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What is digital fax?

As enterprises digitally transform, optimizing content-centric processes and workflows becomes a priority. We’re saying goodbye to the traditional fax machine but looking to the performance, security and stability of fax technologies to improve communications across organizations and with their partners, suppliers and customers. Digital fax is a key tool for secure information sharing and collaboration in many industries.

There is a little anachronism that sits in most Japanese homes. Even today, Japanese families own fax machines. It could be that the Japanese character set makes it difficult to communicate by email or that Japanese families just like the personal touch of a handwritten fax. For the rest of us, the fax machine has gone the way of the cassette tape or the pager (Follow this link if you’re too young to know what we’re talking about!).

Fax itself, however, doesn’t just persist. Its usage is growing in many companies. Especially within regulated industries like healthcare, public sector, insurance and finance, fax offers levels of security, compliance and legal certainty that other communications methods such as email still lack. More than this, fax is ubiquitous in these industries. In fact, it’s hard wired into their daily content-centric exchanges and business processes.

A recent survey found that 89% of US healthcare providers are still reliant on fax machines, even as the industry is well aware of the shortcomings of traditional fax technology. That’s why we’re witnessing a rapid move to digital fax solutions – often called paperless fax – to not only ensure the continuity of existing business processes but to take advantage of a whole new set of features that digital fax makes possible.

Defining digital fax

So, what is a digital fax?  Digital faxing exchanges paperless fax messages, without traditional fax machines and devices. Often referred to as efaxing, users exchange electronic faxes, typically within email or desktop applications. Digital fax servers enable the seamless integration of enterprise platforms, such as SAP and Oracle, to automatically send and receive faxed documents.

Digital fax requires peer-to-peer direct connectivity using the telephone network – analog, digital or IP telephony – to exchange data as a secure fax transmission. Centralized enterprise digital faxing further enhances the security of faxed documents, which often contain sensitive or confidential information, by improving compliance and eliminating the risk of lost, misplaced or misfiled paper faxes.

The digital fax server – such as OpenText™ RightFax™ – means that all your fax capabilities can be managed centrally. You no longer need the expense of management overhead of fax machines, ink, toner or paper.

Digital fax is often sent and received from the user’s email inbox – through solutions such as OpenText™ Fax2Mail™ – enabling a new level of usability while also ensuring that the issues of faxes not being properly transmitted or left to sit unguarded of fax trays are eliminated.

However, while organizations may initially move to digital fax solutions to remove cost and inefficiency from their content-centric processes, it’s the powerful new features of digital fax that lie behind its continued growth in business. As enterprises across the global digitally transform, traditional fax increasingly represented a glaring outlier in digital transformation. Often, the content within a paper-based fax would have to be re-keyed into another system when it was received. There are many horror stories of where a fax would be received in one department, scanned into a system, information keyed into other applications then printed off and re-faxed to another department.

Today, digital fax offers a range of flexible options to build electronic document and data exchange into processes and workflows. When an organization receives digital fax, the content can be integrated directly into operational and enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and accounting systems. We’ll look at how paperless fax solutions are improving healthcare services through automatic integration with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems in a moment.

As both digital fax and cloud technologies have matured, a new type of digital fax solution has emerged. Cloud fax enables organizations to remove all elements of an on-premises fax deployment and adapt cloud fax services – such as OpenText Fax2Mail – from a trusted strategic partner.

The growth of digital fax

In its Market Pulse surveys, IDG reported the changing patterns of fax technology usage. From digital fax representing 40% of all faxes sent in 2017, that figure had grown to 84% by 2019. The biggest are of growth for digital fax solutions was Cloud fax services that more than doubled.

Growth of digital fax servers and cloud fax services 2017-2019 graph
Figure 1: Growth of digital fax servers and cloud fax services 2017-2019 (Source: IDG)

To understand a little more about the reason behind this growth in digital fax, it’s instructive to take a quick look at the healthcare industry. In its report, ‘The Future of Fax in Healthcare is Paperless’, IDG found that a minimum of 50% of all healthcare communication was fax and that 56% of that communication was due to digital fax delivery. The survey identified a clear reason for the adoption of HIPAA-compliant digital fax – the seamless integration of fax content into important healthcare systems.

