The SMB’s compass to digitalization  

The SMB’s compass to digitalization  

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Digitisation vs digitalisation

Thomas Choukroun

Thomas Choukroun

Content Manager @Yousign

Illustration: Léa Coiffey

Summary

I know, this article is about to answer one question that you may have never even asked yourselves. I mean… What a difference can a couple letters make, in the grand scheme of life.
Well, obviously, if you put it that way… sure, adding a couple letters to a word is not going to have a tremendous impact on your day-to-day ramblings.
However, when it comes to digitisation and digitalisation the difference is graphically small but semantically very big. Let’s dive deeper into the main differences that exist between digitisation and digitalisation.

Context

Before we dive into the issue, let’s pause a moment to figure out what the context is.
As you probably already know, we are just coming out of two years of pure chaos for businesses. 
Small, Medium and big companies alike have had to navigate through various lockdowns, whilst some of them had to close shops because they were deemed unessential. 
These deep societal changes and adaptations have shone a light on the various discrepancies between companies’ digital processes.

In fact, the COVID times have helped businesses realise that there are some processes that are cumbersome, time consuming and insanely harmful for the environment. For example,

  • signing a contract should not take 15 days, it should take 15 minutes,  
  • It should not imply going to the post office and be dependent on postal delays,
  • it should make you feel guilty to use your car, or participate in any way, shape or form, in global warming.

The fact is, it does all these things, and many more. Digitalising your processes means spending less time on trivial things and more time on what truly matters for you, and your teams. 

If there’s anything that the COVID times have taught us, it’s that we cannot always assume that physical contacts are going to happen eventually.
In a nutshell, better safe than sorry.

The contextualisation phase was obviously a must in this article, because digitalisation was little known before COVID gave it a boost. However, semantically speaking there is often confusion between two terms: digitisation and digitalisation. 

Digitalisation VS digitisation

Now, on to the real problem: we are not geniuses. I mean, I certainly am not. So before making any kind of assumption that would inevitably lead to a big mistake, let’s start off by simply asking our dictionary:

Digitisation: the process of converting something to digital form.

Well that does not help us one bit. Let’s just move on. We'll circle back later.

Digitalisation: the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.

Okay, so now we see a bit of a difference between the two.

On the one hand, we have digitisation, which seems to be a conversion process. On the other hand, we have digitalisation which is a process that is used by companies to go from a business model that solely relies on the physical world, to one that embraces a digital world.

I think we are all clear on the second one. However, the first one is a bit blurrier. Let us try to enquire further. 
Basically, digitisation means data and documents from the analog format, to the digital format. For example, taking a physical book, scanning it, and reading it on a computer. That would be digitising books.  

In a simpler way, digitising means “turning something into bits, bytes, or 1’s and 0’s”.  

An example that you may be more familiar with would be the change from vinyl to .mp3. 
Another example: scanning documents and turning them into PDFs, switching from physical photos to photos on your phone or computers.
Basically any information that is in a digital format, has been digitised.

As for digitalisation, the definition is not as clear-cut. To be honest, there is no general consensus about it, and some people argue a lot over a proper definition. ( Yes, people do argue about these kinds of things.)

It is however commonly accepted that “digitalization refers to the conversion of processes or interactions into their digital equivalents”.

In COVID times, all the meetings we had were on Zoom, or Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams… Well, we conducted these meetings digitally… That is, we turned a physical meeting into a digital meeting.  When you put in place a direct messaging solution such as Slack, you are in fact replacing your employees’ face-to face exchanges with a digital tool.
That does not mean that these exchanges cannot be done in real life, it simply means that you are digitalising the process of employee exchanges. 

In a nutshell, digitalisation is not so much about information, as it is about processes.

Well, hopefully now we are all clear with the difference between the two. Yes, I know, knowing the difference is probably not going to be a life-changing experience, but it may come in handy in those lengthy dinners we sometimes attend, and where the words “digitalisation” and “digitisation” are thrown a bit too aggressively. You now have the perfect opportunity to spread your knowledge and be a real know-it-all.

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