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Defining Terms in the Digital Revolution

Denise Garth | August 11, 2014

Just like the opening lines of Hamlet's famous soliloquy, "To be or not to be, that is the question," another question is being asked in that familiar way about the terms digitize vs. digitalize. Should we use digitize or digitalize to represent the digital revolution that is sweeping the way we communicate, do business, and experience almost everything else?

These terms are used interchangeably in the industry, often creating academic or philosophic discussions around the proper or correct word to be used. This was most evident at a recent industry conferences with a wide array of speakers from within and outside the industry. So, to digitize or to digitalize… What do the experts say?


Based on Webster's College Dictionary circa 2010, the definition of digitalize is: 1) to treat with a regimen of digitalis so as to achieve or maintain adequate pumping action of the heart; and 2) to digitize. The definition of digitize? To convert data to digital form and indicates digitize is also digitalize. So which term should the industry use? Do either of these definitions capture the real substance of the rapid changes that are underway, underpinned by technology?

We don't think so, not alone or completely, anyway. But we believe the word digitalize represents, frames, and discusses the broader scope and implications of the digital revolution. Digitize is a subset of the concept represented by the word digitalize.

  • First, the digital revolution is much more than converting data to a digital form. It is about a new, adaptive, and interactive framework that defines a unified digital strategy that becomes the heart of the digital enterprise and pumps new energy, ideas, and innovation across the enterprise, which will redefine the business processes, revenue models, and ultimately the business model. 
  • Second, it is more than the conversion of data and information into digital formats that are consumed by technology. The graphical representation of the digital data allows ease of reading and encourages engagement by the customer, often leading to capturing more data about the customer. 
  • Third, it is embracing the use of business intelligence and analytics with data, whether structured or unstructured, to provide insights and analysis for the business. In addition, embedding the analytics within the business processes provides real-time analysis and decisioning in the fast-paced digital world.
  • And finally, it is about using any technology platform for delivering information, whether mobile phone, video, website, tablet, social media, or others. It is about delivering any information, anytime, anywhere, and in any way. 

The digital revolution is being powered by today's hyper-connected world. And it is creating new experiences, new products and services, new outcomes, new business and revenue models, and an explosion of data from new and emerging technologies such as mobile, social media, and the Internet of Things. The combination of these factors is transforming or creating new businesses, from managing value chains to managing ecosystems, powered by the fusion of technology and data. It is expanding our strategic views, definitions, and use of words.

To capture the breadth, depth, and transformative potential of this digital revolution, embrace digitalization. SMA has. Will you?

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