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brand tipYou still use a fax machine. Gone is the machine that used slick paper on rolls; but it is still connected to your phone line and a case of paper. At least the new person you hired didn’t require training to use it.

Fax technology has been around since 1843. That’s not a typo. The modern fax machine was introduced in 1964 by Xerox. Fast forward to today. Unless you use a typewriter, there are no other machines in your office that have remained essentially unchanged in form and function for almost 50 years. Fax is ubiquitous, reliable, simple and cheap. Why would you want to mess that up?

The problem with fax is that it relies on audio signals carried over copper phone lines. They are actually called POTS lines. POTS stands for Plain Old Telephone Service. And as you already know, Plain Old Telephone Service is being replaced (kicking and screaming) by VOIP. VOIP stands for THE INTERNET.

You once depended on paper and had spare phone lines for your office. You proudly published your fax number on your stationery and website. Today you rely less on paper (or are aggressively trying to get rid of it) and may have already learned (to your chagrin) that new Voice Over Internet Protocol systems don’t play nice with legacy fax machines.

The typical office copier has now become a multi-function device: It copies, scans, prints and faxes. But the underlying fax technology has never been replaced. You still hook them up to POTS lines and most still print on paper. Sending a fax begins with the paper you insert into the machine and ends with the satisfaction of knowing it actually got there when you hear the familiar answer tone coming from the other side. This may be as predictable a sequence of events as life in a modern office affords.

Sending faxes online = hard

If you have a scanner that can produce PDFs you might try emailing the images of the document(s) and send them as attachments in lieu of faxing. But some industries (especially health care and finance) insist on faxes. Some email systems can’t handle large attachments. Scanned images of dozens of pages can clog your recipient’s inbox. Also, getting a confirmation that the recipient got what you sent is problematic using email – but it’s built in to fax.

Faxing documents over the Internet that are “born” in your computer is fairly easy. Some services allow you to fax from their website. Or, you can attach files in common formats, DOCs and PDFs for example, to an email message you send to a special email address. You place the recipient’s fax number in the address or subject line. The service processes the document and delivers it to the recipient’s fax machine using their POTS lines. You can even receive a confirmation by email. Some include automatic cover pages and customization options, all for about $20 a month plus “per page” charges.

If you thought that was complicated, try starting with paper. Unfortunately the practice of law still has pesky requirements that make paper necessary ... for signatures and original documents at least. That means you’ll need to scan those pages first. Depending on the steps involved, it can take an extra few minutes – time you didn’t think about when you used your old fax machine.

Receiving faxes online = easy

On the flip side, receiving a fax over the Internet is simple. Many of our customers have forwarded their fax numbers to “Fax-To-Email” services (like MaxEmail.com and eFax.com) and, for less than $10 a month, plus a nickel per page, they get all their faxes delivered as PDFs to their inbox. Some of these customers then print the faxes anyway – Arghhh! Faxes can then become a part of a document management system that collects related documents in client folders on a file server that protects and organizes them.

Sharing faxes received this way is simple, too: the email address to which the fax is delivered can be a group – or better yet – the person responsible for distributing faxes can see to it that they are properly filed. Then, they can send a notice to the proper recipient about where to find them.

Like a Halloween zombie, fax technology won’t die. Automating inbound faxes is a no-brainer. But until the practice of law goes fully digital, keep that POTS line!•

__________

Kim Brand is president of Indianapolis-based Computer Experts. He is also the inventor of FileSafe. He was recently appointed adjunct professor of Legal Informatics at Indiana University. The opinions expressed are the author’s.

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