Six Questions to Help Decide if it’s Time to Move to the Cloud
The New Year brings to mind “out with the old, in with the new.” This mindset doesn’t just apply to bad habits and personal resolutions, but to business processes and technology investments as well. Faxing for example, always seems to be on IT’s list of outdated applications, ready to be replaced by email, electronic file transfer or some “modern” digital service.
Yet despite predictions of its impending demise, fax continues to be an indispensable service in the healthcare industry. With concerns around HIPAA compliance, particularly in light of the Omnibus Final Ruling, fax has been a primary secure methodology for sharing documents and data outside of the organization. Healthcare providers made substantial investments in on premise fax servers and telephony lines to support the transmission of documents for physician referrals, billing, prescriptions, patient records and other critical documents.
But progress is inevitable and the nature of faxing has changed. At one time your facility may have relied on departmental thermo graphic fax machines (remember the curled paper scrolls?) eventually replacing them with plain paper fax machines—only to see them exchanged for multi-function peripherals a few years later. Over the past decade, larger organizations have invested in fax servers and dedicated fax boards to rasterize documents prior to sending over telephony networks. Eventually servers were developed to support the digitizing of documents for IP transmissions.
If this device replacement merry-go-round sounds familiar to you, you have probably reached the next tipping point: it’s time to retire your fax servers. Yes they cost a lot, and they were probably paid for long ago. But set that investment aside and consider your monthly overhead for maintaining these dinosaurs: they require energy, maintenance, constant attention, and if they go out of commission for any length of time, you need an immediate backup to replace them. That commitment of effort and resources costs money, not just the hard costs of electricity and annual maintenance and support fees charged by the vendor, but opportunity and productivity losses that can be a hidden value drain.
Retiring your fax servers gets you out of the fax technology management business and allows you to focus on core network administration responsibilities. What technology replaces fax servers? Hosted fax services. No hardware, software, telephone lines or paper needed. And no upfront investment or ongoing support and maintenance costs. Best of all, you only pay for the fax volume you actually use, so if you see fax volume decline over the next few years, you aren’t married to a technology investment that overwhelms its present day value.
Hosted fax services supplant fax servers for healthcare organizations with varying fax volumes, remote staff and mobile sales professionals. Each employee is assigned their own fax number that can be linked to their email address, allowing them to send or receive faxes as email attachments anywhere that they have Internet access. Hosted services can also be set up to provide secure transmissions, usually via encrypted Transport Layer Security (TLS) between users and the cloud-based hosted servers to address HIPAA compliance issues.
As you investigate hosted fax services in the cloud, here are six important self-assessment questions to help determine if 2014 is the year you can move to a cloud-based fax solution:
- How many faxes does your organization send each day? Fax volume often goes unmeasured by IT, because once the infrastructure is in place the actual document flow goes unnoticed until the fax traffic strains capacity of the server or the associated Telephony service. Fax servers require constant monitoring of system capacity and throughput volume to ensure the solution is right-sized for your organization.
- Is your fax volume constant or do you have peaks and valleys? Owning the equipment and infrastructure for faxing means that you need to purchase hardware and bandwidth that can accommodate your highest usage level. This isn’t so much an issue if on a daily basis you have a small fluctuation in the number of faxes sent and received. More likely however, you may have peak usage periods where weekly or monthly patient encounter reports or billing statements are sent. In this situation, you may have a system that may be capable of a much higher volume yet is severely underutilized when viewed as a whole.
- Do you have a backup plan for server downtime? The adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” is familiar to IT directors. Even the most robust server infrastructures require scheduled maintenance and unexpected service outages. IT professionals will build in contingencies for these service interruptions, usually through redundant servers, backup transmission lines and the like. Of course these contingencies incur costs and require resources of their own. For fax servers, it is advisable to have a second back-up server and a rerouting option for telephony issues, because faxes are quite often time sensitive transactions. If you don’t have a backup plan with appropriate service outage contingencies, business-critical documents may be delayed or go undelivered.
- Is your organization distributed? The golden age of fax servers occurred in the 1990s as companies looked to centralize core services for easier management control and cost savings. Since then most provider networks have seen a distributed model fit their organization better. If you have remote employees or multiple facilities, then having fax services in one location may not be the most efficient—or most reliable—system for you.
- Is your telephony environment stable or dynamic? Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has changed telecommunications for providers. With sound quality equal or exceeding equivalent public switched telephone networks (PSTN), over 80 percent of companies have adopted VoIP for voice communications. Yet some of these same companies maintain telephony service just to support fax machines and/or servers. If you have already made the switch to VoIP—or are in the process of doing so—continuing to support fax servers will mean maintaining otherwise unnecessary telephony costs.
- What is your cost for each page faxed? It’s a simple question but most administrators have no idea what that number is. We have already discussed how tracking page volume is often unknown; the costs can be even more convoluted: hardware and software maintenance, electricity, telephone lines, employee time for maintenance and management. If you do the analysis of all these numbers you might be surprised to find that your actual cost per transmission is higher than you would suspect. With hosted fax services this number is much easier to obtain and control.
Do a self-analysis and answer these questions about your faxing environment. Knowing your current situation will prepare you to take an analytical approach to the best available solutions.
This article is contributed by: eFax Corporate® is a brand of j2 Global®, Inc. (NASDAQ:JCOM). Founded in 1995, j2 is an award-winning, leading provider of Internet services through its two divisions: Business Cloud Services and Digital Media. As of December 31, 2013, j2 had achieved 18 consecutive fiscal years of revenue growth. For more information about eFax Corporate®, please visit: enterprise.efax.com