Fax integral part of biz communications

Fax services remain highly valuable for sectors such as shipping, retail and F&B as it facilitates order processing and regulatory compliance better than Web-based communications such as e-mail, state observers.

Fax communications still have a key role to play in today's business environment, particularly for verticals such as shipping and food & beverage (F&B), even as it evolves to meet users' needs, market observers state.

Peter Davidson, president of Davidson Consulting, said faxing remains useful for businesses, especially with the rise of hosted fax services. Large corporations, for one, still use it for production faxing, which is bulk printing with thousands of items faxed out, he said.

Production faxing is used for purchase orders or invoices, and each fax in the batch is unique with different items ordered that comes with separate addresses, Davidson added, saying this process can be automated so no human labor is involved.

Nigel Lee, country manager for Brother International Singapore, pointed out it's not just large enterprises that still use fax services. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the shipping industry and restaurants, too, continue to fax their orders to suppliers since IT is not widely used in their supply chain transactions, he noted.

Retailers are another user group which requires a hard copy for order processing, and fax is the main medium for the transfer of information, Lee added.

A compliance aid
Davidson noted that fax messages also help enterprises comply with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley.

"Fax servers and fax services allow faxes to be received in e-mail inboxes, which means they are confidential and can only be seen by the intended recipient," he said.

Furthermore, it is easier for auditors track and certify the company's regulatory compliance. Comparatively, e-mails have less of a "trail" for auditors to follow since there is usually no record that one's e-mail has been successfully sent, Davidson explained.

In terms of staying relevant amid the establishment of Web-based communications such as e-mail and instant messaging, Fax as a mode of communications has also been evolving to better serve users' needs.

Davidson said hosted fax services are now popular since customers need not have fax software on-premise but can still send out their information as if they own an internal fax server. Conventional telephone-line faxing has also been replaced by fax-over-Internet-Protocol (FoIP), and this uses the Internet to send and receive faxes.

"FoIP is less expensive than conventional fax servers, can be virtualized, and does not require expensive fax boards," he added.