Is the fax machine going the way of the dinosaurs? Though these office mainstays may seem like a relatively new piece of machinery, fax machines actually first made their appearance around 1850. They weren't really mass produced until the mid-1970s, where at the time fax machines were considered state-of-the-art technology. Today, with instant communication not only possible but impossible to avoid, it seems as though fax machines are on a one-way trip to the great scrap heap in the sky.
To the contrary, however, fax machines are still very much in use – and in a variety of industries that go beyond the typical 9-to-5 office.
From the corporate finance world to the legal sphere, medical facilities to sports organizations, fax machines still expedite daily business processes in ways that make productivity easier to come by.
Ken Weilerstein, an analyst for research and advisory firm Gartner, told Fortune that faxes aren't used as often as they used to be, as the internet in general and the cloud in particular have advanced the diminution of paper. However, they still serve a multitude of audiences.
"There are still plenty of fax machines out there," Weilerstein explained. "Something declining in this particular space doesn't mean disappearing by a long shot."
Part of the reason for this, Weilerstein added, is the fax industry's adapting to the times and inclusion in other communication systems. For example, printers today are often multifunction, enabling users to both print but also make copies as well as send and receive faxes.
Additionally, while much of the U.S. has internet capability – both homeowners and businesses – telephone systems are still far more widespread than Wi-Fi.
The ubiquity of the telephone network is a big factor, because there are parts of the country where internet access isn't very good," Weilerstein said, according to online magazine Motherboard.
Fax machines valued for privacy
Even though privacy is difficult for individuals and businesses to achieve today, it's a pursuit that is crucial to both customer satisfaction, not to mention compliance. In the healthcare industry, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed and signed into law by Congress and then President Bill Clinton 20 years ago, strictly prohibits hospitals and other medical facilities from transmitting patient data unless it's done in a secure fashion.
The telephone provides a certain level of anonymity that other methods don't, Weilerstein told Motherboard, which is owned by VICE Media. He added that while no one denies that telephone systems can be hacked into, this capability is a far more specialized "skill" that doesn't receive the type of attention that online hacking does.
Lee Kim, director of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, told PC World that generally speaking, faxes are harder for identity thieves to access unless they have "special equipment."
"On the other hand, an unencrypted email may be easier to intercept in transit by eavesdropping on the network," Kim further stated.
In legal circles, faxes can be a more efficient form of written communication because of the drawn-out process that's often involved in collecting multiple email addresses. Paul Genato, an attorney who works for a New Jersey-based law firm, told PC World that fax machines typically provide confirmation of receipt alerts after transmitting. With email, on the other hand, confirmations are more hit-and-miss, as some email providers don't offer it as an option.
Over one-third of European employees call faxes 'essential'
Across the pond, fax machines are a fundamental component of day-to-day business operations. In a survey done by Fuze earlier this year, 42 percent of employees in France described the fax as an "essential office item," with 39 percent of workers in Germany and 30 percent of office workers in the United Kingdom saying the same, according to Beta News.
In summary, it sure seems the fax machine won't be going anywhere, anytime soon.
Office technology industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.