Digital transformation vs digital shift

Digital Transformation vs. Digital Shift: Why the Difference Matters

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Digital transformation vs. digital shift – is there a difference between the two terms?

And if there is a difference, which term is most useful in a business context?


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Below, we’ll learn why digital transformation is the best definition to stick to, then explore how businesses can embark on their digital transformation journey.

Digital Transformation vs. Digital Shift: Is There a Difference?

First and foremost, it must be noted that digital transformation is used far more widely than digital shift, which sees virtually no usage in the business community.

Some have argued that the second term would be more useful in a business context, since “transformation” implies an end state, but continual transformation is needed in today’s digital economy.

Semantically speaking, however, there is little difference between the two terms.

  • Transformation means a “change, especially a radical one.”
  • Shift has more meanings, many of which also revolve around change, such as “a change from one person or configuration to another; a substitution.”

In short, shift also implies a change.

The point has also been made that companies must not only transform their operations, they must also shift their mindsets, attitudes, and beliefs.

When discussing mindset changes, the second term may be more appropriate, since we rarely say things like, “We need to make a mindset transformation.” Instead, we would say, “We need a mindset shift.”

However, this point alone is not enough to warrant using digital shift in place of digital transformation.

Why Digital Transformation Is the Best Term to Use, Hands Down

Perhaps the biggest reason why digital transformation beats digital shift is that the second term is almost never used in the business world.

The vast majority of business professionals use digital transformation, so there is far more literature devoted to the topic.

For instance:

  • Countless articles, podcasts, blog posts, research reports, and resources are dedicated to digital transformation
  • Though digital transformation’s meaning is somewhat ambiguous, the term will resonate with business professionals, whereas digital shift will not
  • There are consultancies and agencies that offer digital transformation-related services
  • Continuous change is included in many professionals’ definition of digital transformation
  • Most authoritative content related to digital transformation includes concepts such as organizational culture changes and mindset shifts

The last two points are important – since digital transformation embraces the ideas associated with continuous change and a mindset shift, there is, in general, little reason to move away from the term digital transformation.

Besides what we covered above, however, what other ideas are included in the concept of digital transformation?

The Key Components in the Process of Digital Transformation

The precise definition of digital transformation varies from source to source.

However, most leading business professionals and analysts agree on a few key components of the term.

Here are a few of the most important concepts to understand when it comes to digital transformation:

Digital transformation leverages technology to improve the business

Fundamentally, digitization and digital transformation revolves around the use of digital technology to enhance business strategy, operations, and workflows, among other things.

When a company embarks on its digital transformation journey, its goals can include things such as:

  • Improving business performance
  • Developing more innovative products and services
  • Increasing efficiency, cutting costs, and reducing waste
  • Pursuing growth opportunities in the marketplace
  • Becoming more resilient

Digital transformation, in other words, can encompass a wide range of activities. At their root, however, all of these activities revolve around improving the business in some way or another.

Transformation implies changes across many areas of the organization

An organizational change project often refers to a specific, localized change in one or more areas of the business.

A transformation, on the other hand, implies ground-up changes that affect the entire organization.

Digital transformations are no different.

A company that invests in digital transformation will often need to make changes to:

  • Business processes
  • Digital tools
  • Employee training programs
  • Mindsets, cultures, and attitudes
  • Organizational strategy

Transformations, then, often require radical changes to the organization’s mode of operations, and they also imply core shifts in the way employees interact with and view technology. In other words, a digital transformation requires both mindset shifts and changes to the business itself.

Digital transformation is continuous

Since that technology-driven revolution has yet to end, organizations will need to continue adapting as long as necessary.

New technology is continuing to emerge on a daily basis and disrupt old business models, markets, and ways of thinking.

For the foreseeable future, therefore, businesses will need to continually adapt and transform.

This entails:

  • Continually adopting new technology and tools
  • Regularly evaluating business models and strategies
  • Finding ways to ensure that employee skills stay up-to-date
  • Constantly adapting to the fast-paced digital economy

Digital maturity – advanced digital capabilities – is a worthy end goal of digital transformation.

However, since the digital economy continually evolves, digital maturity benchmarks are also continually changing.

For more information on digital transformation, digital transformation strategy, and the meaning of digital transformation, read the latest posts on our digital adoption blog.

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