Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Fax management

Fax management

Facsimilie machines are still in widespread use, and so long as they remain so, the documents they produce must be properly managed.

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At a time when most IT directors, CIOs and information managers are weighed down with concerns about email, instant messaging, and multiple compliance regulations, the fax continues to spew out orders and invoices, forgotten in a corner of the office.

Even the post gets more attention in most organisations, and faxing remains something few think of, many consider redundant and the rest regard as somebody else's problem. Yet faxing remains an integral part of many office environments, whether it is as a way of taking and making orders, of communicating with customers and suppliers or simply exchanging documents.

Many organisations have therefore overlooked the fax's overwhelming importance to compliance, security, workflow, customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource management (ERP) and records management, as well as the possible cost savings available to the organisation by integrating the fax with their IT systems.

Fax servers
There are, of course, two kinds of faxes: incoming and outgoing. Each has its own integration issues and benefits, but both ultimately require a fax server (see box), unless the organisation chooses to use managed services instead. When an organisation deploys fax servers instead of having stand-alone fax machines, the fax servers sit at the end of the organisation's fax lines and send or receive faxes.

Depending on the degree of sophistication of the server, faxes sent from within the company from staff PCs can be routed over the Internet to a third-party or sent by the fax server itself to the destination.

In combination with a universal messaging system, a CRM system or global address list, the fax server can determine the most cost-effective route, sending the fax as an email if an email address is known for the contact or scheduling the fax to go at a particular time of day or by a particular route if it will be cheaper (using voice over IP, for example).

However, one of the main considerations is the source of the outgoing fax. Virtually all fax servers for outgoing faxes provide printer drivers for PCs. Once installed, these printer drivers allow the print output of any application to be diverted to the fax server. This means that anything that a member of staff can print can also be faxed, says Mark Reynolds, UK managing director of Topcall.

Products are therefore differentiated in terms of their ability to integrate with document, content or records management systems, as well as workflow or ERP systems. As a result, most enterprise-grade fax server vendors offer connectors from their products into other corporate IT systems for both incoming and outgoing faxes.

By making desktop faxing the predominant way of creating faxes, rather than print out and fax, sizeable savings can be generated in both employee time and consumables such as ink and paper. By ensuring that all parts of the process are digital and hooked into a records management system, the organisation can also ensure that it is meeting compliance regulations as far as possible - an almost impossible task with standard faxing.

However, there still remains a considerable amount of faxing that cannot easily be done from the desktop. For example, if someone wishes to write on a fax and then send it back with the additional comments. While it is possible to print the document, write on it and then scan s it back in for faxing, such a process will increase costs by wasting time and resources, and end up infuriating staff.

Multifunction devices
Companies that want to ensure all their outgoing faxes are conveyed via their fax servers should look at the latest multifunction devices that incorporate printing, scanning and faxing in one unit.

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