Digitalisation can be defined as “…incorporating digital technologies into everyday life by the digitisation of everything that can be digitised”. From this definition, it is apparent that there are two steps to this process; ensuring that processes can be made digital and then applying the right technologies to them.
The process sounds easy enough, but why do it in the first place? One reason for this would be that when the subject of digital transformation is broached, digitisation and digitalisation are commonly used in an interchangeable sense. This habitual pattern creates a situation where a misuse and confusion around the actual meaning of these terms is often the case. It thus becomes important to have some clarity of what is being referred to when these concepts are raised. Digitisation has to do with creating a digital version of analog or physical items for utilisation by a computing system. This includes hardcopy documents, microfilm images, paper-based processes, enabled by the digitisation of information.
Digitalisation refers to enabling, improving and/or transforming business processes, models, or functions. This takes place through leveraging digital technologies and a broader use and context digitised data, turned into actionable knowledge, with a specific benefit in mind. What is revealed herein is that digitisation is an aspect of digitalisation (and a necessary one at that). The benefits of digitisation include elimination of errors (computers don’t make mistakes), the creation of audit trails, implementation of security protocols, improving access to information, and the integration of disparate business systems. All of this translates to the ramping up of efficiency and ability to unlock data patterns which were previously encrypted by the pen-and-paper world.
Not only is this useful, but it is necessary. In the information age, where the internet has brought about a world that is unaffected by borders as they were decades ago, any country must become more competitive in the increasingly globalised and transparent world to continue driving value for its citizens. In the event that this fails to be the case, some other entity will fill the gap, and will sell the products and services that you now cannot produce as cheaply or as quickly. There is the option to live in a cluster of closed systems, in which case we don’t get to export or import goods as profitably as what is made possible in an open system. It really is a bit of a no-brainer and the computer/phone you are reading this from is literally a by-product of the former option.
However, putting the purely financial benefits aside, there are more human-related benefits to unlock from large scale digitalisation than we assume. By harvesting new data and uncovering previously unseen patterns, we could likely bolster our understanding of what skills are the most effective to creating and sustaining value. By learning what the new technological world requires, we can feed the lessons learned back into areas such as education to better equip younger generations for the world being created for them. By using technology of this scope and ability, we could solve the problem of skills and quantity shortages of teachers for any given population by digitally distributing classes to hundreds, or thousands of students per teacher.
This is especially pertinent for our home territory in South Africa. With these processes being digitalised, we could learn more about each student as an individual through AI and machine learning. The needs of each individual student can be better met, creating a customised approach to education that targets the areas most necessary for their improvement and more successfully equip them for their future.
As a calculatedly thought out and accelerated transformation of business (and also mainstream life) activities, this, and many other benefits are what can become possible through digitalisation. What a time to be alive!