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jargon busters mainJargon Busters -
Fully functional - (Oct 1999)
Omtool’s David Angwin looks at faxing from line-of-business applications
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The personal productivity gains achievable with a fax server are well known – the simplicity of faxing directly from your desktop, knowing the status of every fax, and avoiding the trek to the printer and the fax machine.

But spare a thought for those with bigger fax mountains to manage each day: Karen in Finance with 150+ statements to fax at 5pm every day; Mark in the warehouse with a full day’s shipping confirmations to send; Sue in customer service with sales leads and call reports to distribute. In each case, a computer is almost certainly generating the information, but how can it be automatically faxed?

Desktop faxing addresses the requirements for individual document faxing either from dedicated client software or, more commonly, through integration with an email system. For higher volume requirements there are several different approaches, each presenting a different trade-off between simplicity and functionality.

The Merge Print Driver


Using Microsoft Word’s mail merge functionality with a Merge Print Driver, personalised documents can be simply sent to 10s, 100s or even thousands of fax recipients. By simply adding "To:", "From:", "Fax:" and any other required merge fields, a single print operation will generate individual faxes in the outbound fax server queue. By including address information on the fax document, a separate cover page can be avoided to reduce the number of pages sent.

FileScan


Many times, the documents to be faxed are generated by an existing application which does not have any built-in fax capability, for example from a purchasing system. Output from these systems will typically be in ASCII text output through a print driver. Capturing this print output and sending it to a fax server is easy enough, but how do you send each separate section of the report to a different fax recipient? The solution is to include delivery information in the print output. Most systems will let administrators edit report formats and add header information to each section and write the print queue output into a file. By setting up the fax server to scan a shared directory, this file can automatically be detected and processed by the fax server. The fax server will detect the beginning and end of each section and process it as a separate fax. Recipient information is extracted from the header section, which is then deleted from the faxed document.

Application Programming Interface


The above methods are fine for sending faxes, but if you need the ability to check the fax status or receive faxes back into your application, then you need to get your programmer onto the job. Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are software libraries which enable access to the full functionality of a fax server. These libraries are usually available in Visual Basic and C++ languages. Some fax servers now also supply these as Active-X controls.

Typical API commands for a fax server include:

send filename phonenumber

Queues a fax for transmission.

When a fax is sent, the recipient information can either be included in a file header or a separate parameter file. A parameter file consists of keywords for each item to be substituted on the cover page, or otherwise modify the processing of the fax.

For example, the following parameter file sets the recipient’s name, your name, and the number of attempts:

#RECIP_NAME
John Smith
#SENDER Fred Jones
#ATTEMPTS 7

queue -a -f

Returns a full (-f) listing of the faxes queued for sending for all (-a) users.

show 1.2.3 -f

Returns a full listing of fax entry number 1.2.3. If the fax is still queued for sending, the information is returned from the send queue. If the fax has already been transmitted, the information is returned from the history queue. The fax server will return the full status of the fax.

#ENTRY 1.2.3
#PHONE 01815411340
#USER jones
#SEND AFTER 05-Oct-99 18:00
#COVER C:\faxsr\cover\cover.cvr
#ATTEMPTS REMAINING 3/3
#INTERVAL 00:05:00
#RESOLUTION FINE
#COMPOSE Dynamic
#PAGES 3/3
#STATUS Pending

history

Returns a brief listing of faxes that were successful or failed to send, for the currently logged in user.

delete X.Y.Z

Removes the specified entry from the send queue.When choosing a fax server to address the requirements of your whole organisation, remember those potential users who don’t just fax from Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes. Make sure your chosen fax server solution provides a full range of options to support higher volume fax users and your existing line-of-business applications.

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