By David G. Mpojeannis
History has shown us, time and time again, that investing today in technology trends that people will be using tomorrow can create fortunes. This is especially true in the telecommunications industry. We have seen these trends have a tremendous impact on virtually all people around the world. Today, technologies such as voice mail, email, computer networks, and cell phones are as common as the office typewriter was in the 1970’s. These technologies have forever changed the way we interact with others and the manner in which we conduct business. Many predict that fax-to-email conversion may soon be added to this list.
What Is Fax-To-Email? Put simply, fax-to-email describes a process by which a fax is converted into a digital file (tif file) and routed to a person’s email. Faxes with text and/or graphics can be processed with equal ease. Once it has been received, as an email attachment, it can be opened and viewed on your PC. There are benefits galore in utilizing this type of fax system over traditional paper-based fax machines.
One key benefit is that all faxes are delivered privately and securely to the recipient. It truly is “for your eyes only” faxing. Both the sender and the recipient know that only the person for whom the fax was intended will view the fax. Also, since fax messages are received electronically, the converted fax can be shared with others just as easily as forwarding any other email message. The fax can also be saved on the user’s hard disk drive, making for greater efficiency and less paper filing. Junk faxes can be deleted immediately and without wasting paper (finally!). Also, if any Web-based email services are used, faxes can be viewed using any Internet enabled PC anywhere in the world. Also, there can be significant savings in paper and toner costs since many faxes will never need to be printed. This results in a positive impact on our environment as well.
The Opportunity: The trend away from paper-based fax machines and towards electronic receipt of fax documents is starting now. It is as irrefutable as was the trend away from telephone answering machines and to voice mail in the 1980’s. The driving force behind this definite trend is the incredible proliferation of email usage. Next to the telephone, email is the communication tool of choice for most businesses today. Email is also the principle use of business computers, as it offers an effective, low-cost way of communicating. Therefore, it is logical that so many people are flocking to it. In fact, over one billion emails are exchanged daily. Its use will undoubtedly continue to expand. Lastly, since people demand simplicity, the ability to retrieve faxes via email further drives this opportunity.
Getting Started: Service providers and Web-based communications companies have started to successfully offer such services to a rapidly growing audience. These delighted users of fax-to-email are happy to pay a monthly fee for the service. This trend presents a ground-floor business opportunity for telemessaging service operators and voice mail providers to provide fax-to-email services to their customers and prospects. It also presents an opportunity for interconnect companies seeking exciting new technologies to resell into client and prospect accounts.
Innovative manufacturers have come up with solutions that make it fairly simple for service providers to start generating significant fax-to-email revenue streams using inexpensive and commonly available computer technology. These are typically in the form of a single industrial-grade computer. This computer has ports for DID trunks and an Internet (Ethernet) connection. The DID port allows faxes to be received and the Internet connection sends out the converted fax over the Internet to the customer’s email address. All one needs to do is to simply connect these ports and provide power. The only programming required is to point the DID numbers to the customer’s email address. This is a quick and simple administrative process. Also, any teleservices company with a front-end switch can simply redirect numbers to the server and not incur any additional telco charges. In this way, providers can take advantage of their existing infrastructure, thereby minimizing start-up costs.
Also, look for systems which provide the capability to administer the fax-to-email server remotely. In this way, sites away from the home office can be easily configured with minimal expense and greatest efficiency. Another important feature is event logging, which refers to the information generated by the fax transmission occurring in the first place. On a traditional paper fax, this is known as the header information, or the information found at the top of the fax page. It contains data such as time sent and sender information. The tracking of such information is an absolute necessity to businesses such as professional service firms whom rely heavily on fax and need accurate records maintained for client billing purposes.
Making Money: For service providers, it’s fairly simple to setup and offer a fax-to-email service to your clients, but what about creating new revenue? The diagram provides a dramatic, low-price example of what can be expected.
Some providers charge up to $24.99 per month. Even at the low price of $5.00 per month, the ongoing revenue generated can be quite substantial. Customers come to rely on the service quickly; this results in high retention rates. With the low cost of ownership associated with some fax-to-email systems, the technology investment can literally pay for itself in a matter of months – even with a small number of paying customers. (Resellers can bundle fax-to-email server solutions along with existing PBX sales to add value to each sale.)
Marketing Fax-To-Email: Marketing fax-to-email service is simple. The benefits are overwhelmingly convincing and easy to understand: users receive all faxes in their email; they can handle then like any other email: save, delete, print, forward, and broadcast. Most importantly, prospective customers are easily identified and plentiful: law firms, accounting practices, real estate and insurance companies, financial services companies, investment brokerage offices, etc. Virtually any business or person who relies on fax for their business will be interested in getting their faxes sent to them as an emails. A short chat with anyone currently using such a service confirms this fact. Eventually, the service will become essential and as second nature as voice mail is today. Fax broadcasts, email promotions, telephone marketing, and direct mail are among the simplest ways that can be used to inexpensively promote the new service.
Fax-to-email service represents an excellent business opportunity for the telemessaging services industry and voice mail providers, as well as for interconnect companies seeking to resell exciting new products. With some simple planning, a small investment, and just a little marketing, service operators can be selling the future, today.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2002]