Faxing 101 - How Faxing Has Evolved
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how internet faxing works
Why is Fax Still Around?
Fax is in a bit of a conundrum these days, or rather companies that are using fax may feel that way. The fact that fax has been around for quite a while and the rise in internet services have together put a lot of question regarding the future of fax. Is fax on its way to the great dumping ground in the sky of old technologies or is it still relevant and useful today? From our data, fax volumes have actually increased every year for the last 35 years that we’ve been tracking this, with fax being increasingly used for mission critical workflows, to exchange sensitive patient information, and transfer unstructured data (e.g. form data that has variableness).
Computer Fax vs. Regular Fax
While the original fax machine was invented over 150 years ago, fax usage surged in the 1970’s and 1980’s because it was easy to use, it was essentially instantaneous, and it was considered a legal document. Getting a letter, agreement, or document across the country, or to the other side of the world, became pretty simple.
But fax was time consuming, had a high level of consumables (paper, toner), and was only accessible where a fax machine was stationed – which was not convenient for everyone.
In 1986, Biscom introduced FAXCOM, the world’s first network-based electronic fax server (efax) – a single channel device that could convert any type of document into a fax and made faxing available to everyone in an organization. In addition to its accessibility and integration with applications via a fax printer driver (with the accompanying acronym WYPIWYF – prounounced “whippy-whiff” – what you print is what you fax), it also introduced the concept of documents being output at the receiving side with laser quality output, embedded signatures, and brandable cover pages. It was a huge leap in faxing that no one expected. Some of the largest companies with high volumes of fax became early adopters because of the instant return on investment – it transformed faxing forever. Efax was born and people were done with slow, clunky, illegible faxes.
Rise of Cloud Fax
Surprisingly, fax is still used extensively today to transfer information, consummate transactions, and share sensitive data. As information integrity, delivery guarantees, and spam become increasingly important, fax has had to keep pace. Fax users have also shifted – no longer are individuals sending resumes out, but many large volume workflows incorporate fax as a communication pathway that happens to be convenient for certain people.
Still, many fax machines continue to hum along, and many more vendors are offering computer-based faxing solutions, so the fax technology itself has become very accessible. When choosing a fax vendor, key differences today lie in the tools and integrations that accompany fax solutions, the reliability and scalability of the platform, history and experience in technology and working with customers, and responsiveness and ability to solve issues from a customer support perspective. There are a lot of factors and criteria that separate the various providers.
Today, many fax vendors only have a cloud offering as it simplifies their operations, billing, and support needs. Biscom was one of the early innovators of cloud fax in 2005, and launched a cloud fax platform that was leaps and bounds more feature rich than the typical cloud fax solutions. Biscom architected its cloud fax platform using its tried and true fax server technology and made the advanced capabilities accessible to customers in a cloud offering. This enabled organizations to maintain their complex workflows, meet compliance needs, have real time visibility into fax usage and activity, and manage their users and systems – while still gaining the primary benefit of eliminating the management and support of finicky VoIP telephony and back end communications headaches. Biscom is also one of the few fax vendors that continues to support on-premises and true hybrid fax solutions – which are some of the only ways organizations achieve the ROI required while also simplifying their fax infrastructure.
One of the reasons companies continue to use fax is its widespread acceptance across many IT systems. Because it’s been a staple protocol in technology, fax is integrated and supported by many technologies and applications, particularly in health IT systems. One of the reasons for this is the varied landscape of partners, clients, customers, and business associates that operate in diverse, often proprietary systems. The ability to communicate freely and easily among these different environments is extremely challenging and expensive. However, because fax is a commonly supported messaging protocol, it acts as a capable interoperability standard. One of the downsides of fax is the nature of the file – it’s essentially an image file that may contain data but it’s not structured. This is remedied by using optical character recognition to extract information and it works well for typography, not so well for hand writing. Despite some of these downsides, fax still facilitates and speeds up information sharing, and the benefits of a simple, reliable, and scalable system overcome the pain of more complex gateways and connectors.
Because a large part of the allure of fax is its interoperability, companies look for ways to automate the sending and receiving of faxes within the suite of applications they run. Fax REST APIs make it easy to extend applications natively, and REST-based interfaces have the benefit of being almost universally compatible with almost all of today’s programming languages. Biscom’s SMTP API is an even simpler method that requires no internal changes to applications – as long as the application supports email. But there are also low code and no code options. Low code can leverage “envelopes” generated automatically to help direct outbound faxes to different destinations, similar to a mail merge. No code may be as simple as dropping a document into a folder and having routing rules applied to it based on OCR’ed text.
Tomorrow’s Fax and Digital Transformation
Many companies are actively trying to migrate their faxing to newer technologies, as they should. Companies should always be looking out for newer solutions that can improve their processes, their efficiency, save on costs, and make them more competitive. Even as one of the pioneers of modern-day faxing, we too look at where fax is going and how it can be transformative, and we’ve developed extensions to Biscom’s venerable fax platform that help companies achieve their digital transformation goals, while also minimizing business risks.
Biscom’s fax platform includes the option to leverage its secure file transfer technology to support digital delivery of files – both as faxes (PDF and TIFF), as well as supporting the delivery of native documents, with end-to-end security. In both cases, SFT provides high resolution and color support for documents that were only delivered as low resolution and grayscale. Biscom’s fax platform has an alternative delivery engine that can intelligently re-route faxes as digital deliveries, with all the benefits of a secure file transfer solution: email notification, full resolution or native file sent, faster delivery speeds, increased security, lower costs, and more granular transaction and activity logging for auditing and compliance support.
Fax continues to be relevant especially as new technologies and features extend fax solution capabilities beyond the simple act of sending and receiving a fax. Adding support for transferring native files, better activity logging, real time visibility, and increased scalability, customers can mitigate risks by migrating portions of the user populations to these newer method over time. As adoption increases, you can accelerate your transition, with the mix between former and new methods based on the adoption rate of your user base. And fax will always be available as a backup option – reducing concerns for legacy applications and processes.
For a demo of Biscom’s latest generation fax and file transfer solution, contact us or send us an email at [email protected].
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