Digitisation, Digitization, Or Even Digitalization?

April 24, 2020
April 24, 2020 Marcus Jones

With everything that’s going on at the moment it seemed like a good time to note down a few thoughts on one of the most commonly used recent buzzwords – we see it a lot, but what actually is it and perhaps most importantly, what does it actually look like in practice? Before we jump in though let’s first address some of the basics, and what better place to start than with the spelling of the word itself?  There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a global consensus on this, so I’ll stick with the shorter format UK version “digitisation”, and the assumption that all of these spellings ultimately mean the same thing.

So now we’ve spelt it, what does it actually mean?  After all, it seems to be attached to pretty much anything these days and has clearly been a buzz word for a while now.  The most basic definition found online is “the process of converting information into a digital format”, but that doesn’t really cover how it’s being used in a business sense.  After all, surely it can’t be the focus of such organisational excitement on that basis alone?  So perhaps a better and more meaningful description would be something along the lines of “using digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities, giving you a competitive advantage by doing things better, faster, and cheaper than your competition”.  And it’s this competitive advantage that gets business leaders revved up…

In our role as consultants we are often asked to provide assistance with digitisation projects, and what we tend to see is that no two projects are ever the same.  At the purist level we see (often the larger) organisations undertaking a program of complete data conversion in line with the original definition highlighted above – ensuring all data held by the business is in digital format – allowing for efficient storage, security, discovery and distribution.  This tends to be the immediate goal for the organisation, with the subsequent value arriving in the long term through widespread cost savings and general efficiencies.  But we also see businesses for which the actual process of data conversion itself is not so much the goal but the end result, with the focus squarely on finding better, digital ways of doing things.  This may start with a single, small, digitally transformed process, or perhaps something more significant such as the implementation of a Document Management System (DMS), but either way we tend to see that this initial step, in organisations often oblivious to the fact that this is in fact ‘digitisation’, becomes the catalyst for greater change.  As a result many businesses would probably be surprised to find out that they are already embracing digitisation, and with the ongoing restrictions placed on individuals and organisations during these strange times, the uptake of digital solutions is seeing a huge and most likely permanent increase.

We often see articles about digitisation stopping at this point, as if the definition was enough, but I thought it’d be useful to run through some of the simpler solutions we’ve adopted ourselves, or that we see implemented elsewhere, that are able to add significant value for very little financial cost or implementation effort… Actual, practical advice!  This is in no way intended as an assessment of the effectiveness of any given solution, and there will of course most likely be numerous alternatives for each of those mentioned, but it does provide an example of the kinds of issues being targeted and the kinds of applications from which a business starting down this path may be able to gain short and long term benefit.

The first app on the list, and a personal favourite, has to be Slack.  As someone who has worked from home for a number of years, this has to be the most effective solution I’ve come across for internal and external, project based and general communications.  OK so it’s a business focussed WhatsApp or Messenger in truth, but it just works.  At times like these, keeping in close contact with staff, colleagues and clients is absolutely critical, but it somehow does more than that… in our use case it certainly allows for our organisational culture to be maintained and strengthened despite the apparent limitations that separation creates.

Loom is a recent addition to my own stable of apps, and occupies a similar niche to Slack.  The ability to make short, widely shareable videos with the click of a button may not sound like much – you probably wouldn’t conduct a demo or sales meeting using it – but for breathing life into the likes of internal comms that might benefit from video rather than simple text, and that don’t require highly complex editing and post production to produce professional looking content, then it’s hard to beat.

Everyone has their favourite remote meeting app – mine happens to be GoToMeeting – and there’s no question that the interest in remote meetings has exploded over the past couple of months.  What is it about GTM that I like?  The simplicity and the intuitive interface, and the fact that it appears to be evolving constantly.  With added functionality to conduct webinars, generous attendee limits, meeting recording functionality and the ability to set up a reusable, dedicated ’meeting room’ that can be used and shared as and when necessary, the solution is fast to access and very easy to use.  And connectivity has always been good too.  There’s possibly better out there for all around features – Zoom and MS Teams have large followings of course – but it works for me, and sometimes avoiding the most popular solution can have its advantages…

When talking to businesses about strategy we are often surprised at how few utilise any kind of CRM or new business pipeline solution.  We’ve recommended Hubspot to numerous clients as it’s low cost, simple, and very quick to set up and implement.  Integrations with other sales tools abound, as well as common email and calendar providers, whilst the option to use only a portion of the functionality, or incorporate the numerous integrations and automations that it allows into a more more complex sales pipeline process, means that it works for a wide range of users and sizes of organisation.

