What’s the difference between Digital Transformation and Digital Evolution?

In a nutshell, digital transformation is the process of leveraging digitisation to transform business outcomes — always keeping the end goal in sight. So, how does this differ from digital evolution?  

I think that ‘digital transformation’ is not the best or most accurate phrase to have been coined, as it can lead to ambiguity, principally because of the word ‘digital’.

Evolution can be defined as ‘a process of gradual change or development’. While digital transformation suggests that there’s one destination or end goal, ‘digital evolution’ implies a sense of continual progression.

Digitisation is the conversion of manual, or analogue, information and processes to digital ones. We have been doing digitisation for decades, but the difference is what we then do with that digitised data. Historically, it has been for record-keeping or generating tabulated reports, but this is not digital transformation.

What makes it transformative?

Digital transformation is where the emphasis is on transforming the digital information that we have using new and emerging technologies, tools and techniques. We are not talking about incremental improvements.

That march of progress happens anyway and will continue to happen in perpetuity – that is just IT improvement or IT evolution. This continues through cycles in transformation, evolutions and maturity, and through each cycle, the returns plateau as more significant gains become harder to come by.

We are at a point where new and emerging technologies are converging with maturing technologies that provide access to a new wave of innovation through the ability to leverage existing digitised data with automated processes in new and transformative ways. Together these things enable us

to do things that we have never been able to in the past, giving rise to transformative outcomes.

‘Digital Evolution’ has always existed

Digital evolution is what we have been doing for decades. Evolution is about continuous incremental improvement, but we are at a point where new technologies, tools and techniques are enabling companies to make transformative changes to their business and manufacturing processes.

With ‘digital transformation’, what we are really talking about is the use of intelligence to drive transformative business outcomes, either artificial intelligence or by augmenting human workers with greater information, insight, intelligence and processes in order to amplify their human intelligence. Therefore, I would argue the phrase “intelligent transformation” is much more suitable.

So is it Digital Transformation or Digital Evolution?

The technology industry is, without a doubt, the grandmaster at hype. That has never changed, and it never will but what starts as hype, invariably matures and becomes mainstream over time.

We have an innate human trait to dismiss anything as hype when it is new, when we don’t fully understand it or when we can’t see the benefit of it. Each of these gets coined a name, a phrase or a three-letter acronym, and so, the overarching moniker is then what becomes demonised. What we need to do is to look beyond the technology.

Technology is not what delivers business value. It is what that technology enables us to do, the capability it provides, the competitive edge and the differentiation that it enables that delivers business value. At the end of the day, we can call it whatever we want, but the outcome is inevitably the same.

By Jason Chester
Director of Global Partner Programs, InfinityQS
February, 2022

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