My HP all-in-one multifunctional recently started to develop problems. Since it has already rendered seven years of flawless service, I went scouting around for a replacement. I have not decided on a specific plan yet, but my research did get me thinking hard on how an SMB would approach its requirements for faxing, scanning, copying and printing.
Unlike an enterprise that would use such functions heavily, the usage volume of many small and medium businesses means that it generally wouldn't make sense for them to purchase high-end multifunctional machines. In such situations, they probably will find themselves agonizing over the best combination of machines to serve their business needs.
While I certainly do not have a "fix all" solution, I hope my tips and advice below will be of assistance to SMBs in a similar spot.
While it is true that many organizations no longer use fax as heavily as in the past, this is one technology that will take a while yet to die completely. For now, even companies that do not rely on faxing as part of their core business will want to maintain at least one fax line. The challenge here is that faxing capabilities are typically only found on the top-tier multifunctional machines, or out of the league of SMBs that send or receive faxes only occasionally.
One possibility that I've mentioned in the past would be to rely on a hosted fax service. This works particularly well if there is no need to send outgoing faxes, and it has the added benefit of being able to filter out spam faxes prior to printing.
If there is a need to send the occasional fax though, one way would be to pair a hosted fax service with a cheap low-end inkjet fax machine. I've seen them being sold for as low as $100. Simply use the cheap fax machine for sending out faxes as necessary, and rely on the hosted fax service for incoming faxes. This is easily done by printing the number of the fax service on company letterheads and calling cards.
Regardless of what you eventually go for, I would not recommend using an inkjet fax machine to print faxes at all. I shall explain more on this below.
Copying and scanning
I've decided to combine copying and scanning because modern copiers are generally able to scan, and scanning is halfway to making a copy already. One consideration here is whether a multi-sheet feeder is necessary. This is because a flat-bed scanner is generally cheaper compared to high-volume sheet-fed scanners. Having said that, a flat-bed is not an option if you scan more than a couple of sheets at a time or for archival purposes.
If your SMB heavily uses copying on the other hand, I recommend getting a dedicated laser-based copier machine. This makes sense if copying is part of a workflow process or legal requirement.
When it comes to printing, my advice would be not to use inkjet printers under any circumstances if the volume of printing in your SMB is anything higher than "very low." The reason is simple: the liquid ink used by inkjet printers is so expensive that it has been called liquid gold by some. In fact, if possible, I would not recommend the use of inkjet printers outside the art department.
I could go on, but I think I'll just leave it for another blog.
Ultimately, high-end multifunctional machines might still be the best option if your printing volume is high. And because high-end multifunctional generally have built-in fax, copy and scan functions as well, they make a logical choice in such circumstances.
Ultimately though, every SMB's needs are different, and it is up you to determine the best fit at the most reasonable cost.