Does anyone still need fax?

22 04 2008

I’m in the process of setting up phone numbers and contact details for a new IT company, and I’d started to look at fax-to-email services as we don’t want to be mucking around with phone lines or needing any particular equipment.

But then I got to thinking, why are we even bothering?

It feels almost obligatory to include a fax number in the company’s contact details, but there doesn’t seem to be any real need for this – we’re just doing it for the sake of it, and because everybody else does. The fact that we’d happily use a “pretend” fax number that actually converts everything to e-mail just seems to prove this.

Maybe I’m lacking in imagination, but if we aren’t asking anyone to send things to us by fax, it’s kind of hard to envisage situations where somebody would need or want to send faxes to us. Other than spam, of course.

Even if there might be rare occasions where for some reason we need to be sent the image of a piece of paper, how likely is it that fax would be someone’s preferred or only option (rather than, for example, scanning and e-mailing the document, or sending a copy by post)?

Maybe there are some countries with specific issues over what forms of communication are legally binding, or where bandwidth or technology constraints somehow conspire to make fax useful. Maybe there are some individuals who have access to fax facilities and like fax, but don’t have or don’t like email.

As it happens, at one point I did know someone who had a cheap fax machine as their home’s only working piece of telephony equipment, so you couldn’t phone them, you could only fax them, and if you were lucky they’d eventually notice and fax you back – but that was a decade ago, and these days even they have a proper phone that you can phone, and an email address too.

None of the above scenarios seem likely to impact this particular company. In any case, at worst we can always deal with exceptional cases individually as they arise. I can’t see anything that comes close to us needing to publish a fax number for general use.

So I’m wondering if this is just our own particular situation, or if I’ve missed something, or if fax really is now a relic of history that nobody need worry about any more.

Is there anybody out there that still likes fax? Any industries where it’s still how things are done? Any IT or otherwise “modern” companies that insist on faxes for signed contracts and the like? And most of all, is it acceptable for a high-tech IT company to not publish a fax number – or does anyone see a reason why it’s still necessary?

I’d like to think that the internet, email, image processing, legislation and business attitudes have all advanced to the point of rendering fax completely obsolete, but I dare say somebody out there will know otherwise… in the meantime our company isn’t going to be getting a fax number unless and until we find a specific need for one.

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4 responses

23 04 2008
Fabrizio Giudici

Legal constraints are the point IMO. For instance, in my country (Italy) we theoretically have laws enabling the legal validity of digitally signed documents, but there’s not yet a pervasive infrastructure for it, at least at fine grain (e.g. there are not yet chips in id cards, but for a few of experimental one). For instance, I’ve signed a few days ago a health insurance for travelling to USA, almost everything went through a web page, including the payment of course, but in order to validate it I need to wait for a paper copy to be snail mailed to me and return it signed (eventually by fax). For my own purposes (I am a freelance) I have a fax-by-email service which is good for receiving stuff and for sending stuff that hasn’t to be signed; if it has to, I still have to resort to the first available fax machinery around.

PS BTW, this seems to be not only an italian thing, even though I think that there are different scenarios: for being enabled as a committer for OpenJDK and NetBeans I had to fax a signed SCA on paper to Sun Microsystems.

23 04 2008
closingbraces

@Fabrizio,

Thanks, that’s interesting – and I’d forgotten about Sun wanting faxes for signed agreements.

Actually, sending the odd fax isn’t a problem, there’s always e.g. http://www.tpc.int/sendfax.html or the local print shop. It’s more a case of whether we need a published number for receiving faxes even if we’re never normally asking for faxes.

Out of interest, do you know if faxes and emails are regarded in Italy as having the same standing as a written letter, or are there different rules? As far as I know, here in the UK it’s all basically on a similar basis regardless of whether on paper or electronic. Even the standard/typical rules for running a company generally allow the use of email for official notices etc (though some of this is relatively recent).

It sounds like we’re behind you on digitally signing things – in general we don’t even have ID cards yet. Despite this, we do have growing legislation that requires proof of ID (supposedly to prevent money-laundering). Almost everyone I start dealing with seems to need “original” certified copies of my passport etc (i.e. you copy your documents, pay for a suitable official to manually write on them that they are accurate copies and sign them, and the signed pieces of paper have to be sent through the post – no scanning or faxing, presumably on the theory that it would be too easily altered). It’s getting to be a real pain in the neck, with additional cost and delay on everything. And there must be lots of copies of passports, bank statements etc flying around in the post, at the same time as the post seems less and less reliable and we’re being told to keep such items secure, shred them, get statements online. Personally I suspect it’s all a ruse to make people want official ID cards, which can then be presented as solving all of this!

Mike

11 01 2010
John M

I just stumbled across this thread. What I found funny is that I had a bank tell me they would not accept “scanned documents or Email, only faxes”, so I turned around and scanned the document then faxed from the same PC that I use to send email, which then went to their “fax server” to create a PDF that we emailed to the individual.

Go figure…

Doesn’t a fax machine just send a TIFF file anyway?

12 01 2010
closingbraces

Yep, very funny!

So it seems there are still some that will insist on faxes. But nearly two years on from the original post, I’ve still not bothered with a fax number for our business; no fax number is given on any of our documents, emails or business cards; nobody has questioned it; and we’ve not had to either send or receive so much as a single fax.

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