How “funky” is the fax actually these days?

This question was investigated in a comprehensive article last week in the venerable Financial Times on the future of business communication.

Under the banner “Faxes at Work: From funky to clunky, but holding on” the article included the opinions of numerous industry experts, including those at Retarus. And to be sure, at least since e-mails and SMS started their victory march through our daily office work, the obvious question has been how widespread the use of fax currently is.

Dependable standard

Author Jeevan Vasagar’s numerous research examples show impressively that there continue to be compelling use scenarios for this means of communication. Fax serves as a reliable communication standard where sectors or business partners with widely differing degrees of “technological advancement” meet each other: In such cases the medium, and especially the standard which has proven itself over decades, proves particularly advantageous. As Retarus CEO Martin Hager highlighted to the Financial Times:

“With a fax one doesn’t need to know who’s at the other end, or what technology they have. You just need a telephone number, and the document comes out the other side — no matter whether as paper or as an entry into a computerized scanning system.”

This is a sentiment that Shally Tshuva of business consultants Deloitte wholeheartedly agrees with. Fax helps to close technology gaps because it reaches individuals, who mostly don’t spend the majority of their days in front of a PC – such as those working in crafts.

Yet even the otherwise fully digital internet economy has also long since discovered fax for its own business models, as Martin Hager points out in the interview. In this way, online delivery services use fax transmission to automatically forward food orders which have been received digitally via a website or from smart phones to partner restaurants and takeaway providers. In the hectic gastronomy business, orders received on paper are simply the most practical to handle.

“On the one side there are the smart chaps in Berlin,” says Mr. Hager. “And on the other are people who need delivery slips and bills on paper.”

The Financial Times also quotes a study by market researchers at IDC, in which more than half of the 1,000 US companies surveyed stated that their fax use has remained constant over the past year. Just under a fifth of the companies even confirmed that they are now using the transmission technology more often once again. By contrast, hardly any of the study participants spoke of turning away from fax entirely.

The reasons for this are detailed in the numerous regulatory guidelines, which grant fax a higher level of legal security than e-mail. As the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency for information and communications, confirms – this applies to many countries around the world. What’s more, in many sectors such as the field of healthcare, fax remains the first choice for communicating confidential and personal details. According to communications expert Peter Davidson, this is also due to the fact that faxes are extremely difficult to intercept during transmission. In addition, many companies and authorities demand a handwritten signature or require a legally secure confirmation that the message has been received. Fax fulfills both of these requirements without any problems, in contrast to many digital solutions.

So just how “funky” is fax in the year 2015, to come back to the Financial Times article? Sure, the classic fax machine has become less common over the past few years and disappeared completely from many offices. A fact that no one can seriously deny. The communication standard that underlies the technology, however, is enjoying huge popularity. It supports the creation of more efficient automated processes and helps companies to meet applicable regulations – especially when dealing with large amounts of documents. It does not matter if an actual fax machine is used at all. Even now, there is a digital fax page on at least one side of the transmission in most cases – for instance as a converted PDF mail attachment. Modern cloud fax services make this possible. And if there is anything which is “funky” in daily business these days, it’s the cloud.

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