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What is digitization?

Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital format. In this format, information is organized into discrete units of data called bits that can be separately addressed, usually in multiple-bit groups called bytes.

This is the binary data that computers and many devices with computing capacity, such as digital cameras and digital hearing aids, can process.

How is information digitized?

Digitizing information typically involves one or more of the following processes:

  • Scanning. Using a scanner to capture an image, which can be an image of text, and convert it to an image file, such as a bitmap.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR). An OCR program analyzes a text image for light and dark areas to identify each alphabetic letter or numeric digit, and converts each character into an ASCII code.
  • Recording. Capturing a sound or image on a recording medium, such as magnetic tape or disks, and converting it using an analog-to-digital converter.
  • Sampling. Sampling measures the amplitude, or signal strength, of an analog waveform at evenly spaced time markers and represents the samples as numerical values for input as digital data.
Diagram of how analog-to-digital conversion works
Analog-to-digital conversion changes continuous analog signals to discrete digital ones.

The history of digitization

Digitization gained popularity in the late 20th century with the advent of PCs and the internet. These technologies made it possible to convert many different forms of information, such as text, images, audio and video, into digital forms.

The process of digitization has revolutionized communication and commerce and has had a profound effect on nearly every aspect of modern life.

Examples of digitization

Here are some common examples of information that can undergo digitization:

  • text, such as books, articles and contracts;
  • images, such as photos, artwork and medical images;
  • audio, such as music, speeches and interviews;
  • video, such as movies, TV shows and webcam footage; and
  • data, such as numeric data from sensors, financial data and weather data.

The benefits of digitization

There are many advantages to digitization. Digital information can be easily stored, accessed and shared. This is especially important in today's business world, where information needs to be quickly and easily accessible by employees, customers and partners.

Another advantage is that digital information can be manipulated more easily than analog information. This means that businesses can more easily analyze and use data to make better decisions.

Finally, digitization can help businesses save money by reducing the need for paper documents and other analog materials.

Digitization use cases

Aside from making information more shareable and easier to access, there are other reasons a business might decide to digitize:

  • to improve the customer experience;
  • to increase operational efficiency;
  • to grow revenue streams; and
  • to enter new markets.

The key to a successful enterprise digital transformation is a strong understanding of the desired business goals. Once an organization understands these goals, it can select the right digital technologies and partners to help digitize the business.

The disadvantages of digitization

There are also some disadvantages to digitization. Digital information can be easily copied and distributed without the permission of the copyright holder. This has led to problems with piracy and intellectual property theft.

Another disadvantage is that digital information can be easily altered or deleted. This can result in errors and misunderstandings, especially if the altered information is not properly labeled or identified.

Finally, digitization can lead to a reliance on technology, which can be expensive and difficult to maintain at scale. If a business's digital systems fail, it's difficult to recover the lost data.

Digitization vs. digital transformation

It's important to note that digitization is only one aspect of digital transformation.

Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new or improved business processes, products and services. Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital format. It is a component of digital transformation, but it is not the same thing.

Digital transformation requires a strategic approach that considers the overall goals of the business, as well as the specific needs of customers and employees.

It also requires a commitment to change from leadership and a willingness to invest in new technologies and processes.

See what to consider with the digitization of business processes and learn about the digital enterprise.

This was last updated in October 2022

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