the fax about business

Entering the military communications security world in the late 1970s, I was told that the “paperless” revolution was upon us. Forty years later, paper is still central to many bureaucracies and the legal system. Though communication systems have been modernized, technology that is older than most working adults is still being used in education and by Government agencies.

Fax machines were developed to convert documents and images for transmission over telephone lines around the globe. While Internet data rates now approach the hundreds of Gigabits (billions of bits) per second, a fax generally transmits a document at 33 thousand bits per second. A single sheet may take thirty seconds to reach its destination once a link is established. When a hundred or more documents must be transmitted back and forth over the course of several hours, poor connections or errors requiring re-transmission, cause a significant impact on an otherwise efficient work day.

One of the reasons fax machines have endured as long as they have, is that digital “signatures” validating the sender of legal documents via the Internet, have not been reliably secure until very recently. Other than representation of a personal signature on legal documents, it is also excellent for imaging pencil marks. To expedite processing volumes of similar information, a 19th Century technology, Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), was adapted and patented by Scantron. Typical uses for such forms are in Federal student aid, voting booths, at the DMV and so forth. Most schools, universities, government entities and testing centers continue to use “scantrons” as a fairly cheap method to administer multiple-choice tests thousands of times per day. A common No. 2 soft-lead wooden pencil, an answer sheet with ovals or squares and a fax machine line to the test clearinghouse, is technology not soon going away.

Owning a niche business which serves test-takers, the expectation is for the fax transmission of tests and reception of pass/fail reports goes smoothly. Sometimes, any number of issues can stall progress. Telephone line quality, an issue with the equipment or line at either end, or an overwhelming volume of calls being processed by the host computer (the test processing center) create a negative perception among test takers. When customers are accustomed to receiving information at the speed of present-day Internet and wireless communications, managing expectations among clients is the key to a successful day. It also is important to earning additional business from the schools whose graduates are the clients being served. When students are satisfied with the test processing, they may recommend more peers to their school. And in turn, the school may feel their students are being properly and efficiently taken care of. Which in turn creates more entrepreneurial opportunity.

As for the testing centers that process all these results? Adoption and fielding of new technology, like the example of the “paperless” world, is a long, long, long process.

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