Fax in the News: A Prescription for Health Info Security

The Anthem records breach is old news by now, as is what occurred on a smaller (yet still enormous) scale at Tennessee’s Community Health Systems. Whence these egregious security gaps? According to an article in Fortune, email may be largely to blame.

It turns out that, besides Aetna, health care insurers fared abominably in a recent analysis of corporate email security protocols. According to the founder and CEO of Agari, the firm responsible for the study, “The poor folks in health care have traditionally not had much digital interaction. They’re the ones furthest behind by a country mile.”

Whether concerning email, fax (our niche, of course), or still other means of communication, this is a tremendously important insight that resonates perfectly with our own experience. In stark contrast to the social media enterprises that topped the study’s rankings—enterprises borne of and into a digital world—most health care firms predate electronic communications by decades.

Eagerness to implement the latest technology and its concomitant security measures is just not in the DNA of most insurers. Thus, they often adopt standards later due to a) cost pressure and/or b) legislative pressures (e.g., HIPAA). This dynamic creates a perfect storm of lagging technology and extremely urgent implementation, in which security concerns may fall victim to more pressing concerns.

However, simply impugning the security practices of health insurers isn’t helpful. Our goal—our responsibility, even—is to point out that fax may represent a more familiar and cost-effective way forward. Like email, it entails a desktop- and MFD-accessible workflow, completely digital and paperless if customers so desire. Unlike email, it is inherently secure in transmission, and features like the RightFax Encryption Module are available to keep data safe in storage as well.

Despite the common inclination to ditch fax for email, perhaps the solution to some security concerns is actually more faxing, not less. We will never know how that approach might have changed the scenario at Anthem, but we do know that fax servers have already helped our own clients increased both security and cost-effectiveness within their organizations.

To learn more about RightFax in the health care industry, or simply to share your thoughts, please drop us a line!

Rethinking Fax to Reinforce Competitive Advantage — Part 2

In this continuation of last week’s post, we resume our discussion of two sea changes in enterprise faxing, and what they mean for businesses seeking to strengthen operational advantages.


As we emphasized last week, fax solutions today look and work almost completely differently from their predecessors. With such changes have come many new workflow possibilities, which give rise to this week’s point:

Organizations need to see how fax can be a critical variable in fortifying a competitive advantage.

That is to say, fax matters—and far more so than many users realize. After working with countless technical and business stakeholders, it seems that one critical question should be asked more often: “Since we have to fax for the foreseeable future, how can we do so in a way that makes us more competitive?”

In our experience, there is always an answer.

A concrete example might help. Health care providers and insurers have always comprised a large share of our clientele, and their proportion has further increased since the passage of the Affordable Care and HITECH Acts. A universal challenge in the industry is maintaining the security of protected health information (PHI) as required by HIPAA, since negligence could bring severe legal consequences.

Providers and insurers fax PHI perpetually. For the sake of compliance, many employ devices like locking security covers for their fax machines, or even entirely separate rooms. The inconvenience is severe, and the loss of floor/desk space can be a problem in its own right.

So, with the combined hassles of paper documents, manual workflows, and almost comically burdensome privacy protocols, it’s easy to understand why some healthcare organizations are particularly resentful of faxing.

However, that’s also why these same firms have been among the most eager to embrace server-based fax solutions. Even though laws like HIPAA are industry-specific, the workflow improvements that sustain a competitive advantage in healthcare are almost universal:

  • Getting better control of information by sending/receiving, indexing, and storing data electronically
  • Balancing privacy risk mitigation with ease of use for authorized parties/systems
  • Minimizing telecom costs (in terms of both usage and administration)

Almost without exception, enterprise fax architecture plays a significant role in all the above. Will it create more or less work for an average employee? Will it increase or reduce document transmission costs? Will it be more or less conducive to centralized management? Will it address privacy concerns or create more difficult ones?

In light of these influences on operational efficiency, something as seemingly mundane as fax is inextricably linked to competitive advantage, and therefore to long-run profitability.

In practice, fairly small improvements (a mere 10% reduction in fax line usage, for example) can offset solution costs very quickly. As a general rule, we observe a median breakeven point of about six months from deployment. A period longer than one year is nearly unheard-of. Less measurable factors, like workflow efficiency and privacy risk reduction, also contribute greatly.

In practice, this ROI timeframe yields a pattern that we have repeatedly observed throughout years of consulting:

  1. Clients have an “ah-ha” moment in which they realize faxing no longer needs to be costly or inefficient,
  2. They implement an electronic, paperless alternative in hopes of addressing one or two very specific pain points, and
  3. The efficiency gains from the initial project spark their imagination and lead to expansion into other departments/processes

In many cases, this pattern snowballs until enterprise-wide adoption has occurred (which, by the way, is one reason we urge scalability even in pilot projects).

The nuances of custom integrations, server clusters, virtualization, IP networks, OCR for fax, and so forth merit their own articles. But to make a long story short, these advances have turned faxing from a cumbersome vestige of bygone technology into an efficient, cost-effective, and eminently modern means of communication.

If you’re looking to do your customers, owners, and/or employees a great service, then it’s time to explore the possibilities.

Rethinking Fax to Reinforce Competitive Advantage — Part 1

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!

Fax in the News: A Global Glance at Faxing

Faxing, according to the Jerusalem Post, is used for very different reasons in two very different places: Japan and Israel.

As the author explains, “Japan still values handwriting, to the extent that greeting cards and resumes are still typically hand-written and calligraphy lessons are popular.” General preferences for hard copies, use of a complex writing system, and a significantly older-than-average population have also slowed the transition to newer media. By 2012, the article reports, an astonishing 59% of Japanese households still had their own fax machine—a rarity in most of the world, to be sure.

