What is It?
Not to be confused with digitalisation, digitisation explains the process of making something analogue become digital. In the business environment this is most often files, ledgers, or images to make accompanying data easier to access, share and manipulate. Information is organised into units called bits that can be separately addressed in groups called bytes. Digitisation is often the first step on the road to digitalisation and therefore the two can be intertwined.
The advent of digitisation depends on how far back you may want to go. Digitisation as we know it today started in the 1950s with the advent of computers, without which this practice was not possible to most people or organisations. The foundations of digitisation were first set out in a written piece entitled A Mathematical Theory of Communication in 1948, by mathematician Claude Shannon. At the heart of Shannon’s theory for communication is a quite simple model which enables today’s digitisation. A transmitter encodes information into a signal, which is corrupted by noise and decoded by the receiver.
How Does It Work?
The important thing to remember about digitisation is that it is simply a process. Consider what happens when you scan a physical document into a machine and save it as a PDF. The only thing that changes is the format of the document – it goes from being physical to being digital. The data itself has not been changed – it has simply been encoded and received, as per Shannon’s theory. When documents or data are digitised, they are encoded into the form of binary numbers, which facilitates processing by digital computers and other machines.
Digitisation is critical to the information age and is essential for data processing, storage, and transmission, since it allows data in all formats to become more accessible, transferable, and editable. It can also be propagated indefinitely, without generational loss, provided it is migrated to new and updated formats regularly as needed.
When digitisation is a key part of corporate strategy, it enables further transformation, for example the creation of a paperless office, which has sustainability benefits. It also improves productivity, since data is easier to locate, access and share, enabling faster and more accurate decision-making. There are also security benefits to digitisation. For example, sensitive files that may ordinarily be stored physically and be prone to theft or fire damage in a physical premises, are safer once digitised and stored in a central database. Although, theft and fraud does still exist in a digital environment and therefore precautions should be taken.
One of the biggest challenges of digitisation is the time and cost it can take to digitise large libraries of physical files. Once a business has adopted a culture of digitisation, these challenges are smaller but when getting started on the journey, it can be a daunting prospect. Furthermore, technology changes at such a pace that organisations must consistently update and re-encode their digitised files for them to remain relevant and functional.
Security and fraud issues also remain around digitisation. It can be easy for someone to accidentally edit or delete a file that they otherwise would not have had access to. In addition, digital files are always at risk of theft or fraud from hackers and internet thieves, although there are steps businesses can take to reduce or mitigate these risks.
Example of a business using it
Most businesses have already completed some digitisation in the past few years – many without even realising it! The first step for digitisation is to get all your information – documents and data – into a digital format. This has two separate activities attached to it.
Firstly, collecting all your legacy data and transferring it into a digital format. This means scanning documents or entering data into a computer manually. The best approach is to start with your key drivers because once that information has been digitised, you can start manipulating it to gain tangible benefits for the organisation.
The second step is to convert all critical business data produced that requires analysis to be collected going forward. You have probably travelled a fair way down this road already. It may seem like a fundamental change, but digitisation has enabled the elimination of paper archives as well as countless sheets, folders, and files. Besides taking up far less space, digital data is easy to access, share and manage – enabling processes to be analysed, optimised, and eventually automated. In the factory environment, one example is the digitisation of records for a more efficient method of record keeping, thereby improving the batch traceability process.
What does it mean for manufacturing?
In manufacturing, digitisation is the first step towards, and a critical enabler of, digital transformation. When data is digitised effectively, it can be integrated, accelerating entire manufacturing processes, and enabling automation for greater efficiency. Traditionally, digitisation was a long-term goal for manufacturers, but with the effects of the Covid pandemic, it has become a key strategic issue.
Effective digitisation enables the creation of innovative new business models, for example, the transmission of key data from the factory floor to someone working remotely, who can then manipulate that data in real time to modify the manufacturing process. This has enabled all sorts of benefits for hazardous working sites. The next step for digitisation in manufacturing is the adoption of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to further improve efficiency and boost margins. Once data has been effectively digitised, the possibilities for manufacturers are both rich and exciting.