When was the last time you sent a fax? I bet your answer is probably going to suggest that you don’t use fax machines much anymore. Yet the statistics are surprising. According to the industry analysts Davidson Consulting, there are almost 100 billion faxes sent each year worldwide. CouponChilli estimates a smaller number - 17 billion faxes annually - but either way, it is still a lot. The market for fax services is growing at impressive 15.2% CAGR as new technologies such as Fax over IP and cloud-based fax are dramatically reducing the the cost of faxing.
But let’s face it - fax? In the age of email, interactive web sites, and omnipresent mobile devices? There are so many alternatives - from email, FTP, managed file transfer, to interactive web sites, sophisticated BPM solutions and most recently even the easy-to-use cloud-based shared folders. How come we are still using faxes so much?
One of the arguments is usually the legality of the “wet signature”. Supposedly, our legal system is perfectly satisfied with an illegible scribble transmitted at 204×98 dpi but an electronic or digital signature on an electronic document is not good enough. I’d argue that’s a bogus argument - after all, a digital signature can use a much stronger authentication of the signatory which should make the digital signature much more legally binding. Only when notarized, do wet signatures come close in terms of security and legal admissibility.
Another argument is the confirmation that you get when you send a fax. That fax confirmation page (sometimes called the Transmission Verification Report) can act as legal proof that the recipient actually received the fax. That might come handy, for instance, when you fax an invoice. However, it also assumes that the right person has actually picked up the received fax and that it didn’t end up in the waste bin by accident.
This argument is also not very convincing. Electronic transmissions via email, ftp, managed file transfer, or shared folder usually all come with an audit trail. There is also no reason why an email system could not be setup to automatically send a confirmation - most e-commerce and customer service solutions do it today. A secure audit trail should be a much better proof of delivery than the easily falsifiable fax transmission report.
Then there is the cultural argument. We are all used to faxing, right? The New York Times reported recently that this is a big issue in Japan. Japan has by far the highest number of fax machines per capita. But give me a break. Japan is a country with thousands of years of tradition - from Zen gardens to calligraphy to the sword swinging samurai. And all the sudden, they are culturally attached to a fax? Or a technology that was adopted at the end of the 1980s? Ah, come on!
Maybe, it is the ease of use - everybody knows how to use a fax, right? Right. To sign a document, I have to print it, sign it by hand, and stand next to a fax machine to wait to see if the transmission was successful. If the line is busy, I have to try again later. Yeah, right...that’s really easy and convenient...
I suspect that the reason is complacency. Complacency of organizations in banking, insurance, healthcare, government and other sectors. The Customer Service group would probably like to replace faxes but they are scared of Legal. The Legal group is scared of technology. And, IT does what Customer Services asks them to do after checking with Legal. In a way, this is actually about culture. But not in a good way.
|Picture from the 1999 cult movie Office Space. I'm sure it's copyrighted but it fits so well here. |
You have to see it, by the way! (That should get me off the hook with 20th Century Fox).
The result is that you can hardly open a bank account, refinance a mortgage, buy a car, or submit an insurance claim without having to send a fax. In some countries like Canada and Germany, it gets even harder as they require signed documents for stock trades, change of address, and other relatively mundane tasks. No you can’t just call them. They need it in writing and signed...
But don’t despair, if you need a fax solution, you don’t need a fax machine on every floor anymore. There are some pretty cool network and cloud-based fax systems out there and OpenText (my employer) happens to be the market leader in this space. Just check out that Davidson Consulting page.
As consumer, though, I hope that the fax will soon die. It ought to be replaced by the interactive web or mobile BPM solutions. In any case, OpenText has a solution for you here ;-)