What Is Enterprise Faxing, Really? (part 1)

We toss around the term “enterprise faxing” on a regular basis in our blog and websites. However, it’s worth taking a closer look at this phrase to see just what it is—and isn’t. So, for the next few weeks, we’ll very briefly break down some of the most essential attributes of an enterprise fax solution.

Today, let’s start this little series with one of the biggest buzzwords in IT: scalability.

Why does it matter in the context of fax servers / services? In the long run, it’s extremely important that a fax environment can smoothly grow with demand. Expansion should be easy and affordable, and it must be equally reliable and functional regardless of fax volume.

Conversely, a small-scale solution stretched beyond its limits in a desperate attempt to provide some modicum of fax access throughout a company just isn’t an enterprise solution. Unfortunately, that’s often the case when organizations begin with a few standalone fax machines and enjoy quick growth in business—and in fax usage.

Granted, such an arrangement may work for a little while, but we regularly see these ‘solutions’ cause headaches that just don’t occur in scalable environments.

As opposed to such a haphazard system, an enterprise-grade fax environment is purposefully architected. It is scaled to current business needs (including occasional peaks and even new, upcoming offices/facilities) but retains the freedom to increase/decrease capacity as conditions change. Otherwise—as often occurs with more improvised solutions—fluctuations in volume can make it tough simply to keep up.

And as documents grow in number, it’s likely that they come from increasingly diverse sources. Check back next time as we find out why a ‘source-agnostic’ design is critical to enterprise faxing. Meanwhile, feel free to contact our RightFax experts to learn more.

We’d love to hear more about your own experiences with faxing, both enterprise and otherwise. Whether we’re preaching to the choir or offering a completely different perspective, feel free to chime in!

Fax in the News – A Better Way to Share Medical Records

A local NPR affiliate recounts some disturbing disconnects between users of ostensibly electronic health records:

Technology entrepreneur Jonathan Bush says he was recently watching a patient move from a hospital to a nursing home. The patient’s information was in an electronic medical record, or EMR. And getting the patient’s records from the hospital to the nursing home, Bush says, wasn’t exactly drag and drop.

“These two guys then type — I kid you not — the printout from the brand new EMR into their EMR, so that their fax server can fax it to the bloody nursing home,” Bush says.

(Proper fax server implementation could have prevented this situation. But more on that in a moment!)

Measures like the HITECH Act have led to $30 billion in public support for EMR adoption since 2009. However, whereas a certain EMR may make communications a breeze within the institution, it does not necessarily help communication with institutions using different software. As Medicare incentives for efficient communication (e.g., avoiding duplicate tests) continue to grow, and general demand for inter-compatible records increases likewise, the door has been flung open for newer, cloud-based EMR vendors.

However, federal interoperability standards remain years away, which means health care providers must find other, more cost-effective solutions in the meantime. For many of our clients, this involves the use of secure health care fax servers or services—albeit far more strategically than described in the quote above.

Native fax server integrations are available for practically all major EMRs, like Cerner, Epic, GE/IDX, and NextGen (among dozens of others). Most importantly, these integrations allow users to receive faxes directly into the software, which eliminates the need for printing or hand-entering data. So, instead of dealing with paper in the example from earlier, the hospital could have:

  1. Received a fax electronically, no printouts required
  2. Automatically routed that fax into its EMR (even into a specific patient file, after recognizing barcodes or other unique identifiers)
  3. Automatically sent the fax to the nursing home’s EMR (which could benefit from a similar workflow of its own)

Now that’s more like it. And if paper is simply inevitable—perhaps as part of a billing or patient registration workflow—its data can still be automatically captured and extracted. Long story sort, there is simply no reason to remain captive to paper while awaiting universal EMR standards. To learn more, simply contact us to schedule a complimentary health care fax consultation or workflow review at your convenience.

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!