This week and next, we’ll take a closer look at how fax has evolved over the last several years, and how it can thus help organizations enhance their competitive advantage.

Fax gets a bad rap. It is decidedly unglamorous. It has a reputation for being clunky, slow, and often expensive. And, as a matter of fact, it even predates the telephone.

So why in the world do we still use it? The answer depends partly on one’s industry, but on the whole, fax survived the advent of email, EDI, and so forth because simplicity, security, and legal viability trump most other considerations. (Plus, a whole lot of businesses still store a whole lot of paper.)

Yet in most firms, enterprise faxing is also one of the most oft-overlooked opportunities for cost reduction. It may come as a surprise that Fortune 500 companies reportedly average about $16 million per year in fax-related phone service. That’s right: the share of phone line usage specific to faxing may be greater than the combined salaries of the whole C-suite, or even of 100+ managers! Of course, those costs may be far higher for companies in fax-intensive industries.

Fortunately, the path to cost savings may begin with a simple change in perspective. Our work has yielded two key realizations that empower customers to turn faxing from a problem into an advantage.

First, organizations must understand that today’s fax technology is worlds apart from its forebears.

Efficiency, cost-effectiveness, usability, and so forth have all improved by orders of magnitude. Quite frankly, what’s outdated is not faxing itself, but the perspective from which we often think about it.

The first and most revolutionary change was the advent of the fax server. By making it electronic from start to finish, this solved the fundamental problem of handling vast amounts of paper. It likewise opened up entirely new workflow possibilities like automation, desktop access, and application integration.

Next was the introduction of OCR (optical character recognition) technology, which transforms fax image files into usable data, thus introducing yet another level of workflow automation.

More recently, fax has converged with broader trends in IP telephony and cloud computing. With the possibilities of leveraging existing IP networks or even outsourcing fax services altogether, dedicated physical infrastructure has become entirely optional.

These developments mean the fax solutions of today bear little resemblance to those of years past. They also have immense workflow implications, tying into the second point, which we’ll pick up in next week’s post: organizations need to see how fax can be a critical variable in fortifying a competitive advantage.

Want to share your thoughts on this topic, or just pick our brains? Feel free to drop us a line anytime!