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Digitisation vs digitalisation

By Jacqueline Prause

If you’re reading this you are probably up to speed on digitisation. But are you ready for digitalisation?

Although the two words may sound similar, there is a notable difference in digitisation versus digitalisation – and that ambiguity has created uncertainty even among IT professionals. In this article, we’ll try to clear up the confusion.

A deep dive into Google Trends from 2004 to 2020, reveals that digitisation and digitalisation are nearing parity in Internet searches. This convergence mirrors key milestones in the Digital Era, as increased digitisation opens the way for digitalisation.

What is digitisation?

Digitisation is a relatively straightforward concept to understand. Any time you translate something – for example, by scanning a photo or a document – into bits and bytes, you are digitising that object. Scanning a document into a digital archive creates a digitised version, encoded with ones and zeroes, without altering what is written in the document or activating it in a process.

Digitisation definition: any time you translate something into bits and bytes – for example, by scanning a photo or a document – you are digitising that object.

The Gartner Glossary offers this definition: “Digitisation is the process of changing from analog to digital form, also known as digital enablement. Said another way, digitisation takes an analog process and changes it to a digital form without any different-in-kind changes to the process itself.”


It is worth noting that Gartner has been consistent in this definition over the years. That’s because digitisation has been with us for a long time. “A Very Short History of Digitisation” traces the origins of digitisation all the way back to the development of binary arithmetic by Gottfried Leibniz in 1679.


Digitisation took off with twentieth-century computing and its requirements for data storage, processing, and transfer. This shift from mechanical and analog electronic technology to digital technology is the driving force of the Digital Revolution, also known as the Third Industrial Revolution. To understand how pervasively digitisation has already permeated our lives, consider this fact: in 1986, 99.2% of the world’s storage capacity was analog; however by 2007, 94% of the world’s information storage capacity had shifted to digital. By no small coincidence, the figure from Google Analytics shows a distinct drop in Internet searches for information on digitisation by 2007.


Does that mean we are almost done with digitisation? Not hardly. A recent Tech Tip from the New York Times for World Backup Day recommends digitisation as a way to safeguard your most important papers, photos, and documents. As illustrated by banking with ATMs, telecommunications with mobile phones, grocery stores with bar code scanners, music and entertainment with CDs, MP3s, and DVDs, digitisation has become synonymous with the convenience and reliability of modern life.

What is digitalisation?

The upfront effort required to digitise objects and assets positions businesses and industries to carry out digitalisation. Data from throughout the organisation and its assets is processed through advanced digital technologies, which leads to fundamental changes in business processes that can result in new business models and social change.

digitalisation definition: when data from throughout the organisation and its assets is processed through advanced digital technologies, which leads to fundamental changes in business processes that can result in new business models and social change.

The Gartner Glossary says: “digitalisation is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities. It is the process of moving to a digital business.”


It is noteworthy that the rise of digitalisation coincides with the acceleration and mass marketing of new digital technologies, like cloud computingmachine learningartificial intelligence, business intelligence, and the Internet of Things, in the last decade. Emerging digital technologies are fundamental to advancing automation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term first introduced in 2015 by Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, and the 2016 theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  


In the figure above, we can see a distinct and consistent uplift in Internet searches for information on digitalisation in recent years.

Benefits or advantages of digitalisation

Aided by automation and digital technologies, businesses can unlock new value from data that has been aggregated through digitisation, drive organisational change, and create new business models. These are the benefits of digitalisation. The overall effect of digitalisation across an organisation is called digital transformation – more of a process than an outcome. 

Why is digitalisation important?

The technologies underlying digitalisation continue to evolve rapidly, even as they are being adopted throughout business and society. digitalisation, however, is not simply a matter of “more technology.” digitalisation is important for an organisation because it unlocks new thinking and approaches in how the organisation perceives its role within its ecosystem and its opportunity for increased profitability. The technology is not an end in itself.  


With digitalisation in place, these organisations can begin to create new value chains and experiences that are collaborative, interactive, sustainable, and profitable.


Here are some examples of enterprises that have used digitalisation to transform their organisations into best-run businesses:


Customer experience: The Entertainer, the UK’s largest independent toy retailer, has the vision to be the best-loved toy store one child at a time. SAP Commerce Cloud is helping them to understand their customers, so that they can consistently deliver a five-star experience.


Employee self-service and experience: Tapestry, a New York based global retailer, is using a centralised portal to reach their 17,000 employees worldwide, which has resulted in significant annual cost savings. As well, during the pandemic, Tapestry was able to conduct real-time pulse-checks with employees on their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hear how Tapestry is building a better and safer experience for employees.

Sustainability: Salzgitter AG is using technology to reduce their carbon footprint and enable sustainable change in the steel industry. 

What’s your digitalisation story?

Is your business on the path to digitalisation? If so, where did you begin? Most organisations begin by bringing together all data from across the enterprise into a centralised and integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, where the data is collated and harmonised to provide a “single source of truth” about the state of the business and individual business processes. The benefits of an ERP system include greater efficiency, modern business process standardisation, and improved visibility into the business data, which leads to faster decision-making based on better data. 


Next-generation cloud ERP solutions deliver these business insights in real time to enable enterprises to rapidly adopt and modify processes and models in response to ever-changing business conditions. New opportunities to rethink business emerge, as organisations take these initial steps in their journey toward digital transformation. 


Start your digitalisation journey today

Chart your road map with modern ERP.


This is the process of changing an object or asset from an analog to a digital format. See digitisation.

These are technologies that can read, process, store, and transfer digital data, which is formatted as ones and zeroes. The advantage of digital technology is that vast amounts of data can be stored on a digital device and shared easily.

With digitalisation comes the need for greater awareness about cybersecurity and data privacy.

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