Before e-mail entered our lives, it was the humble fax which took the crown as the king of business communication tools.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when it started to become a standard part of office life, it was revolutionary. Just like that, businesses across the globe could send and receive documents safely, securely and more rapidly than ever before.
However, in the 1990s, e-mail arrived and the fax machine seemed to be shoved to the back of the office.
The use of e-mail, like with the fax a few decades earlier, brought a transformation in the way businesses communicated and functioned like never before. Its rapid speed, convenience and the fact it was paperless, meant it became the prime form of global business communication.
Make no mistake though, the fax machine is well and truly still alive.
According to Gartner, over 35 million all-in-one fax machines were shipped worldwide in 2011 and 2012. It is in Japan where the love affair with the fax is the most strong, and it is a love affair which extends even beyond business to personal use. According to the Japanese government, over half of Japanese households own a fax.
It is evident that fax sales are still very strong, but is it a tool still put to use In a simple word, yes. A survey by Intel found that 40 per cent of small business workers in the UK still use the fax daily. Further afield, in Japan, 87.5 per cent of Japanese businessmen said in a survey, that it is still a crucial business communication tool. Another survey in the US revealed that 85 per cent of businesses still use fax in some form.
What we are seeing now though, is a rise in the use of internet fax. Yes, machine sales are still strong, but in todays society employees want ease and flexibility when sending important documents, and internet faxing allows this.
In heavily regulated sectors such as banking and law, the use of the fax is still very important, as companies deal with many legalities and mountains of paperwork. Fax is almost unique in providing an instant, date stamped authentication method for remote communication, and therefore remains as the de facto legal authentication for a whole host of business and contractual purposes. For these types of sensitive and legally binding documents, an email with an attachment simply won’t cut it.
The healthcare industry is also still heavily reliant on fax. With confidentiality key in this industry, the fax acts as a way of keeping information private as it is sent between healthcare providers and others in the sector.
A study in the US by MMR Global found that 63 per cent of doctors and nurses still rely heavily on fax technology, due to the security it provides when sending confidential patient information, and it’s the same for healthcare providers around the world. Other communication methods can be intercepted, either physically or electronically in transit, and altered or forged to deceive the end user.
With all the technological innovations of todays world, no one could be blamed for thinking the fax was a just a distant memory.
However, it is certainly not it is still a communication tool fully utilised by businesses today, in both its traditional and increasingly, its more modern, cloud form. We could perhaps think of the fax as the Cinderella of communication, never receiving the full glory, overshadowed by her sisters but still very much alive, and with plenty to offer the world.
Aisling Brennan is a manager at eFax.