Abstract: Digital in its commonly used form today is implicitly understood but not well defined. This blog post suggests a working definition for the word digital when used as either a noun or an adjective that is practical and industry agnostic. Most importantly, it emphasises the human element as being more significant than the technological.
Digital is a word we can’t escape. Some call it hype. Some IT people even wonder what the fuss is about; they’ve been doing digital for years, right? This makes it even more surprising that a good working definition of the word – as used in terms such as digital transformation, digital workplace and digital strategy – is so hard to find.
Digital in the modern disruptive sense is far more than its dictionary definition as a series of 1s and 0s. It also represents a great deal more than digital computing, which has been with us since the advent of the third industrial revolution in the 1960s. Technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate, which is the key driver of today’s fourth industrial revolution. But most remarkable isn’t the technology itself, but the human and business outcomes it makes possible. These have the potential to create a better world for us all; in the wrong hands, of course, the opposite could be just as true.
What distinguishes a digital solution from a more traditional computing one are innovation, novelty and originality. Airbnb, Uber and Facebook could not have been conceived in an earlier period as there was simply no technology frame of reference beforehand to imagine them. Kodak saw its business model as that of a chemical company producing film for cameras, and hence missed the opportunity to be the leader in digital photography. Even Apple failed to foresee music streaming until Spotify disrupted its nascent iTunes download model. Today, digital disruption can occur from unexpected quarters for even the most established organisations. Indeed, there has never been a time before when the pace of technological change has been so far ahead of what society or business transformation can easily accommodate.
To survive in a digital world, organisations need to think differently and more creatively. Having an innovative workplace culture is more important than the underlying technology itself. This is where lean and agile working come to the fore, with concepts such as hackathons, minimum viable products, A/B testing and failing fast being the new norms for leading organisations.
A working definition of digital, whether used as a noun or an adjective, needs to include all the above elements if it is to be meaningful in today’s world. The following is my attempt at this and I hope you find it useful.
Digital refers to the exploitation of innovative technology to create positive human and organisational outcomes. This is achieved through the development of solutions that not long ago would have been unimaginable or thought impossible. Today, such solutions are likely to be based on one or more of the following technologies:
However, digital is about more than technology itself. By drawing on the principles of the lean start-up movement, complemented by a strong focus on human-centred design, digital also impacts organisational culture, ways of working and business models. In this, digital favours agile, iterative and experimental techniques that allow organisations to respond far more quickly to business needs and market opportunities than was possible in earlier eras.
In this definition I’ve aimed to be industry agnostic. The definition could, of course, be adapted as required to serve specific industries or markets. The technology list is not complete, and items in it such as cloud computing and big data analytics are now verging on mainstream. The list is also the least important part of the definition, and the most susceptible to change. Of greatest significance in the definition are the human elements, from outcomes to culture; if you can focus on and succeed with these, relatively speaking, the technology will take care of itself.
This blog post is also published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/definition-digital-tony-scott/.
There are many definitions in use for the words ‘communicate’, ‘communication’ and ‘communications’. What is consistent is that communicating is primarily about the sharing of information, news or views. This sharing can take many forms, including spoken and written messaging between people and organisations, and digital transmission involving people and devices.
At the heart of communications, in whatever form, are people. It is this human element that drives all that we aspire to do in Scott Communications, whether related to public relations or digital transformation.
As James Humes, speechwriter for five US presidents and joint author of the text on the Apollo 11 lunar plaque, once said, ‘the art of communication is the language of leadership’. That is, if you want to be a leader, whether as a person or an organisation, you must communicate effectively if you want to connect with your audience and deliver a memorable and impactful message. This principle is a key driver of our public relations consulting services.
Communications, collaboration and knowledge sharing are also key drivers of our digital transformation services. At Scott Communications we are passionate about embracing emerging technology, but even more so about using it to create innovative human solutions that help shape a better world.
The effective sharing and exchanging of information between people, organisations and devices to create not just a digital workplace, but a digital world, is an incredibly exciting global project. Doing so ethically will ensure we are achieving positive social benefits for all. These ideals were key motivators in the formation of Scott Communications.
We’d love to hear from you about your communications challenges and ideas, and to work with you to deliver your business outcomes. Do contact us if you’d like to learn more.