How would you explain digitisation? Do you associate it with the digital processing and playback of a sound on a CD? The use of robots on an assembly line? Or even the apparently “intelligent” action of characters in a computer game? Perhaps you have already noticed that although there is constant talk about digitisation, the term is still a bit fuzzy and hard to grasp for many people.
Properly speaking, digitisation is only the digital processing and reproduction of information, for example in a video or on a PC – analogue information such as images or sound is stored in digital units. In our language, however, digitisation is often equated with digital transformation or automation.
In our world it happens constantly that analogue signals are converted into digital signals and vice versa. But do you actually know what the difference is between an analogue and a digital signal?
An analogue signal is infinitely variable and can transport more than one unique piece of information. This includes, for example, the chirping of a bird, the singing of a person, the display of a clock with a dial or a photo in an album. These signals have in common that their quality decreases with time (e.g. photos turn yellow) and they cannot be transported spatially well.
Digital signals, on the other hand, contain information that can be clearly identified. It can always be reproduced with the same quality and transported spatially without any problems. These include, for example, an MP3 file on which music is stored, a watch with a digital display or scanned and digitised photos that are stored on a PC. The quality of the files does not decrease over time, the photos can be printed out again and again in the same quality and the music can always be played with the same quality.
Here you can see how a cash register with analogue display looked like:
Digital transformation refers to the introduction of digital working methods and programs – the processes set in motion by digitisation.
Directly connected with the digital transformation is also the automation of individual work steps or entire processes. Here, machines, plants or equipment carry out work steps or entire processes independently.
Artificial intelligence plays an important role here: a machine, a robot etc. is built in such a way that work steps can be carried out independently and problems can be solved. In computer games, for example, human intelligence is imitated by algorithms so that game characters “seemingly” react intelligently.
…originally only stands for the digital processing and representation of information. In our language use, however, it is often also understood as digital transformation and automation.
…describes the changes in society caused by digitalisation. This also includes the automation of work steps and processes.
Digitisation (create a CD or a video, record information on the PC…) -> leads to
Digital transformation (automation, use of computer programs, creation of artificial intelligence, shopping on Amazon…)
Mr. Weber has been working as a cashier for a well-known supermarket chain since 1990. His cashier digitally displays the numbers he has entered and calculates the final amount. Digitisation has thus already been completed.
When the first automatic pay stations are tested, in which people scan their goods themselves and then pay directly at the machine, Mr Weber is initially sceptical. What will this mean for his daily work and is he still needed at all? The replacement of these old cash registers by new automatic pay stations with digital display and scanning device can be described as digital transformation. The fact that these cash registers independently display the amount due, cash in and give remaining money after the individual products have been entered is called automation.
In the meantime, Mr. Weber has found his way into his new position: He now helps customers who have problems with the vending machine. And these are manifold: Some products are not so easy to scan, sometimes there is an error message because the goods have not been put down correctly, moreover, when buying alcohol a person still has to check the age of the customers and much more. At peak times, Mr. Weber continues to sit at the checkout himself, and he also takes on management tasks.
Mr. Weber has arrived in the Working Environment 4.0, where fortunately human skills are still needed. Nevertheless, the number of staff employed in the business can generally be reduced by the changes.
But who exactly is affected by digitisation or the digital transformation and in what way?
A distinction can be made here between companies, individuals, science & research and the state, which together are referred to as actors in digitisation:
Companies use robots on the assembly line, for example, to increase productivity, or automatic pay stations in supermarkets to reduce personnel costs. For a supermarket chain, for example, digitisation therefore means, on the one hand, that work processes can be made more efficient, thereby saving costs, but also that it must always be kept up to date in order to keep up with the competition.
When processes in a company are digitised, it is usually individuals who are affected. The cashier in the supermarket, for example, is given a new task or is dismissed if automatic pay stations are used. But it also affects managers, such as the CEO of a mobile phone company, who has to come up with a new strategy to develop an affordable smartphone.
- Science and research
Science and research deal in detail with digitisation processes, new computer programs, machines and robots are being developed. At universities, for example, digitisation is also viewed from an ethical perspective by examining the effects of digitisation on our society and how best to deal with them.
Finally, the state is also involved in digitisation: For example, the Federal Ministry for Digitisation and Business Location issues laws and regulations for the implementation of digitisation. Examples include the ordinance on digital signatures, which can be used to sign documents online, or the law on the protection of personal data such as date of birth, car registration plates etc.