This is a night-and-day contrast with the US, for instance, where electronic communication is generally preferred by a wide margin. Handwritten resumés? Never. And calligraphy lessons? Unlikely. Consequently, just as our professional and personal documents are typed whenever possible, so faxing has shifted toward automation and wider use of paperless fax software/services.

However, the persistence of fax in Israel is more a product of economic maladaptation than of deep-seated preferences:

So why is Israel stuck in a fax rut, even as it manages to produce some of the most innovative technology in the world? “Perhaps it’s because we don’t have much of a culture of service, so companies don’t have to make an effort to get us as customers,” said Gili S. Drori, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Part of the reason for that culture, however, is lack of competition. The high-tech sector, which has above-average productivity, competes in a global market. Certain sectors of Israel’s economy, however, are shielded from competition or dominated by a few players who do not need to provide good customer service and innovative technology to stay afloat in a market of 8 million people.

We at Paperless Productivity® are workflow consultants, not economic analysts, so we’ll take Professor Drori’s word for it. But whatever the cause of Israel’s purported fax fixation, it highlights something important: modernizing communications is critical for companies that do rely on top-notch “customer service and innovative technology.”

Even though American companies are apparently subject to tougher competition that their Israeli counterparts—and dislike hard copies and prefer to automate data entry in the first place—the demand and opportunity for more advanced faxing continues to grow in the US market. As we recently discussed here, the reasons American companies still fax are typically more legal/regulatory in nature, as the health care industry continues to demonstrate. Paper is of little sentimental value, and outdated solutions are a competitive disadvantage, but fax’s inherent security means it will remain in the enterprise communications landscape for quite some time.

Critically, whereas fax machines are certainly outdated, faxing itself has become has modern as anything. Virtualization, IP networks, cloud services, automation…the list of 21st-century changes to enterprise faxing is lengthy. The topic of leveraging fax for competitive advantage in a modern business is one we’ll visit at greater length in the next few weeks.

To use the words of a Deloitte study quoted in the article, “It is hard to imagine a truly innovative country without a government that sets an example for the integration of innovation, both as a client of advanced tools and as a supplier of innovative services.” If we substitute “country” and “government” for “industry” and “company,” then we are left with a nice statement of the urgency of modern and cost-effective faxing. To learn more about making it a reality in your organization, feel free to contact us at your convenience.

Fax in the News: Examining Why We Still Fax

Fax won’t die, as a recent article from Fast Company suggests. And while some folks are relieved, and others a bit dismayed, the cleverest are parlaying the persistence of faxing into the foundation of more modern solutions.

But why is this necessary in the first place? In other words, why does fax still exist? The fact of the matter is that fax offers an essentially universal and foolproof means of handling sensitive information:

To some, faxes might seem safer than digital communications. Phone lines are vulnerable to surveillance, but cyber-threats tend to draw more attention and thus seem more likely. After the hack at Sony, employees reportedly resorted to using phone calls and fax machines again in order to avoid hackers.

Companies know encrypted and verified email services and other secure document transfer systems exist, but they also know that many of the companies they do business with won’t have the necessary software installed, says Watts.

A medical lab, for instance, can’t insist doctors’ offices install any particular data-transfer software, but it can reliably assume they have fax machines. Or a law firm needs a way to send someone a signed copy of a contract, and while it could potentially use some sort of digital signature, decades of legal precedent have made it clear that a faxed copy is every bit as good as a mailed document.

The article also describes a group of new messaging/notification services that have incorporated the age-old medium of faxing into their smartphone-era solutions. They generally use online fax services to send documents automatically and without ever touching a sheet of paper (for those with an in-house server, note that RightFax APIs facilitate the same process). This ingenuity helps bridge the gap between the slow, irritating fax machines of yore and today’s expectations of real-time paperless communication.

As we’ve often mentioned, health care faxing constitutes a very large share of our work. For those clients, the technical and legal developments of the last several years have been uniquely conducive to the adoption of fax servers and even cloud-based faxing solutions:

  • Providers and insurers communicate with a large and ever-growing list of organizations, whose adoption of more recent technology may vary wildly
  • Laws such as HIPAA have spelled out requirements for secure document transmission—and penalities for the lack thereof
  • Growing adoption of electronic medical records (as both a business decision and a response to legislation like the HITECH Act) is exponentially increasing the volume and rate of health data transmission

This all adds up to an environment in which fax alone is both universally available and secure. And given the sheer amount of information to send/receive, and a laundry list systems with which to integrate, an enterprise fax server like RightFax becomes the only cost-effective option. Remember that the same technology is also available as a hybrid or solely cloud-based fax environment, depending on the customer’s needs and preferences.

Old-school faxing: standalone machines
Old-school faxing: standalone machines

(Source: http://www.aroffice.com/fax_ma17.jpg)

Modern faxing: paperless, electronic fax server technology
Modern faxing: paperless, electronic fax server technology

(Source: http://www.automation-drive.com/EX/05-14-05/dell-2408wfp-ultrasharp-widescreen-flat-panel-monitor.jpg)

This blog has talked at length about security for both inbound and outbound faxing, but its importance cannot be overstated. Even though health care may be the most dynamic and salient context for fax security right now, everyone from manufacturers to law firms (naturally!) has their share of legal requirements for faxing.

And let’s not forget the fax server ROI proposition that motivates many clients’ projects even when privacy needs are less pressing.

Our experience, our vendors’ and customers’ experiences, and the broader trends outlined in articles like this one all point to a single conclusion: fax is and will remain a fundamental means of business communication, but will continue to evolve and take advantage of advances in cloud computing, mobile-friendly design, and so forth.

And if you’re curious whether or how your own fax workflow could be improved, simply drop us a line at your convenience. We’re always happy to chat.