You and your team might’ve spent quite a few hours battling fax machines.
Slow transmission, ambiguous statuses, and frequent failures all eat up more time than anyone cares to remember.
Paper itself is often the core problem, but there are also security and workflow complexities. The right choice of digital “fax machine” can address all these challenges.
We’ll cover what digital faxing really entails, then look at the three types of platform that every fax-intensive enterprise needs to know about.
Defining a digital fax machine
A digital fax machine usually sends and receives faxes over the internet, rather than a line from the phone company. It’s typically a server or web application rather than a physical machine. It costs less than traditional faxing and offers more flexible security, configuration, integration, and UIs. However, not all digital fax platforms are appropriate for enterprises.
Does it sound strange that a digital “fax machine” isn’t necessarily a machine at all? If so, remember that a traditional fax machine does just two things:
- Capture a paper document (if outbound)
- Transmit the image of that document to a specific destination
Functionally, it’s a scanner with a phone line attached. Both of those are easy to digitize today.
In other words, fax is a transmission method, and standalone fax machines (or MFPs/MFDs) are just one way to interact with it. They’re cumbersome, but they have excellent digital alternatives.
And by thinking beyond physical devices, we open up more efficient and more secure ways to fax in a modern enterprise.
Digital fax at enterprise scale
Digital faxing solutions are either cloud-based or server-based. As we’ll see later, there’s also a third approach that combines these two.
These differ in upfront versus ongoing cost, admin workloads, integrations, and security.
Approach 1: Digital fax services in the public cloud
Electronic fax services are the most common and familiar platform for digital faxing.
The simplest ones work like email attachments. Users upload a document to send via the fax service’s public cloud. Coming the other way, inbound faxes usually arrive in their email inbox.
It’s a lightweight and flexible approach that takes minimal work to implement and almost none to manage. Pricing is generally per-page, on top of a baseline for monthly or annual service. There is no capital expense, nor any need for specialized professional services.
However, this simplicity can make security a challenge in highly regulated industries (which are the heaviest fax users in the first place). Transmission itself is generally secure, but it’s not always advisable—or even legal—to handle sensitive data as an email attachment.
It’s also difficult to track fax status or receive timely failure notifications. The document leaves the sender’s network upon clicking “Send,” so monitoring is up to the service provider alone.
Most services provide an API for integration with other software and devices. This is a valuable tool for reducing paper, but it also requires custom development for nearly any integration. When you’re comparing the total cost of ownership, remember to account for building and maintaining custom connections.
Approach 2: Digital faxing with a private fax server
Private fax servers are the standard for high fax volume and/or stringent security requirements.
The customer owns a fax server, which can live either on premises or on a virtual machine (VM). The server uses some sort of telephony instead of transmitting directly over the internet. That may comprise be analog lines, digital lines, an IP network, or any combination thereof. Regardless, it’s inherently secure.
This provides two ways for users to send and receive faxes.
The first is through a browser and/or desktop fax client. Either way, the client is securely connected to the fax server. It often looks and feels like an email client, but is a distinct
The second is through an application or device integration. Unlike public cloud faxing, most private fax server software has native integrations with common ERP, CRM, and EHR/EMR applications—among several other programs and devices.
At its simplest, it’s a print-to-fax function. At its most sophisticated, it’s a totally automated workflow.
A fax server is the default digital “fax machine” for firms that are subject to HIPAA, PCI DSS, or other comprehensive privacy standards. Encryption and transmission security are part of the reason, but audit trails and recipient validation are equally critical.
As you might expect, digital faxing with a private server costs more up front. There’s the capital expense of the fax server itself, plus professional services to configure this niche technology.
But there’s always a volume threshold beyond which it’s cheaper to own a private fax server than to subscribe to a public cloud fax service. Nearly all large organizations fall above this threshold, so prompt cost savings are likely.
What’s more, your own security standards may necessitate a private server.
Approach 2.5: Digital fax services in a private cloud
Who wouldn’t like to reduce management burdens, decrease costs, and keep airtight security?
That goal is driving many larger orgs to shift all communication services to a virtual private cloud (VPC). Today, fax is no exception.
Beyond reducing hardware costs, it also enables fully managed and virtualized services for faxing. It may help to think of it as a “private fax server-as-a-service.”
This equates to the best of both worlds for fax-intensive organizations.
- The enterprise-ready security and integrations of a private fax server, but without the hardware or maintenance overhead (and typically at a much lower upfront cost).
- The quick implementation, flexibility, and easy management of a public cloud fax service, but without the inherent security or integration constraints.
However, private cloud architecture requires more specific (and uncommon) technical expertise than other approaches. For instance, its reliability rests on fax-over-IP implementation, which requires proper provider selection and virtual server configuration.
But when properly implemented, a virtualized, VPC fax platform is the most reliable and cost-effective way to manage large fax volumes and user bases.
As of writing, our own Private Fax Cloud™ is the only relatively off-the-shelf example of this approach. It bundles more than two decades of fax and telephony virtualization experience, all in a package feels like a simple cloud service but works like a private fax server—because, under the hood, it is.
Solving the paper problem with enterprise digital faxing
We’ve examined three digital fax machine alternatives that are viable for large organizations.
- Public cloud services are simple and essentially maintenance-free
- Private fax servers are robust, secure, and extremely flexible
- Private cloud services are technically similar to private servers, but fully virtualized and managed like a web app
At scale, all of them are vastly more manageable and cost-effective than traditional fax machines.
But greater volume, security requirements, or workflow complexity all tilt the balance in favor of private cloud faxing.
If you’re looking for a more reliable or affordable way to fax, then contact us to set up a free consultation with a fax solution architect. There are no obligations whatsoever. It’s our pleasure to point you in the right direction, be it a solution we support or something else entirely.