IF YOU THINK FAX MACHINES are dead, think again. If you think faxing is dead, think again even harder. If you knew that 82 percent of the 500-plus employee companies surveyed by IDC in 2017 said they were faxing at least as much as they had the year before, go to the head of the class.
Thanks to IDC’s report, in fact, we know that a slim majority (51 percent) of respondents in North America have increased their fax usage versus the previous year. All together now: What the fax?
Why People Still Fax
It’s not just North America. The Japanese and Chinese love faxing too. Take a look at their languages and you know those characters don’t exist on many keyboards. When fax machines became affordable in the 1970s, Japan in particular went fax-crazy. Even today, many individuals maintain a home phone line for their fax machine.
Some explanations for why faxing endures are wrapped in insults, as when younger employees complain that business managers are old and only comfortable with ancient technology. Those gray-haired technophobes must be good at forcing companies they do business with to fax as well, though, because one of the top reasons people still fax (according to eFax.com) is to support customers and suppliers who prefer it.
IDC, moreover, predicts further increases in faxing from the finance (7 percent growth), healthcare (9 percent), and government (3 percent) industries. Those predictions seem reasonable, too, given past patterns. Until recently, for example, financial services companies wouldn’t accept signed, scanned, and emailed documents, but would accept faxes. Even today, finance firms demand faxes for delivering trade confirmations, mortgage and other loan applications, claim forms for processing, and collection notices.
In healthcare, meanwhile, the combination of HIPAA regulations and tradition keeps fax machines humming across the U.S., and while the rise of patient portals is driving increased use of digital data, faxes remain the most popular record transfer method. Canadian regulations make faxing the only real patient data transfer method allowed.
The industry with the largest usage increase, though, is manufacturing, where respondents to IDC’s survey expect a 16 percent spike in faxing. Regulations aren’t responsible for that growth so much as history and entrenched workflows. Before scanners and email, faxing was the only way to send drawings quickly. Now that faxing is integrated into email, as well as CRM and document management applications, the “old-fashioned” fax works like every other business process.
Fax Legal, Fax Secure
Secure email systems remain a pain, and will be for a while. Faxing, however, especially between one machine and another, is just about the most secure and legally verifiable data transfer option today. To hack a fax, one would need to get into the telephone network between the sending and receiving machines, then decode the Base64 binary messaging between them.
Signatures on faxes have almost always been legally binding in most states for every transaction. In case of a dispute, the sending and receiving fax logs can be checked and phone records reviewed to verify that a transmission took place when it was reported. Try that with email.
Fax Options: Machines, Servers, Clouds
Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received a British patent for the first fax machine in 1843. Yes, 175 years ago. How many of your other IT tools date back to before the Civil War?
Type “fax machine” into the search box on Amazon and you’ll get a mind-boggling 6,978 results. The Amazon Top 100 fax machines list shows 100 different devices all ready for immediate delivery.
Not all are $39.99 models sitting in a bargain bin, either. CDW and NewEgg both carry the Brother IntelliFAX-5750e, which lists for $1,299.99. While this unit does copy and print, it’s primarily a fax machine, unlike multifunction printers that include fax functionality as more of an afterthought.