Some of my younger friends may not have ever encountered an old-fashioned fax machine, but I remember them well. There was a time when it seemed nothing short of a miracle to feed a document into it and have someone hundreds of miles away instantly receive it – or at least, a reasonable facsimile of it. It was almost as if the Star Trek transporter had come to life.
Yes, we were easily impressed in the olden days. Now many of us don’t even have traditional telephone lines, much less fax machines hooked up to them. The world has moved on, and the Internet is the method of choice for all types of communications. The post office is dying, landlines are disappearing and the once ever-present fax machine is found in fewer and fewer homes and offices.
Its spirit, though, lives on. Even before VoIP and cellular phones began to replace landlines, faxing moved from a dedicated machine to the fax modem, a peripheral that was once standard in almost every desktop computer. The big advantage of this first metamorphosis of faxing (what I call Fax 2.0) was that paper no longer had to be involved in sending a fax. If your document or picture was already a digital file, you could send it without the hassle (and expense) of scanning it.
Out of this grew the concept of the fax server (I’ll call it Fax 2.5). With this advancement, you didn’t have to have a fax modem and a phone line for every individual computer. The fax server is located on the network and can send faxes for anyone whose computer can access it over the local network or even over the Internet. This saves money for businesses in a number of ways: fewer phone lines, less hardware, reduced paper usage, and you can monitor both incoming and outgoing faxes for accounting purposes to allocate expenses to the proper departments.
But there are problems. Integrating a fax server with the PABX system can prove to be a challenge, and fax modems and boards are quickly becoming obsolete technologies. Modern businesses – especially SMBs on limited budgets – don’t want to have to maintain expensive landlines just to be able to send and receive faxes.
Fax 3.0 takes it to a whole new level and solves those problems. Today we live in a cloudified world, and it makes sense to take your faxing to the cloud, too. Fax as a Service (FaaS?) simplifies the process of sending faxes across the telephony network without requiring you to have fax hardware and phone lines.
But what about security? One of the reasons fax machines have lingered on is that users feel more secure sending sensitive documents over the phone lines than over the Internet. But there’s a solution: if the faxing software connects to the cloud-based fax service over a secure connection, you don’t have to worry about your docs being “out there” for anyone to intercept and read. We already entrust personal information such as bank account and credit card numbers to HTTPS connections, so it’s the logical way to protect the confidentiality of faxed documents, too.
So what should you be looking for when you consider moving your faxing to the cloud? A good FaaS solution provides you with software that makes sending a fax as simple as sending an email message or printing a document. It can integrate with your Exchange (or other SMTP) server and use your Outlook contacts, or even a cloud mail service such as Office 365 or Gmail. Even better if you can create a document in your word processing application and send the fax directly from there, selecting the fax server as you would select any printer.
Those are the “must haves”, but what else might you put on your wish list? Given today’s trends toward mobile computing, your users are going to want to be able to send and receive faxes from their phones and tablets, too. Faxes are transmitted as images, but it would be nice to have an OCR option so you could turn incoming faxes into editable and searchable documents.
Faxing may seem “old school”, but many businesses still depend on it. Bringing the technology behind it up to date can save money for the organization and make the faxing process a lot less frustrating for users.