Development of solutions for converting incoming facsimile messages into e-mail

The facsimile machine is one of the festering sores of the modern organisation. Tons of paper, a huge phone bill, and no small number of lost messages. To put things in perspective, 105 billion fax messages worldwide were sent in 1997 (compared to 2.9 billion e-mail messages), and 16.3 million facsimile machines were purchased. Apart from which, more than 300 billion telephone minutes are dedicated annually to faxing. That figure is expected to increase by 13% per annum, and to reach 650 million minutes by Y2002 (according to IDC data).

This medium can also be faulted for its lack of discretion, the inconvenience of dealing with a paper document and the need to photocopy and distribute it when there is more than one addressee. All without even mentioning the frequent trips needing to be made to wherever the machine is located, to make sure the desired message has in fact arrived. Apocalyptic visions notwithstanding, the passing of the infernal machine, as one of the organisation's most frequently used media, does not appear imminent. So what is to be done? How about matching it up with a more amenable medium, e-mail, for example?

Onset Technology has developed a software package that enables organisations to convert fax messages into e-mail. Not as a fax photocopy attachment, but something far more convenient, although also far more technologically complicated. Onset's Thrufax can read the printed or written names of addressees on a fax message reaching the organisation, convert them into e-mail addresses and send the fax on, following conversion into an ordinary word processing file, in any of eight languages, as a regular e-mail message.

Why is this technologically complicated? The hardest part is identifying addressees. The handwriting isn't always clear, each message looks different, and there is often a background logo and other "noises" (as they are referred to in the professional jargon), that need to be filtered out. Onset has developed algorithms for identifying addressees. For converting the message content, Onset has no technology of its own, but uses the engine developed by Caere. The advantages are obvious: immediate reception of fax messages, confidentiality, the option of editing texts and saving them digitally on the computer, lower costs for telephone, paper and ink, and also for getting the fax message to its destination. Onset also tells of speedy installation (five minutes at most), on the network server. There is no need to get the employee off his chair and install the software in the customer's workstations too.

Business Card

Name: Onset Technology

Founded: 1991

Product: software for converting and channelling facsimile messages into e-mail

Employees: 27
Market: Small, medium and large organisations

Customers: Essential Solutions, Intuitive Surgical, CAERE, Microsoft (examining product)

Competition: Winsoft of Singapore

Ownership: FLV fund of Belgium, MAG of Taiwan (less than 20%); the balance is held by founders Ron Maor and Gadi Mazor


It isn't that Onset claims to be able to read 100% of fax messages reaching the organisation. But the 90% it does read is certainly a high percentage.

If unidentified, the fax will be channelled directly to the printer or to a special e-mail address, from which it must be redirected manually. More conservative organisations can do the entire channelling process manually. This exempts Onset from having to proceed to an in-depth re-education of the market, while customers not wishing to change their work habits still have a product that is useful for converting fax messages into e-mail, with the attendant savings in costs.

Onset maintains that one recoups one's investment in this software package within less than two months, on average. It works like this: the only expense is the software price, which, for 25 users, comes to $875. Once 1,000 fax messages are sent to their destination, the company says, you have covered your investment.

The product targets the small to medium size organisations market, as well as departments of large organisations. It is being marketed via companies that market fax servers, via VARs (as part of a package consisting of a provider plus added value), and via the Internet site.

It's not that Onset was the first to notice that fax messages can present a problem. There are various other methods of streamlining the distribution of incoming faxes. But for the great majority of organisations, they don't exactly solve the problem.

At the next stage, the company will present a further unified messaging product, in the shape of a voice box, which will itself be channelled to e-mail.

Onset was founded in 1991 by Gadi Mazor and Ron Maor, both graduates of the Talpiot Project and of the IDF Intelligence Corps. Until late 1995, the company engaged, through the BIRD Foundation, in co-operative projects of voice and text identification, subsisting off its revenues. At the beginning of 1996, Mazor and Maor decided to switch to product development. After several months, they attracted a $1.1 million investment by MAG of Taiwan, that manufactures liquid crystal displays and scanners. In September 1998, the FLV investment fund of Belgium invested $1.5 million in the company, at a valuation of $15 million after money. Today, foreign investors hold less than 20% of the company.

The company has branches in Herzliya and the United States, and will shortly open one in Belgium.

Published by Israel's Business Arena April 8, 1999

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