Does Your Office Need A Fax Server?

In keeping with my policy of introducing one super exciting subject per year I want to now talk about facsimile, otherwise known simply as fax. No corny jokes about ‘just the fax’ or anything else related to 60s crime dramas, absolutely not. I’m only going to address fax and how you may benefit from having a fax server in your office.

.. but you say, “Fax is yesterday’s news. Haven’t you heard, there’s email?”

Fax is over one hundred years old. Did you know that? It didn’t become popular until the 1970s when costs came down but it’s very old. There are aspects of facsimile that make it well suited to businesses. Things of importance that cannot be replaced simply. For example in the medical industry, the push now is for electronic records. Hospitals and doctors receive an enormous amount of lab results and billing related documentation by way of facsimile. Because fax transmission happens over telephone lines there’s a constitutionally protected expectation of privacy and that also happens to make fax HIPAA compliant – something that’s important if you’re in the business of health care delivery.

Realtors, bankers, attorneys, mortgage brokerages and insurance companies use facsimile every day. Faxes are legal documents. A fax is a “writing” and it is just as valid and admissible in court as is any other writing. The California Court of Appeals held in Hofer v. Young, 38 Cal. App. 4th 52 (1995), that a fax was just as good as sending a letter. These are not the only reasons, but they’re large enough reasons to assume that other technologies for example email – won’t be replacing fax any time soon.

If your office does not have a dedicated fax server you’re probably handling facsimile in one of three ways.  Let’s look at some typical scenarios.

Scenario One

Sometimes fax machines are “plain paper”, older models used rolls of special paper that was heat sensitive

The dedicated fax machine is probably the most popular low cost way to send and receive faxes. A surprising number of small business and some pretty large business depend upon the stand-alone desktop type fax machine. They’re manufactured by a number of popular companies and range in price from $300 to $1000 dollars. This is the initial cost of the equipment but it’s not the total expense, for that you have to factor in the supplies and the maintenance. Toner or inkjet cartridges are usually pretty pricey and of course they’re proprietary so you have to use the right one – no substitutes accepted.

I once worked for a small records storage company that catered to the local medical establishment. They received 350 individual faxes a day from just one of their clients. The records storage company had three stand-alone fax machines in rotation with the local Sears repair shop. They’d run ’em until they broke and send them in for repair; replacing them with the one they just received back from the repair depot. This created a lot of paper that took up a lot of physical space. Not ideal.

Scenario Two

The monolithic copier is used in a lot of larger offices where people have to look through the pile for their fax

Many offices have huge monolithic copiers (usually leased) which include fax capabilities as well as copying, printing and scanning functionality. Many companies that use this solution find themselves at a practical standstill when the copier breaks – until the repair man shows up. Most of these giant copiers have a telephone cord attaching them to the wall and they simply print any faxes they receive and if you fax something out the machine will dial out to a receiving fax machine at the other end.

Some manufacturers include the capability to save faxes to a network share thus obviating the need to print every one but I still find few copiers capable of being configured to do this. Generally everything sent to the copier is printed. People check the tray periodically to see if anything “came in”. The process is mostly mechanical.

Scenario Three

Computer workstations are capable of sending and receiving faxes also but few actually configure their computers to do this. Microsoft Fax has been available on PCs for a dozen years or more but the need for configuration coupled with the fast pace of business and other obstacles – like the need for dedicated telephone lines – has caused them not normally to be used for this purpose. Many laptops still come with internal modems capable of sending/receiving faxes but again, almost no one does this.

Enter the “Fax Server”

The fax server is a dedicated server that receives and sends faxes from a central location and saves/distributes them as images. It can be configured to print them or deliver them many different ways. In the case of inbound faxes the image can be automatically converted to an Adobe Acrobat Reader document (.pdf) and attached to an email which is then delivered to the correct recipient in your office. A different delivery method may include placing the inbound fax image on a network share that is owned by someone and is access controlled to make it private – everyone having their own fax machine right there on their computer. Everything stored electronically as files – print them only if you need to, otherwise import the files into your industry specific software for storage and referencing again later or even open them in a PDF editor and write notes directly on the document! Save the changes and store the fax – without ever printing a thing.

Outbound? The fax server is shared by everyone in the office for the purpose of sending faxes too. Faxes can be sent by way of the Microsoft Fax service if you’re using Windows. There are other similar methods with Mac, UNIX and GNU/Linux. Once configured each individual computer has it’s own fax printer. Want to send a Word document or any other document? Just click Print… and select FAX, follow the wizard to optionally add a cover sheet, then click Print. Moments later you’ll receive an email confirming that the fax server has successfully sent your fax.

True Benefits

Some benefits of having a fax server are obvious for example paper savings, toner savings, time savings and lower traffic congestion at the office fax machine.  Other benefits are being able to print or reprint fax only when needed and the often overlooked ability save faxes the same way you save the other data your business produces – back it all up!  When you have a fax server the faxes received are just image files that can be stored and referenced later;  back them up the same way you’re already backing your important data – tape, optical or removable disk, on-site or off-site – add them to your current backup solution!

Check out: The Penguin Fax Server Solution

Getting a handle on facsimile is easy with the correct tools.  If you have any additional questions or information I’ve overlooked please let me know.  Reply below!

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4 Responses to Does Your Office Need A Fax Server?

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  2. Andrew says:

    Just thought you might want to address the issue of getting hand written (whether it be just a signature or otherwise) information on to the computer to be faxed out.

    I can understand a scanner, but in my opinion a big part of having a network share for each employee or department is to save time of having to run to the machine to get the incoming fax, so it would be kind of an annoyance to have to go to the machine to scan in the paper with handwritten information on it, then you have to address how to the machine is going to handle that scanned paper. Does the machine put it in a public folder so the user can go back and do what they need, or is the server also a workstation and they can tell the fax server what to do with the scanned image then.

    Just seems to be a bit of a complication, especially considering the only way a faxed document can be considered legal is if it has a signature on it, same as handing a signed paper over to a person.

    • Frank says:

      Hi Andrew,

      There are several ways to handle faxes that require signature or receiving a fax that needs to be signed and resent. One solution is accompanying the document flow solution with something like PaperPort software made by Nuance. It will allow you to create a “stamp” of your signature which you can add to any incoming fax. The fax server allows you to fax back out directly from the desktop.

      If this is a regularly occuring issue, or if there is a need to mock up more than a signature a tablet PC or Wacom USB tablet can augment the fax server. The idea is to minimize paper as much as possible. Granted, there may be situations where occasionally a signature is required. It would be up to the individual to determine whether the frequency warrants spending a little more for these end-to-end solutions. If they want a 100% paperless office.

      I hope my suggestion(s) helped to answer your question. Please let us know if you need help selecting what’s right for your particular application.

      Kind Regards,

      – Frank

  3. Howard says:

    our organization uses a fax server, and has around 20 fax numbers that enter it. 3 of those 20 numbers consistently produce incomplete documents, while the other numbers are 99% perfect. I don’t work in our I.T. dept. and they seem apathetic to the problem.
    Other than issues with the outside facility sending the fax,
    What could make 1 specific number not work within the server?

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