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Fax evolves for the new millennium, and small businesses reap the rewards
Although use of the fax machine to transmit images via telephone lines only became widespread in the 1980s, the technology actually has roots back to the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, by the 1930s, newspaper agencies like American Press routinely forwarded images using the Belinograph, a photoelectric cell-based precursor to the modern fax. And, that technology has continued to be built upon to this day.

Today, fax is still an agile technology that has more than kept pace with relatively upstart innovations like e-mail, SMS and instant message. Fax technology continues to be improved and upgraded to meet today"s fast paced and flexible business communications needs.

The global fax market was worth approximately US$80 billion at the start of the decade and is continuing to increase rapidly. Just look at all of the fax numbers in your PDA. They are testaments to the ubiquity of fax and how heavily fax continues to influence our business lives. And, while the fax service pie is split up over a variety of service markets from the production fax market, individual fax and fax broadcast, Internet- and e-mail- based fax services are poised to skyrocket.

Industry watchers have noted that the Internet-based fax market itself is growing at a rate of approximately 50 per cent per year, and the growth experienced by companies, like Protus IP Solutions, who develop products and service for the market are clear indicators of the market"s demand for these services.

In fact, faxing over the Internet introduces a ubiquity previously unknown to fax technology. According to a Nielsen NetRatings report from December 2003, Canada has 20,450,000 Internet users -- roughly 64 per cent of its population -- with access to the Internet. That means more than 20 million potential Internet fax users in this country could be sending and receiving faxes by e-mail. But why would they want to?

Simple: fax is still omnipresent in business. Every day, purchase orders, forms and a variety of professional documents are delivered to legacy fax machines. While traditional fax technology is useful and ubiquitous, there is a call for new methods of fax delivery that are easier and cheaper.

Internet-based faxing brings productivity to both small and big business

Internet-based faxing brings about a number of significant advantages. First, it improves your employee mobility, productivity and efficiency. Very important to small business, it avoids the high cost of a telecom infrastructure and overhead in capital costs on fax equipment. Also, it provides enhanced control over document management and the ability to integrate it into your business workflow and process.

The small business market is growing in Canada and globally. Internet-based fax is the perfect solution to the problem of levelling the small business playing field. By avoiding the equipment cost, it helps level the playing field for your small or home office and for employees working from home. Telecommuters of larger companies can experience the same benefits, as more and more businesses reduce overhead and improve employee satisfaction by offering the option to work from home.

Fax continues to be heavily used to send purchase orders, quotes and invoicing. Let"s look at Internet-based faxing as an example. You could be on site at a customer location, complete a discussion and then, immediately using a wireless Internet connection send a quote or invoice directly to the customer"s fax machine. Or, while sitting in the car using a laptop and wireless connection, fax can be sent via the customer"s network or a wireless hot-spot.

Because e-mail applications have become ever-present and standardized, faxes can easily be forwarded, saved and stored digitally, allowing for greater document management and more detailed control. And, Internet-fax virtually eliminates lost pages, allows for immediate electronic document storage, and ensures delivery of the document to the right hands.

Internet-based fax and privacy policies

Meeting strict security and privacy regulations is fast becoming a more critical part of doing business. Beyond simply satisfying the requirements of government policies like the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Documentation Act (PIPEDA), a company s business hinges on its perceived security and credibility with its customers and partners.

Traditional fax machines pose privacy and security threats as paper faxes sit idly on shared fax machines. With e-mail- and Web-based faxing, incoming faxes are sent directly to the intended recipient, remaining totally confidential, without the addition of any hardware or software.

The University of Ottawa moved to Internet-based faxing with an eye on just such security concerns. The organization routinely processes a large number of documents that require anonymity, including contributions from donors, letters of recommendation, offers of employment and student applications.

"Protecting the confidentiality of our data and communications is critical," says Eric Dubois, Vice-Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Engineering. "By transitioning our existing e-mail into a private fax service we ensure security, while enabling us to store and track documents electronically."

The flexibility of the Internet has driven fax on a new road with a very exciting business landscape. Today, our customers and we expect information immediately and demand that voice and data keep up with our fleeting attention spans and hectic schedules. Fortunately, the Internet has given fax a much needed turbo-charge by spurring a shift in how we use traditional forms of communication. New applications and new capabilities have kept the fax vibrant and agile and, in my estimation, will keep it improving for years to come.

Joseph Nour is CEO of Protus IP Solutions, a high-growth application service provider offering value-added voice, e-mail and fax messaging services to businesses around the world. For more information about Protus IP Solutions and Internet-based fax, please see http://www.protus.com.

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