Death of the Fax Machine?

I owe my career to a fax machine.

Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration…  In my post-university job, I became a firm fixture very quickly because of the a simple quirk of fate: my desk was next to the office fax machine.  Everybody had to linger and wait by my desk while each page slowly worked its way through the machine so, from the very beginning I knew everybody and everything that was going on.

This was the late 1990′s.  We had email accounts but nobody really used them yet. *

The fax machine is a great invention.  Scrawl something on a piece of paper, or print out a fax with a memo-like header (oh, memory lane, who remembers memos?!) and within minutes it will reach the office of person for whom it was intended.  Sure, they have to actually be there to read it but, in its day, the fax machine was a revolution.  We all knew our fax number.

Roll forward 15 years to the current day… do you know your office fax number?  Do you actually have one?  Know where it is?  Know how to use it?  When was the last time you got a message by fax?

I’m sure there are some still-well-used fax machines out there, but lots of offices don’t have one any more.  Even more of us have one in a corner that’s mostly gathering dust.  We rely on email, delivered to desktops and smartphones instead. But what about fax machines and business continuity planning?

The thing about email is that it’s dependent on telecoms, technology and power networks, al of which have been known to fail!  

Just three events that made global headlines include the American power outages of 2003, the UK internet outage in 2010, and the RIM Blackberry failure in 2011.

Ordinary landlines and, by extension, fax machines, are older technology that’s often more reliable.  

So can you use fax machines in your business continuity planning? 

  • Remember you don’t need a working computer or printer to send a fax – pen and paper works for messages, logs, diagrams and notes!
  • If you have machines, make sure their numbers are included in your plans.
  • Include the fax numbers of those you’re likely to work with during a disruption
  • If you don’t the fax every day, place step-by-step foolproof instructions above the machine
  • Keep a spare cartridge close to the machine, along with instructions on how to change it

So don’t discard the idea of fax machines just yet.  They may not last forever but they could be a lifesaver during an incident that involves power, technology or telecoms  for a little while yet!


* In fact, my boss, keen to get us into it, once sent out an email to the whole organisation, offering the first person to walk into her office some cash to buy cakes from the luxury bakery around the corner.   It was 4 hours before a someone opened their email, found the message and claimed the prize.  4 hours, can you imagine?!


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