Ontario-based Research In Motion Ltd. has taken the market by storm with its popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device. RIM's easy-to-use, pocket-sized solution is ideal for mobile professionals who need to stay in touch everywhere they go - without having to mess around with big laptops and clumsy modem cables.
But, like every other company, RIM gets and sends a lot of faxes too. So the company searched for a solution that would allow them to streamline the sending and receiving of faxes at the office and on the road.
They found that solution with Optus Software's FACSys Fax
Messaging Gateway and Onset technology's ThruFax fax routing software. Together,
these two industry-leading solutions have enabled RIM to:
1) vastly improve the way faxing is handled at its offices, and
2) transform their mobile sales force's BlackBerry handhelds into
powerful anytime/anywhere fax devices.
Before implementing FACSys and ThruFax, the situation in RIM's offices was similar to many other large companies. Faxes were either received on a departmental fax machine, or through a fax server that printed them out on a laser printer. "If you knew someone was going to send you a fax, then you'd have to go check the printer," recounts Ryan Ferguson, the RIM systems administrator who headed up the new fax implementation. "If someone sent you a fax without your knowledge, you might not see it for a couple of days."
To eliminate this problem, Ferguson needed a fax server that would allow for inbound routing and integrate with Microsoft Exchange. "We're a very Exchange-centric organization," explains Ferguson. "So we needed a fax solution that would let our users send and receive faxes from their Outlook desktop clients."
That solution turned out to be Optus Software's FACSys. "FACSys is a very mature product that integrates seamlessly with Exchange," says Ferguson. "It fit the bill perfectly."
To better enable routing of incoming faxes, Ferguson sought out an OCR tool that would be able to "scan" the names of fax recipients and correlate those names to a fax inbox. "An OCR-based approach made sense to me because it would be the most flexible and wouldn't require us to constantly make expensive changes to our phone service," says Ferguson.
After evaluating the available products, Ferguson decided on Onset's ThruFax. "The main thing ThruFax had going for it was its ability to consistently route faxes to the correct user," he says. "Some of the other tools only worked when the name of the recipient was in twenty-point type. That just isn't practical on a day-to-day basis."
ThruFax also provided text conversion of the fax itself - enabling users to cut, paste and forward fax content, as well as the image of the document itself. "That's a very powerful capability for any kind of information worker," Ferguson comments.
Just as importantly, ThruFax integrates tightly with the FACSys Fax Messaging engine. "You couldn't ask for two companies to work more closely together," Ferguson marvels. "It's almost as if ThruFax was Optus Software's own add-on for FACSys."
Thanks to the FACSys/ThruFax solution, RIM's employees no longer have to get up from their desks to check for incoming faxes. Instead, they're delivered right to their desktops just like e-mail. And instead of having to waste time printing documents, walking them over to a fax machine and waiting by the machine to make sure the fax goes through, they can simply send documents with a few quick keystrokes on their PCs.
"The time savings and convenience are tremendous," declares Ferguson. "There are fewer distractions, fewer delays, and better communications with our customers and suppliers."
With the automatic inbox routing and text conversion that ThruFax provides, RIM has been able to take its FACSys implementation a step further. After all, incoming faxes now simply appear as e-mail messages in users' Exchange mailboxes. That means that RIM's mobile salespeople can pick up their faxes when they're on the road using their BlackBerry devices.
"There's really nothing extra we have to do," notes Ferguson. "Once you've solved the problem of having incoming faxes appear as e-mails, the BlackBerry system does everything else for you."
Above and beyond just receiving faxes, however, RIM's BlackBerry users can now freely forward their faxes via e-mail or fax. "The BlackBerry e-mail client lets you send faxes in much the same way as a desktop e-mail client would - by entering the destination fax phone number in the `to:' field," explains Ferguson. "So if someone gets an important fax while they're on the road, they can forward it to an administrative assistant or anyone else who needs to take any kind of action on it."
Ferguson also points out that RIM's FACSys-based fax solution also allows mobile workers to use any nearby fax machine as a remote printer. "For obvious reasons, the BlackBerry doesn't allow you to view a Word document that someone has sent you as an attachment," he says. "But now, all you have to do is fax that message to yourself wherever you happen to be - at a hotel or a customer's office. It's a quick, easy way to give yourself a hard copy of any document that's been attached to an e-mail."
Ferguson admits that even he isn't sure of all the ways that users may wind up taking advantage of RIM's fax routing-and-text-conversion solution. "It's really too early to predict all the ways that this will impact our business," he says. "But it's clearly paid for itself very quickly and will continue to deliver real economic returns as our different departments figure out different ways to take advantage of our new capabilities."
One particular area that Ferguson believes will gain a new level of automation is order processing. "We use Pivotal for CRM, and they're another FACSys Enabled Partner," notes Ferguson. "So I'll be looking to have customers fax orders into us through the FACSys gateway, convert the text on the order form to data using ThruFax, and feed that automatically into our Pivotal system."
Ferguson also believes RIM's fax configuration will be very appealing to the company's entire BlackBerry customer base. "FACSys and ThruFax provide a great way to integrate your fax communications into your mobile e-mail platform," he says. "I'd think that just about every BlackBerry user would want to do something similar."
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