Unified Faxing Communication or Remnant of the Gilded Age - IT managers, you make the call.

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fax_machine.jpgThe thing I love about writing technology articles is the fascinating tidbits you dig up as you research a topic. Case in point, the first FAX was sent in 1860 from Lyon to Paris? That's a decade before the commercial use of the telephone! Then in the 1920's RCA sent the first radio FAX from New York to London. It was a picture of then President Calvin Coolidge. General Commercial use of fax machines as we know them did not appear until the late 1970's. I'm not entirely sure who was in charge of this technologies stage gate process but I wouldn't be surprised if he was related to this guy.

 
Given this long history before product launch it should only be fair that the FAX enjoy a long and fruitful life cycle. But if my many years in Telephony deployments have taught me one thing, it is that the FAX must go. This isn't to say that all faxing technology should go away. There are many many places in the world where faxing may still be the only viable solution for sending and receiving images and documents in a timely manner. However, I can not excuse any modern corporation in a developed country for insisting on a fax as a part of their business process. The offense is especially egregious when said corporation or entity deals primarily with the public (I'm talking to you insurance companies, HR departments and University admissions offices and the various sate and federal government agencies).
 
As I researched this topic and spoke with many users of faxes, it struck me that the primary reasons given for the continued use of the fax are speed, security, an ease of use. Many respondents to my LinkedIN polling were very adamant that faxes were very secure while the alternative, email, was unreliable and insecure. But as I questioned the respondents further it turned out that many of them actually receive faxes via an on-line service or their company owned a fax server that delivered their faxes into email inboxes. It very well could be that the sender also uses an on-line service for sending that fax which then makes the entire communication paperless and indistinguishable from an email transaction. I also questioned the delivery location of any printed faxes and only two respondents verified that the incoming faxes were kept in a secure area. Most were accessible by anyone in the company who happened to walk by the stack of faxes near the machine.
 
The second most popular reasoning was one of legal recognition. Many respondents emphasized that faxes could be used in court while email was not recognized with the same level of authenticity. I felt this reason was worthy of follow-up but on consulting the legal community it was clear that this was a type of corporate myth. It was unanimously stated by the legal respondents that emails and faxes are indistinguishable when it comes to authenticity in the court system. In fact one lawyer let me know that it is becoming more and more difficult to validate the time stamps on fax machines as more of them are generally found to be on the wrong date or time.  
 
The ease of use argument, as I see it, is one of diminishing returns.  Although a fax machine itself is straight forward, I would argue that any college graduate has likely never used one.  Couple that with the lessening availability of plain old fax machines (those that are not scanners or all-in-one units) means that the task of sending a fax has become increasingly more of a chore.  Most Xerox, Cannon, Fujitsu, Kyocera units in the corporate world are already enabled with IP addresses and email accounts.  The system screens are cluttered due to scan, fax, email, copy and print abilities.  Time is not making this technology more simple, but over time the workforce is become less able to use the simplicity
 
Taking these positions and counter arguments into account, does it really make good IT managerial sense to spend time and money to advance the Faxing technology into the next generation of communications?  As Telco's begin to roll out the next wave of last mile PSTN technologies (IP based connections like SIP), should customers really expect them to support the T.38 Fax over IP protocol?  Where else in technology are providers, innovators and IT managers asked to span a lifecycle of 40, 30 or even 25 years when deciding on future paths?  Let's borrow a phrase from an old late night TV phenomenon.  Let's "stop the insanity".  

 

 

Joshua Sillers

I'm proud to be a techie with a liberal arts degree and miss those late 90's parties where all the techies had liberal arts degrees because the computer programmers didn't know how the internet worked. I started in network sales then tech support, and now delivery for Unified Communications.