Opinion: His master's fax

Voice mail changed the way I think about faxes.

When I returned from Paris recently, I opened my e-mail client and discovered my faxes (no big deal) and a voice-mail message attached to an e-mail (now that's a big deal). I didn't know, until then, that both faxes and voice mail could be received and managed from my e-mail client.

That got me thinking that companies that are still spending money on fax and voice-mail infrastructures are throwing away dollars and time.

The ability to access voice mail and send and receive faxes via your e-mail in-box is so compelling a proposition that it might convince you to stop spending money on a stand-alone fax infrastructure.

That infrastructure can be extensive. Phone lines, phone support and servers cost money and take up time and space. In addition, your twentysomething IT geeks don't want to be messing with fax systems; they'd rather be working on Web architecture.

So consider exploring in this direction: outsourcing your fax and voice-mail service to a company like J2 Global Communications in the US.

J2 already has 2,000 corporate accounts and 30,000 end users. Here's the technology behind the service it offers many of them: Servers at one of J2's 60 collocation sites receive faxes and answer calls. J2 translates fax images to TIFF files and voice mails to WAV files and then attaches the files to e-mails and forwards them to its customers.

With J2's Web-based management tools, you can centrally administer and provision fax numbers within minutes around the clock and around the globe. You no longer need to spend time calling phone companies to acquire phone lines, nor do you need to deploy machines or technicians. It's all done online. And assigning numbers to users is easy, with simple comma-separated files. It's also possible to integrate the service with your ERP system for companies that may fax you orders.

There are some additional features for security or working with a VPN. For example, health care, financial services and legal firms that want to encrypt files can use a server from Tumbleweed Communications. This acts as a gateway at a J2 location and generates a domain-level public-key certificate that's sent over the Internet to be decrypted by a similar gateway at the user's site. The content is then distributed via the normal e-mail server. VPN users can configure a router and drop it into the J2 data center, and all faxes will be funneled through the router to the user's VPN.

Right now, outbound traffic is limited to 16MB, and inbound capacity is about 200 pages. That should be enough to handle a PowerPoint presentation that argues for doing away with your current fax -- and voice-mail -- technology.

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