What is digital

A fairly constant question that I get asked is… “what do you mean by digital” or “what is digital”? Digital is certainly a buzzword at the moment and there are a lot of very different versions of what digital means. Here’s how I think about what “digital” means.

Not analogue

In it’s broadest sense, digital is really just a series of 1’s and 0’s. or the opposite of analogue, but it’s not really helpful to define something by what it’s not. You then have to define “what is analogue” and this could quickly becomes a circular argument.

In my view, digital is technology that connects users and machines with information. More specifically, digital is the capture, storage & transmission of information between users and machines in a binary format.

With this broad definition, digital can have many different contexts, many of which we accept in everyday usage, such as digital music, digital books, digital cameras, digital commerce, digital marketing, digital advertising, and digital signals.

However, that’s a pretty dry way to think about digital and doesn’t really capture the essence of why digital is having a huge influence on modern day life. It’s not about the technology but the increases in connectivity, collaboration and information flows that are having such a profound impact.


Is it a channel?

I’ve written previously about the change From Online to Digital.Online was generally considered to be a website or a channel. When I describe digital it’s not about being a channel – it’s more about the connectivity and sharing of information between users & machines – which could be user to user, user to machine, machine to user, or machine to machine – this is much wider than just being a channel.

‘Digital’ outgrew the term ‘online’ because of new modes of interacting between users and machines that weren’t primarily the desktop browser. The term online wasn’t really suited to new interaction modes such as mobile web, mobile apps, connected devices like watches, machine-to-machine & the Internet of Things.

So, in my view, digital shouldn’t be considered to be just a channel. That loses the context and power of digitising information and connectivity. Digital should also bring together concepts such as collaboration, crowd sourcing, social cohesion & information reach. These are the drivers of digital change.


Digital in a business context

Taking the term digital into a business context, I generally use the following definitions for digital. In my view, these are the ways that business leaders should be thinking about implementing digital within their organisations.

  1. Digital sales. The use of digital to create a more efficient and effective sales process. This could include social commerce, mobile commerce, long tail segments, unbundling products, micro-payments, omni-channel & pre-paid.
  2. Digital service. The ability to service customers via a digital means. This could be customer self-service, peer-to-peer service, assisted chat & predictive service models.
  3. Digital marketing. Marketing of your existing products & services in an automated, digital way. Examples are next best action, recommendations, predictive personalisation, customer analytics, digital analytics & search engine marketing.
  4. Digital products. The creation of new products that are digitally based. Examples are digital books, digital music, .
  5. Digital processes. Redesigning business processes to take advantages of digital technology to increase efficiency & effectiveness. Examples are sales tools, sales tracking, B2B interfaces, etc
  6. Digital collaboration. Increasing the effectiveness of collaboration, both internally and across organisational boundaries with customers & partners. Examples are extranets, intranets, team sites, social media, partner portals, & customer portals.


Digital is everywhere

If you think that digital is everywhere, then you’re probably right, because it’s all about the technology that connects users & machines with information. However, it’s not a channel, nor about the technology. It’s all about the connectivity and increases to information flows that is driving the digital change.

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