In the report IDG said: “A significant majority of the survey respondents value the integration capabilities of digital fax. Among the respondents, 76% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they are happy with their current paperless faxing methods because it’s integrated with their EMR, back-end system, or other applications.”

“By integrating digital faxing with EMR, document management systems, and clinical applications, a paperless fax solution becomes the most connected device in an organization, optimizing patient information exchange, reducing costs, and increasing productivity,” the firm continued.

What’s true for healthcare is equally true for other industries, especially those that are heavily regulated.

What are the benefits of a digital fax?

As organizations increasingly embrace digital fax, it’s important to understand exactly what it offers your business. According to an IDC Fax Market Pulse moving from paper to digital fax solutions for content-centric processes delivers a number of major benefits.

Benefits of digitally transforming content-centric workflows graph
Figure 2: Benefits of digitally transforming content-centric workflows (Source: IDC)

In reality, paper-based fax solutions create poor quality and inefficient information flows that do more than slow business. They create business pains points that lead to a loss of competitiveness and revenue. The best digital fax software and hardware can help improve business and operational performance through fast and secure information sharing.

Digital transformation

ProductivityBusiness agilityApplication integration
Paper-based fax
  • Barrier to end-to-end digital process
  • Lack of modernization
  • Inefficient
  • Error-prone
  • Time consuming
  • Wasteful
  • Slow, low quality process
  • Difficult to scale
  • No integration capabilities
  • Manual, data re-entry
Digital fax
  • Facilitates end-to-end digital processes
  • Part of IT modernization strategies
  • Delivers secure faxes directly to the people (or systems) who need it
  • Fast and efficient communication
  • Improved information accuracy
  • No manual re-keying of data
  • Scalable to meet all business growth
  • Adaptable to meet changing communication requirements for new business models
  • Full integration with email systems
  • Integration with key enterprise applications
OperationsDowntimeIT EnvironmentCosts
Paper-based fax
  • Common failure point, requires regular upgrades
  • Complexity of consolidating capabilities
  • Internal data and telco resource required
  • Stability issues
  • Difficult to monitor and identify faults
  • Complexity of onsite infrastructure
  • Out of date and expensive hardware or licenses
  • Management and maintenance costs
  • Costs of skilled technical resources
  • Lifecycle costs of machines and consumables
Digital fax
  • Simplifies upgrades and consolidation
  • Centralizes control and management
  • Reliable, stable communications
  • Automatic resend if service disrupted
  • Centralized onsite infrastructure or internet-access faxing
  • Consolidation and simplification
  • Lower TCO
  • Lower IT resource required
  • Less cost in maintenance of equipment and virtually no consumables

Digital fax vs Cloud fax vs Hybrid fax

Many organizations started their digital fax journey by replacing their paper-based fax machines with digital fax servers. With the development of cloud fax, organizations have looked to deploy cloud fax services for the scalability, performance and cost benefits they offer. However, many cloud fax services – especially the free cloud services –  lack enterprise capabilities such as integration, automation and data privacy that organizations require.

Today, enterprises worldwide are looking to deploy hybrid fax solutions that combine the best of both worlds: digital fax servers for their enterprise capabilities and cloud fax services for high volume, low cost fax transmission. A new generation of hybrid fax solutions – such as OpenText™ RightFax™ Connect with OpenText RightFax  – are facilitating the process of allowing an organization to place its fax capabilities where it’s most appropriate for business and compliance requirements.

Find out more about OpenText’s market-leading range of enterprise digital fax solutions.

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Amy Perry

Amy Perry is the Director of Product Marketing for fax and secure messaging solutions with OpenText Business Network. Her 20 year career has crossed between Product Management and Product Marketing in the CPG and software industries.

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