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Report on Business - The Facts about Fax
Front Lines is a guest viewpoint section offering perspectives on current issues and events from people working on the front lines of Canada"s technology industry. Joseph Nour is CEO of Protus IP Solutions, an application service provider offering value-added voice, email and fax messaging services to businesses around the world. For information on Protus IP Solutions and Internet-based fax, please see ttp://www.protus.com.

In today"s age of rapid, mobile communications, it"s tempting to think fax has become a dinosaur - the lumbering T-Rex of the communications industry - while quicker, more flexible creatures, like e-mail, SMS and instant message, take the 21st century as their own. This is, however, a mistake.

Fax is getting an infusion of new blood, helping it evolve to meet today"s fast paced and flexible business communications needs.

In fact, the global fax market was worth approximately $80-billion (U.S.) at the start of the decade and is continuing to increase rapidly. Industry watchers have noted that the Internet-based fax market itself is growing at a rate of approximately 50 per cent year over year.

The ubiquity of fax numbers on business cards is a testament to how heavily fax continues to touch 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.

Faxing over the Internet introduces a ubiquity fax hadn"t previously seen. 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 Net. That means more than 20 million potential Internet fax users in this country alone could be sending and receiving faxes by e-mail.

But why would they want to?

Well, first off, fax is far from gone from our business lives. Every day, purchase orders, forms and a variety of professional documents need to be delivered to legacy fax machines - and we need a method of delivering them, easily and cost effectively.

Internet-based faxing brings about a number of significant advantages. First, it improves employee mobility, productivity and efficiency. It avoids the high cost of a telecom infrastructure and overhead in capital costs on fax equipment. Lastly, it affords the users enhanced document management capabilities and the ability to integrate it to a business"s workflow and processes.

The small business is a growing market in Canada, and globally, and Internet-based fax is the perfect solution. By avoiding the equipment cost, it helps level the playing field for the small office and user working from home.

Telecommuters of larger company"s can feel the same benefits, as more and more businesses reduce overhead and improve employee satisfaction by offering the option to work from home.

Purchase orders, quotes and invoicing are areas that continue to employ a great deal of fax use. Let"s look at Internet-based faxing as an example. A sales person 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 customers" fax machine. All while sitting in the car using a laptop and wireless connection on the customer"s network or a wireless hot spot.

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

Meeting strict security and privacy regulations are fast becoming a more critical part of doing business. Beyond simply meeting 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.

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 fuelled an evolution in communications. Today, 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 boost by spurring a shift in how we use traditional forms of communication. New applications and new capabilities have kept the fax from going extinct and, in my estimation, will keep it growing and thriving for years to come.

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