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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The several meanings of "digital transformation"

In general the term "digital transformation" refers to the transformation of business including processes, activities and models, through the use of developing digital technologies

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Wikipedia refers to digital transformation even more widely as the change associated with the application of digital technology to all aspects of human society. The use of new digital technology enables new types of innovation and creativity in different areas rather than just enhancing traditional methods. However,Wikipedia also recognizes a narrower sense of "digital transformation" which may just mean "going paperless" and can apply to government, art, medicine and science.
The narrower sense is perhaps closely related to the process of digitization. Wikipedia defines digitization as follows:Digitizing or digitization is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal (usually an analog signal) by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of its points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. In modern practice, the digitized data is in the form of binary numbers, which facilitate computer processing and other operations, but, strictly speaking, digitizing simply means the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format; the decimal or any other number system that can be used instead.
Going paperless is just one example of digitization. Documents on paper are scanned to create text files that are digital representations of the original. Of course if a paper document is required a copy can be produced through a printer. Instead of creating a paper document as on a typewriter, text can be typed into a computer creating a digitized file which using a printer can be converted to a paper form. The Gutenberg Project digitizes books so that you do not need to go to the library or buy a paper copy of a book but can access it on line in digitized form and read it on line or download it in a form that can be read on devices such as Amazon's Kindle.
However, digitizing can take many other forms. One can change the music on your cassette tape or vinyl record into digitized forms through computer software. Or one can record not on tape but on your computer in different formats such as .mp3 or the better quality .flac and many others. The same is true of video usually combined with audio in formats such as .mp4 or .mkv and many others. You no longer need VHS tapes or vinyl records, as you can simply go on line and hear any music you want in digitized form or you can subscribe to streaming services. You can go on You Tube and watch whatever you want and download it if you wish to keep it. You can put it on a USB stick, burn it to a DVD and play it back whenever you want without ever having to worry about having a copy as a tape or vinyl record. Even when you watch a TV nowadays you are watching a digitized signal rather than an analog one as used to be the case.
While digitization does transform business and everyday life, digital transformation is usually used to refer to use of digital technology going far beyond digitization. What exactly it means is not clear. Perhaps it can be understood as a series of processes that have what the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called family resemblances. A good way to understand the term is to look at what are regarded as digital transformations in different areas. Digital Journal features an article on digital transformation in power generation and another in health care.
The development of the smart home gives an example of what could be called digital transformation. Home automation or domotics as it is termed technically, involves the control and automation of such functions as lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, but also washers, dryers, ovens and refrigerators. These devices are all connected and controlled remotely often using WI-Fi. All the devices can be controlled remotely using a computer or a smart phone with access to the network to which the devices are all attached. You can turn on your lights or your sprinkler system when you are in another city or country. You can watch what your home security camera sees on your screen. Such a development in technology is transforming far beyond mere digitizing. The home automation market in the U.S. was estimated to be worth $5.77 billion dollars in 2015 and is expected to reach $10 billion by 2020. Some descriptions of digital transformation are quite general and promotional rather than giving any detailed information of what it involves as in the appended video.


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