The word digital means different things to different people. It’s computers and mobile devices. It’s the web and websites and apps. It’s email and file sharing and collaboration. It’s in our hands and in the cloud. It’s bolted-on or built-in, something you do or something you must be, something you hire for or something all your people must ‘get’.
Regardless of how your organization sees it today, digitalization is both a transformation of itself and the most significant investment you will make to transform your organization’s future facility to sense and respond to the world around it.
Digitalizing the pre-digital
When we bring things into the digital realm, we digitalize the pre-digital – after all that’s all we’ve known. That’s how we went from mail to email, and from having desktops, files and folders to, well, desktops, files and folders.
Only after the passing of many years, and sometimes decades, do we discover and develop the unprecedented qualities of the digital era. For example: migrating from filing to instant search and seemingly serendipitous discovery; from email to all variety of social / sharing / collaborating / chat platforms and services; from rules based decision software to artifical intelligence.
These days it’s unlikely that there remains any opportunity to secure competitive advantage in your market by digitalizing the pre-digital. In fact, as you’re still in business, we can assume you’ve attended to this at some length. With that said then, we should investigate and indeed imagine the unprecedented qualities of digital.
In 1999, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, wrote:
How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose. … The winners will be the ones who develop a world-class digital nervous system, so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning.
A digital nervous system comprises the digital processes that closely link every aspect of a company’s thoughts and actions. … To think, act, react, and adapt.
This echoes Gregory Bateson’s 1973 definition of information as a difference that makes a difference. And what a difference!