Fax To the Future: Why an office relic continues to thrive in the digital era

fax-machine

Want to get a laugh out of a coworker who urgently needs information on that important project? Tell them you’ll fax it right over!

Granted, you might have to explain that punchline to someone from Generation Z, because faxing probably is even older than their parents. But for all the jokes about fax machines being a relic of an era when people actually walked around with pagers hanging on their belts, faxes remain a surprisingly persistent — though often inconspicuous — reality in some businesses and industries. As Jonathan Coopersmith, professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine, writes:

A worldwide survey in 2017 found that of 200 large firms, defined as companies with more than 500 employees, 82 percent had seen workers send the same number of, or even more, faxes that year than in 2016. A March 2017 unscientific survey of 1,513 members of an online forum for information technology professionals found that 89 percent of them still sent faxes.

Similarly, an IDG survey from 2017 revealed:

  • 82% of respondents said fax usage increased or stayed the same from the previous year
  • 43% of total respondents said fax usage has increased
  • 39% predicted fax usage will remain steady

What explains the continuing use of faxes in the digital era? There are several factors at play here. For starters, fax usage tends to be concentrated in certain industries such as healthcare, financial services, goverment, and manufacturing. Healthcare and financial services organizations have data security and regulatory compliance concerns above and beyond those of the typical enterprise, while government and manufacturing enterprises routinely transmit and receive contracts, purchase orders, shipping notices, and other business-related documents.

Concerns about email security aren’t unique to the four sectors mentioned above; plenty of decision-makers across every industry are wary of using emails to send or receive sensitive information. No surprise given the headlines they read every week.

There also are plenty of small and medium-sized businesses, along with home offices, that still rely on physical fax machines because they own them already and don’t feel like absorbing the cost and disruption of change.

However, the biggest reason faxing still is a thing in the digital age is because faxing itself has gone digital. Sure, you can still go old-school with paper-based, manual faxing on those standalone machines that someone in your office wishes they never had learned to troubleshoot.

But increasingly faxing is done through digital fax servers and cloud fax services, and integrated with email, making it easier to use. You and your Digital Age colleagues could be faxing up a storm, with nary a fax machine to be seen! You can even send and receive faxes using a mobile app.

Wait, you might be thinking: Wouldn’t digital faxes be just as unsecure as any other digital transmission form, such as email? That thought crossed my mind as well. Turns out not to be the case, as IDG explains:

Fax securely transmits documents using the telephone network and requires peer-to-peer direct connectivity prior to transmission of data. Therefore, a document doesn’t get transmitted unless the outbound fax transmission has a secure and direct connection with the receiving fax device. Digital fax servers and cloud-based fax services further enhance the security of faxed documents by eliminating the risk of lost, misplaced, or misfiled paper faxes — often containing sensitive or confidential information — associated with standalone fax machines.

Bottom line: Fax technologies will continue to occupy a place in digital enterprises — particularly in healthcare, financial services, government, and manufacturing — for reasons of security, increasing ease of use, and its critical role in document-intensive workflows. Better get used to it.

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