All of the apps listed here continue to be developed and modified over time, but above all others in this respect is Monday.  When it recently morphed from being “an intuitive team management platform for effective teamwork” into “a work operating system that enables organizations to build custom workflow apps in a code-free environment – to run projects, processes and everyday work” I have to admit to being a little sceptical.  It sounded like it was making it up as it went along.  But seeing the changes that have been incorporated into the solution in the last quarter alone it feels like this app really is going places.  With a large amount of integrations already available, plus an open source app development centre to enable power users to build additional functionality themselves, everything else I currently come across I feel could be achieved within this single solution.  One source of truth for task management, management information, communications, project plans… could this really be the answer?

For a more complex and “heavyweight”, but arguably less intuitive, equivalent to Monday there’s JIRA.  Very early on the block this is a solution built as part of a family of products designed to help teams of all types manage work, and was originally designed to help software teams manage bug and issue tracking.  But today, Jira has evolved into a powerful work management tool for all kinds of use cases, from project management and agile software development to simple task management.

So far then we have primarily looked at work management and communication solutions, and it would be fair to say that these do occupy a lot of the market when it comes to digitisation because they are at the very heart of what organisations do.  However there is also a whole ecosystem of function specific digital tools that target particular tasks or activities within an organisation, and look to make these more efficient, effective or secure.

iStock, Canva and Snagit continue to be our go to apps for photography and simple design requirements.  It might be some time since you’ve seen a negative or physical photo, maybe never, but this is digitisation in its simplest and most immediate form.  The ability to buy professional standard image files, modify them, create and then publish content without complex editing tools has never been easier.

Netconsent is a highly focussed tool designed to simplify the management and distribution of content within an organisation.  Originally focussing on the circulation, management and monitoring of internal policies and procedures, it has successfully added to this functionality through the development of a learning management module.  Using the same key functionality as with policy management this aims to ensure compliance throughout an organisation with both internal and externally sourced requirements and regulations.

StandardFusion is a tool that also targets compliance, but wrapped up in a full Governance, Risk and Compliance solution.  With the focus squarely on risk management and compliance with internal and external regulations this is a tool close to our hearts and one which has gained significant traction within the local finance industry as a way of managing and ensuring compliance with stringent regulatory requirements.  It has also been highly effective for developing pandemic specific risk assessments for both internal use and as a way of demonstrating externally that these risks are being assessed and controlled on a continuous basis.

Definitely a more “lightweight” but equally effective solution is Sherpany, which aims to develop and instil an agile meeting culture and take the pain out of meeting management, whilst focussing heavily on stringent security standards.  Where we’ve seen it used most effectively is around the preparation and management of board meetings – by allowing board packs to be uploaded, referred to as a single source of truth, and individually annotated.  As anyone who has taken part in board meetings will know, this is a fine example of an often cumbersome and inefficient process common to all businesses, and Sherpany appears to offer a more painless way of achieving outcomes.

And finally there are the likes of Docusign, a highly integrated tool that innovated around the idea of electronic signatures and which has now taken this original functionality and expanded it to transform how businesses electronically manage contracts and other types of agreements.  With the limitations around the distribution of physical documentation currently in place, and with businesses working away from clients, staff and colleagues, it is our expectation that these types of digital solution will be some of the largest beneficiaries of our new way of working.

Looking back at this list we are only just scratching the surface of what can now be achieved digitally.  If as a business you can define your key processes there is a good chance that you’ll also be able to identify and implement a digital solution that will improve that process in all areas – efficiency, sustainability, security.  And of course, we’d love to help with your digitisation, digitization or digitalization initiatives should you need it…

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