Fax machines have been on technology’s endangered species list for at least a decade.
But faxing paper documents is far from a dying business practice. Statistics suggest that
more than 17 million fax machines are still in use across the United States. To underscore that data, a 2012 survey [PDF] by fax-software vendor GFI Software shows that 72 percent of small-business office workers still send paper faxes.
However, the tide is starting to turn. A survey of more than 1,600 small businesses by j2 Global (the biggest electronic fax-service provider) late last year found that 27 percent of respondents would love to ditch their office fax machine in 2014 and invest in a digital option to replace it. Separately, independent research from Research and Markets suggests that computer-based faxing could become a $700 million industry by 2016, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 12.1 percent since 2011.
If your small business hasn’t gone digital yet, here are five reasons that 2014 might be the year to make the switch either to an e-faxing or e-signature service:
1. It could address security and privacy concerns. “About half of workers have read a fax intended for someone else while the paper document was sitting in the machine,” GFI Software notes in the analysis of its 2012 survey data. By ensuring that a document is sent to its intended recipient, e-faxing services can alleviate the problem of contracts, invoices, and communications being read by others. If you need to pass contracts or applications back and forth for signatures, consider an e-signature service. Look for one that accommodates the creation of signatures with a computer mouse or that allows someone to type his or her name in assigned signature boxes in an electronic document. SignNow offers a free service (for up to five documents per month) for e-signatures that integrates with Salesforce.com and other customer relationship management applications.
2. It could speed up receipt of important information. How much time does it take for someone to print a document, walk it over to a fax machine, queue it up, wait for it to transmit, and then confirm its receipt? Faxing digitally could help employees focus on more productive tasks sooner. Plus, the information can be received virtually anywhere — if you’re traveling, an e-fax service will let you retrieve the document with a notebook computer, a web browser, or (with an increasing number of services) a mobile device.
3. It makes filing and archiving information more efficient. Is the information for your customers and accounts spread out over several places, with some stored in databases and others squirreled away in paper filing cabinets? Taking faxes digital can help alleviate some of this clutter, by allowing your team to associate them with existing electronic records. Many e-faxing services are integrated with leading cloud storage providers (such as Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, or Box), so you can send, receive, or manage faxes directly within them. Two services that make integration a priority are HelloFax ($9.99 per month for up to 300 pages) and UFAX ($12.95 for up to 1,000 inbound and 500 outbound pages).
4. It reduces paper waste. The reams of paper needed to support sending and receiving hard-copy faxes can add up quickly. Going digital can help cut back on the cost of keeping those machines replenished, and it can become a positive environmental message for your company.
5. It can decrease equipment and maintenance costs. If you’re worried about the monthly subscription costs of an electronic service (many options start around $10 per month), you should weigh those fees against equipment maintenance for a physical fax machine, the ink and toner for printouts, and a dedicated phone connection to support it. The savings from going electronic can add up quickly.