With fax in the cloud, Charles County streamlines workflow
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Sep 02, 2014
With the speed of change in technology services, it’s easy to forget about established technologies many government offices rely on – such as faxing. But Charles County Government (CCG) in Maryland found a way to leverage its VoIP network to update and secure its faxing services, while drastically reducing costs.
Since last fall, CCG has been migrating its departments to a fax-over-IP (FoIP) system that converts faxes to email as part of an electronic facsimile (eFacs) project. Using Secure Fax from Biscom, which has been providing fax and secure file transfer solutions since 1986, the county has saved 40 percent on its faxing budget, said Ty Fuqua, network manager at CCG.
“Traditional faxing is a static technology that segments the information, and eFacs helps us land that fax information into our unified communications model,” Fuqua said. “Now departments can track faxes electronically.”
To do it, Fuqua’s team went to each office and identified who received faxes. Then they set up a shared folder and rules for SMTP, an email standard, so that the faxes show up in users’ inboxes as email. Next, they ported the fax number to the cloud provider – Biscom – and set up a queue on the fax server for that particular line. Biscom converts faxes into an SMTP formatted message and sends them to CCG’s server, which sends them to the email service according to the queue rules.
Traditionally, faxing works by connecting a fax server to the phone network and sending and receiving messages over the phone network. With FoIP, the fax server routes faxes to endpoints on the VoIP network, such as routers or gateways, which then connect to the phone network to send and receive faxes. FoIP usually works in an IP network using the T.38 protocol, which describes how to send a fax via a computer data network, according to Biscom.
CCG opted for a hybrid approach – using both cloud services and an on-site fax server – because it let the IT team integrate the solution with its existing unified communications model, which uses GroupWise from collaboration firm Novell. The only technology CCG had to add was an on-site fax server, Fuqua said.
Security was another part of the implementation. To keep data in motion secure, CCG uses a wildcard certificate for doing Transport Layer Security with Biscom, which helps encrypt data as it moves from the company to the government.
Everything that lands in CCG’s email system – including the faxes – is encrypted by default, Fuqua said of data at rest.
What’s more, this eliminates the potential for a fax to sit on the machine exposed to many eyes. “No longer are faxes just spit out randomly for anybody to walk by and see,” he said. “They are just given to those who have a need to know.”
That’s only part of the return on investment. The other tangible ROI comes in the form of reduced hardware, ink and paper costs, and the elimination of dedicated fax lines. Additionally, CCG can integrate multifunction printers so instead of scanning to fax, users can scan to email. They can also code in the telephony information and it goes back out through the SMTP gateway.
CCG employees were quick to take to the new technology, Fuqua added, mainly because it’s not much of a departure from the old. “The fact that we were using our GroupWise system to integrate faxes was a great help because nobody had to learn a new piece of software,” he said. “It was just another item in what they were already used to.”
CCG’s in-house videographer and IT trainer made a 15-minute video on how it works, and department administrators threw support behind it that trickled down.
“Getting a piece of information grouped together with everything else that you’re already working on as opposed to somebody handing you a piece of paper is a great advantage,” Fuqua said.
CCG has moved about 65 percent of its offices to eFacs, and Fuqua said the migration will be complete Jan. 1, 2015.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.