Digital transformation – what exactly is it?

Digitalization seems to be a term that has already become part of our everyday language. But when you ask people about digital transformation, or what the difference is between digital transformation and digitalization, you soon see faces clouding over, looking deep in thought and a little puzzled.

Digitalization – making the old future-proof

The term 'digitalization' basically refers to the process in which information that has so far been available only in analogue form is converted or transposed into digital form. We've all encountered it already in some shape or form. Or perhaps you still stick your photos into photo albums? Probably not. These days, whether you've taken your photographs with a smartphone or digital camera, there are service providers out there who can help you to upload your photos directly to the Internet or to a photo album via an app. Or perhaps you are already using a digital photo frame? Your TV programmes are no longer transmitted via a classic aerial; transmission is now digital by means of a high-speed fibre-optic cable – the same goes for radio. The list goes on and on, but one thing is clear: things are becoming digital, as they never were before. They are processed to enable a digital version of the original to be created. 

Digital transformation – the problem-solving process

Unlike digitalization, digital transformation is not just a matter of changing individual products, but an entire system. It is a process characterised by the continuous development of digital technologies, but is actually initiated by the changing needs of users in the system. These needs are satisfied by new digital technologies, until new requirements emerge.

As most people know, a university does not operate like any other organisation 'on the market', although universities do have customers in the broader sense, who also have needs and expectations. After all, these people are part of society and are therefore part of shaping society. Not convinced? Here's a test: do you use a smartphone? Yes, that was a brilliant idea, but the inventor simply realised people's communication requirements. Smartphones went on to change our communication behaviour for good and only as a result of this development have brand-new channels emerged, such as social media or location-related services.

The same is true of the world of work. What was office life like before e-mail appeared on screens? Calmer, for sure. But it also took some time to obtain information. Do you now also share information almost in real time via cloud-based services like TUownCloud, opens an external URL in a new window with collaboration or project partners? Perhaps you want to chat via TUchat, opens an external URL in a new window because it's quicker and more direct? Or have you ever attended a video conference, because it was the most efficient and cost-effective way for everyone involved? True, these are all well-established digital tools. But they haven't been around for that long. This should serve to illustrate that our environment is constantly changing, because our needs and the problems that we want to solve are constantly changing too.

In summary, digital transformation is the umbrella term that describes this process of problem solving. It takes place in some shape or form. As a technical university, our aim must be to help solve problems as soon as they arise – or even to anticipate them.