Digitisation vs. Digitalisation: What it Means for Your Business

By Tim Osman

The terms digitisation and digitalisation get tossed around a lot these days, particularly in the context of document management and digital transformation discussions. The two words are often used interchangeably, but they really mean two different things – one provides for efficiencies in workflow and the other enables business transformation.

Digitisation is the process of taking analogue information and encoding it so that it can be stored and transmitted via a computer.

It is a process applied just to the information being converted – you’ve transferred a VHS tape to digital format, for example, or scanned a document into a computer. The information has become digital, but the process of generating and using the information may still be highly manual or analogue.

Digitalisation is a more challenging term to define. According to J. Scott Brennen and Daniel Kreiss of the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, as quoted in this article in Forbes , “We refer to digitalization as the way in which many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures.”

Gartner has its own definition: “Digitalisation is 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,” says the company’s IT Glossary .

So while digitisation mostly applies to the conversion of items, digitalisation affects how things are delivered and processed– the way email has digitalized communication, for example. Processes are automated and may move entirely online, which impacts employees’ jobs in critical ways. (The Brookings Institution has released an interesting report on this phenomenon.)

That brings us back to document management. Scanning is well established in many organisations, but most companies are doing a very basic form of scanning – employees scan documents at their desk or a workstation, often in an ad hoc fashion. Or physical documents are sent to a central scanning location where they are imaged and archived.

That’s a digitisation workflow. The information in the document has moved from analogue to digital form. But that approach to document management doesn’t affect the way the information is generated, collected, or utilized. In fact, scanning processes in many companies can often be laborious, time consuming, and uncoordinated.

There is another approach to document management that can truly enable digital transformation. Using labour-saving, intelligent, connected scanners like the Falcon Series of document scanning workstations , combined with document management software and analytics, can alter the way information is processed and used within the company.

The digital mailroom is just one example. As physical mail arrives, it can be sorted, opened, and scanned on a single device and single touch.  Those pieces now become digital mail that can be electronically delivered to multiple employees at multiple locations. Using analytics, digital processes can be applied to the mail flow so that items can be automatically discarded, archived, or disseminated to the correct recipient – the entire process of receiving and delivering mail can be fundamentally changed into a digital process. What’s more, information about the mail, who received it, and whether or not it has been read or forwarded can be used to enable even more automated processes within the company.

In other scanning workflows, information from the newly digital documents can be integrated into other applications, tagged and organised around other data streams, and fed into data analysis tools. By fully integrating the scanning operation with document management and other applications, you can improve existing applications and create all new business processes – that’s the value of digitalisation.

Digitisation is important, but it’s just one enabler of a true digitalisation initiative that can eliminate analogue or manual processes, improve efficiencies, and (this is critical) create new opportunities to generate deeper business insights, make better decisions, and enable new types of processes and applications.

Tim has been with OPEX Corporation, a global leader in document scanning solutions, since 2008. He currently serves as their Director of Marketing.