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Fax lives!

By Hayden Lamberti, manager, applications solutions, Internet Solutions

The humble fax machineWorldwide, there’s a general perception that fax is dead – replaced by e-mail, instant messaging and scanning of documents, all of which having reached new heights of usage. If you have an Internet connection you can send your stuff anywhere, any time.

But across the globe, and specifically in South Africa and the African continent, fax is most certainly alive and well, especially fax to e-mail and e-mail to fax.

Several reasons come to mind, the first of which are the social/economic factors which are prevalent in SA.

Although in many cases, we have an infrastructure and engage in business methods on par with those of any other developed countries, SA is still in certain areas considered an emerging market, with the bulk of the country’s population without connectivity or access to the Internet. In reality, the majority of SA’s consumers, learners, informal businesses and labour force are without any means of interaction with the technical world. They will therefore rely on last generation communication technologies which are still ubiquitous across the region.

Enter the fax machine.

You’ll find them everywhere – in cafes, small businesses, and home offices – many of them still using thermal paper!

From the introduction of cheaper fax machines in the late ‘80s, this method of sending documents across the country, the continent and the rest of the world provided a level of communication never before experienced by consumers and users.

Now, via fax to e-mail technology, it is possible for users to interface with technical systems using a simple fax machine.

By excluding the use of faxes to communicate with clients and consumers, companies would be all but left in the dark with regard to offering a service to their entire customer base. It is for this reason that all back office systems, no matter how advanced, still have to integrate with fax. Not all suppliers, customers, or even internal divisions can move so far along the route to a paperless office strategy that they can completely eradicate the need for faxing.

Secondly, legislation has played a major role in the longevity of the fax.

Until we have a significantly advanced legislation around electronic communication, and until that is tried and tested in a legal dispute, people will still need to sign the relevant documentation. The document will then either need to be transmitted via fax, or will need to be converted to an electronic format.

Even in developed countries like the USA, legal documents need to be physically signed and delivered. The primary way to do this is still via the fax.

Have you signed for a two million rand bond on a house by clicking ‘I accept’ on a website? No. You still have to sign reams of documentation and then fax it back to the bank.

Thirdly, the drive towards the paperless office is seeing the move from traditional fax machine use – printed copies – to fax transmission to e-mail. This has produced a new lease on life for the trusty fax machine. While this inherently requires less fax machine infrastructure, the major fax machine producers are seeing year on year growth of new machine sales.

Fax to e-mail is a daily occurrence for consumers. Popping along to PostNet is easy and cost effective, whether sending or receiving those essential documents. And those of us with an Internet connection are happily receiving the documents on our desktop computers.

Small businesses and consumers are connected to the digital world – even if they don’t know it! Far from being dead, fax is alive and kicking.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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