Death of the fax machine

Once upon a time, the fax machine was a staple piece of technology in offices around Australia.

And while most businesses still have a fax machine lying around, its use and purpose is slowly but surely diminishing each day.

One organization to realize this is one of Australia's largest and most significant landholders, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which up until recently used dozens of fax machines to send tens of thousands of multi-page paper faxes to hundreds of stakeholders.

Documents sent included legally signed and approval documents, contracts or official government correspondence.

This mountain of paper then had to be officially receipted, replied to, authorized, distributed, and finally carefully filed in centralized archives in case they were needed for future legal purposes.

However, in February this year, the Foreshore Authority information management and technology team implemented a program designed to eliminate paper faxes from the organization's administrative process, enabling it to scrap every fax machine it owned - all 42 of them.

Technology which turns faxes - including those needing legal signatures - into e-mails replaced the machines. It automatically archives the e-mails in databases, allowing department heads to keep track of them via SMS messaging to their mobile phones.

According to Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority IM&T manager Virginia Orr, the new technology, called GFi Faxmaker, was rolled out in February this year across the authority's offices for its 260 users and was " a set-and-forget installation."

"Initially the new paperless system needed a cultural shift," Orr said.

"But we have found that it is now really taking off, in particular with the events unit which relies on fax to conduct much of its correspondence and approvals in addition to fax-merges."

IDC Australia senior analyst peripherals Loretta Pein claims that faxing is definitely on the decline. However, it's certainly not because of organizations' wishes to reduce paper, as copying and printing is on the increase, she said.

"I don't see the fax machine as a demand piece of technology, but printing and copying certainly are, all you have to do is look around and see that printing shops are opening up all the time as well," Pein said.

"The paperless office is not going to happen."

And now, with multifunction printers (MFPs), the need for organizations to purchase a separate fax machine may fly out the window, with new MFPs allowing users to print, copy, scan and fax - all on the same device.

"Certainly people now want to buy something that can do four things, not buy four separate pieces of technology that can do one thing," Pein said. w

MFDs pick up the slack

While analysts certainly think the fax machine is on its way out, IT managers are a little more divided on the subject.

IDP Education head of information technology Nick Southcombe claims that in his organization they use fax machines only occasionally, and believes the device will eventually die out.

But while Southcombe said he may consider multifunction devices in the future for faxing purposes, a cheap fax machine would be the obvious solution.

"Because our use of fax machines is so limited here, and we have a fair amount of industrial printers around the place, we would probably just get a cheap fax machine," Southcombe said.

However, Tokio Marine Management IT manager Robert Morgan has already moved on to the multifunction devices, and no longer has stand-alone fax machines, but devices that combine both fax and scanners.

"Our organization still uses fax, but it's not regarded as heavy use, it would be more occasional," Morgan said.

But unlike analysts and other IT professionals, Morgan remains optimistic that there's still a life ahead for the fax machine.

"I don't think it will die completely, because I think people will always need copies of original stuff," Morgan said.

"But it could [disappear] if people are already looking into, or have, scanning solutions."

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