Fax proves a lingering business process communications point in need of automation

This guest post comes courtesy of David A. Kelly at Upside Research, where he’s principle analyst.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

This guest post comes courtesy of David A. Kelly at Upside Research, where he’s principle analyst. You can reach him here.

Sometimes, no matter how much some things change, others stay the same. Take the example of the fax machine.

The first fax patent was issued in 1843 to a Scottish inventor, Alexander Bain, who created a line-by-line scanning mechanism based on the idea of a clock’s pendulum. Throughout the early 1900s different forms of fax machines provided ways to transmit and reproduce images and markings from one location to another. But it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the modern versions of fax machines really took hold of the business world.

And while many companies have since moved on to computers, email, scanning, the Internet, and other new technologies, there are hundreds of thousands (or millions) of fax machines still out there globally -- churning away, sending and receiving a substantial number of important business documents, even in spite of all those e-commerce initiatives.

For example, plenty of organizations still have fax machines handling inbound sales orders or vendor invoices. In many cases, e-commerce initiatives simply don’t apply -- the specific business partners may be too small to warrant conversion or the infrastructure may not support changes. Or perhaps for some situations, the fax machine is still a perfectly acceptable solution. Well, perhaps “handling” is too strong a word -- in many cases, it’s more like receiving or sending and leaving the rest up to manual processes of managing the flow of faxes and information coming from them.

Perhaps now that we’re almost to 2010 and the start of new decade, it’s time for retro-technology. If it’s working for cereals giants like General Mills, it might work for technology.

That’s why we’ve been particularly interested to come across Esker and its DeliveryWare solution. While it’s not exactly bring out a line of cool-looking breakfast cereals, what it’s aiming for may be just as useful to a growing company as vitamin-enriched foods can be to growing kids.

Esker DeliveryWare (get a free Upside Research report) helps automate a wide range of document-based processes such as accounts payable, sales order processing, purchasing and customer invoicing. The product works best in enterprises that have a significant volume of document handling tasks that can benefit from automation. [Find other Upside Research product briefs.]

Esker’s products support enterprises that have Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) systems such as SAP or Oracle E-Business Suite, helping them to eliminate resource-intensive order-to-cash or procure-to-pay processes that involve printing orders or invoices, walking them to another point and re-keying the data.

Despite the automation that enterprise resource planning systems provide, there are still gaps in coverage, especially when the processes go beyond the corporate walls. This is often a pain point for organization, because they must meld manual processes with automation, and the results can be resource-intensive, error-prone, and inefficient.

For example, taking an order from inside an ERP system, printing it out, walking it across to another system, and re-keying the data is not an optimal environment for business operations, and yet it is often the reality in many companies.

Esker’s DeliveryWare solution is part of a category of tools that seek to remedy such manual processes. Document process automation is an important part of increasing efficiency and effectiveness with processes throughout the enterprise. Despite the economic downturn, document process automation provides a bright spot because organizations see immediate cost-savings and bottom-line impact from implementing such a solution.

Esker has the advantage of offering on-premise or on-demand services, enabling an even lower initial investment to start gaining efficiency and reducing costs and errors associated with manual document routing and processing.

Esker has carved out a specific niche in the broader business process management (BPM) and modeling space, and as a result has a very focused, and apparently successful, business model. I have a feeling, with solutions like this, that we may not see the end of the fax machine until the 22nd century.

This guest post comes courtesy of David A. Kelly at Upside Research, where he’s principle analyst. You can reach him here.

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