingCentral Fax which allow you to send and receive faxes over email for a fee. There aren’t many differences between using these virtual faxing services and sending attachments via email. Basically, they just allow you to send electronic documents over a secure fax line provided by the vfax company, so you don’t have to get your own fax line. This is one of the leading alternatives to the old fax machine, and it’s becoming more popular every year.

“Virtual fax is definitely a step in the right direction, but usually it just addresses one side of the equation. The fact that you are using the fax protocol usually means that one of the two papers is shoving some kind of paper in some kind of scanner,” says Ptacek.

“Fax machines are not a growing market. It has been declining heavily. Even the paper used in faxing has been declining. But the fax servers and fax over IP is a growing business,” Ptacek adds.

One of the arguments against getting rid of the fax machine is the legality of hand-written signatures, which is why they are still widely used in the fields of law, insurance, and realty. The thing is, with the advent of e-signatures and supporting legislation to make them equally as viable, this argument doesn’t hold up.

In 1996 the UN published the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures, and thus influenced the creation of laws supporting e-signatures worldwide. In Canada, the official legislation regarding e-signatures is called PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act), and according to it e-signatures have been legally binding since it was enacted in 2005. As long as a signature meets the requirements set out in the document, and the email is encrypted, sending something like a contract over the internet is just as safe and legally binding as a fax.

Transmission confirmation doesn’t seem to be a huge advantage either. Email accounts can be set up to send confirmation notifications when a message is opened. Also, just because you receive a transmission verification when you send a fax does not necessarily mean that it ended up in the right person’s hand. It might have ended up in the trash bin by accident.

In the end it seems that while there are a lot of business owners who still swear by it, there are many who wish that it would just end up in the dust bin of obsolete tech. It might just be a matter of time until that happens.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

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