Digitization vs. digitalization

  • 9. October 2019

Digitize sounds very similar to digitalize. Actually, the dictionary would tell you they have the same meaning. However, for us, they have very different meanings and the results of the actions are hugely different.

To digitize is to take an object and create a digital copy of that object, a copy which can be processed by a computer. For instance, if we take a paper document and write its text in Microsoft Word (or an equivalent text processor), we digitize that document. If we use a digital camera to take a picture, instead of classic film camera, we digitize that picture. Digitization is the transformation of an object into its digital equivalent.

Digitalization is the transformation of a process using digital equivalents of objects (aka digital twins) and the intelligence embedded in these digital twins. Usually, such a transformation changes the process radically, yielding more productivity and opening up new possibilities.

Remember the example with the film camera: if we take photos with a digital camera but then print them on paper and store them in a paper album, then we have digitized the photo, but have not digitalized the process. If we store the digital photo on the computer hard-disk and then share it via social media, tag friends, use geolocation data, then we have digitalized the process. We can quickly generate a digital album of our photos together with friends X and Y or we may, as fast, generate a time-lapse album of our vacation trip to Spain.

Let’s take an example from the engineering realm. If we design a part in an MCAD software and then print out the drawings and take them to the production shop, we have digitized the part. If we design the mechanical part in software and then – for instance –

  • route the electrical wires on the digital mock-up
  • generate cutting and stripping lengths
  • send them to production
  • do mechanical stress and vibration tests and record the results
  • then use the sensors attached to the physical product to collect data from the field, feed the data back into the simulation software and use it to improve the next generation of the product

it means we have digitalized the process. And this is just one example of what a digitalization means.

To digitalize means to connect the three stages of a product life cycle – ideation, realization and utilization – with a “digital thread”, using the intelligence embedded in the digital twin of the physical product, so that we may transfer intelligent data, in both directions, between these three stages.

Digitalization enables us to design more complex products, with higher quality, in a shorter time.