Is there a single piece of office equipment more irritating and environmentally unsound than the fax machine?
They are dirty, out-dated, difficult to recycle, always-on devices, which not only chew up obscene amounts of paper and energy but appear to serve no purpose beyond occasionally churning out junk mail imploring you to ring a number and be in with a chance of winning tickets to see an Abba tribute band.
On top of that every fax machine you encounter seems to have been designed with such scant regard for the user that you have to read the manual at least five times in order to gain even the vaguest understanding of how you get them to work.
This responsibility is invariably left to one poor person in the office who has to fax everything for everyone else - not because it is their job but because they are the only ones who know how its done. When they eventually get bored of this and leave, as they inevitably will, it is odds on that no fax will ever be sent from that office again.
And yet, even if you never send faxes as long as just one of your business partners or customers continues to use them then your office has little choice but to keep a fax machine humming away in the corner.
As James Powell-Tuck, managing director of messaging services specialist Wirefast, observes you may want to move away from faxes but you do not want to cut off an inward communication channel that is still valuable for some suppliers, customers and partners - particularly when documents require a signature.
"Use of fax may be declining, but plenty of people still use it," he said. "Just look at the business cards people give you and you'll see most of them still have fax numbers."
In short, as long as just a few firms continue to find fax machines useful every firm must have one, regardless of how inefficient and irritating they are.
However, Wirefast claims to have developed a solution to this seemingly intractable problem. The company has developed a messaging platform that can convert in-bound faxes into electronic documents, such as emails, PDFs or Tifs, thus eradicating the need for a fax machine. The same system can also be used in reverse to send an email or other electronic document as a fax.
Powell-Tuck said the managed service helps make "fax as flexible as email" and provides a useful "transition technology" that allows firms to eradicate faxes even if partners continue to use them. He said that several global customers had already adopted the service and as a result had been able to slash the number of fax machines they run.
He added that the platform also offers similar integration between a range of other messaging technologies including SMS text messages, XML, email and telex and provides a full electronic audit trail that can aid firms' regulatory compliance by proving messages have been delivered.
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