Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Faxes to Go

This article, written by Steve Adams, recently appeared in Arizona Homebuilder Magazine.

One of the fun things about watching movies made more than 10 years ago is seeing how the world has changed since the movie premiered. When Beetlejuice runs his TV ad in the movie of the same name, he flashes an "800" number but there's no mention of a website as there would be today. In 1975's "Three Days of the Condor," there isn't a desktop computer in sight despite the fact that Robert Redford works for the tech-savvy CIA. In black and white movies from the 1940s, office workers still contact the operator to make a simple phone call.

Perhaps the most notable thing about many "movie" offices, however, is the way everyone who works for the company works from the building all day, every day. They arrive in the morning at their lush offices, work their 9 to 5 days there and then head home to their families or out for cocktails with their colleagues.
The world has certainly changed since then. We have always been a mobile society outside of work but now that inclination permeates the workplace as well. The central office has given way to mobile workers who work from home, and the mantra of "hiring talent where it lives" rather than relying on proximity to the office is quickly becoming core practice.

Technology has enabled this far more distributed workforce. Cheap and abundant mobile phones have made workers reachable just about anywhere in North America, and the Internet and email have extended that reach to just about anywhere in the world. Yet, in the midst of it all, like a bug in a salt shaker, is the immobile fax machine.

The Fax Dilemma
Before you start thinking it doesn't matter because faxing has gone the way of the company phone operator, you should know that, according to analyst group, IDC, there were more faxed pages in 2007 than in any previous year. Despite email, texting, IMs and all other technological marvels of our age, faxing still remains the communications medium of choice for contracts, work orders and any other paperwork that requires signatures or handwritten notes. In fact, in industries such as building and construction, it is still the primary means of sending official documents.

Hence, the dilemma: The building industry workforce is mobile, but the means of communication is not. This means that non office-based workers who need to read, send or respond to faxes either have to make a special trip to the office to pick them up, have documents re-faxed to them from the central office to another location or have someone else read the faxes to them and then dictate responses. None of which is very conducive to efficiency.

Internet fax service is the option that is bringing this older but still necessary practice into the present and in line with mobile business practices. An internet fax service gives users the capability of sending and receiving faxes wherever they happen to be as long as they an Internet connection.
If a homebuilder is off-site for the day and using a traditional fax machine, the paperwork is sent to the central office where it must wait until he returns at the end of a busy day. If there is a problem, the amended fax is sent back and the process starts again. Depending on the complexity, an entire day or even two could be lost.

With an internet fax service, however, the homebuilder or other mobile staff member receives an email notification and preview on his or her Blackberry. He can then quickly look over the fax, write up any changes or amendments as a cover note, forward them to an assistant, and have the entire process completed in minutes. It's a big advantage that saves time and helps drive efficiency-which drives revenue.

Internet fax services are simple to use. The user signs up online and is assigned either a local or toll-free telephone number. Once you're up and running, you can send and receive faxes through your email account, a secure online server or both. As long as you have an Internet connection, your fax capabilities are operational whether you're at home, on a job site or stopping for coffee.

Benefits and Options
Some companies try to work around the static nature of the fax machine by sending faxes from or having them sent to a local quick print shop or other service supplier. At a typical rate of $3 per page, that can add up. If you send or receive more than a few pages per month, an internet fax service will usually cost less. And there's no waiting in line while three people ahead of you try to decide what color paper to use for their lost dog flyers.

Different services offer different types of internet faxing options. For example, some allow you to have the same fax sent to multiple email accounts. This is great for people who are working as part of a team or with an administrative assistant (virtual or otherwise) because everyone involved can receive the fax without additional forwarding. Receiving email notifications allows you to know instantly when a fax has arrived, and having a preview option means you can look at the fax quickly to determine its contents and decide whether it needs to be opened immediately or can wait until later.

Another great option is online storage of sent and received faxes. This feature is ideal for users who suddenly need to access an older fax or who lose their original electronic copy without making a backup. Of course, receiving faxes electronically also means you can easily carry every fax with you on your laptop, so the information you need is always at your fingertips.

In our increasingly mobile and geographically distributed society, it just doesn't make sense to have all you important faxes tied to a single location. When you're looking at your next fax solution, simply say, "I'll take mine to go."

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