Digitization Vs. Digitalization Vs. Digital Adoption

Digitization Vs. Digitalization Vs. Digital Adoption: Confused? Don’t Be!

Business leaders like you have enough to worry about without semantics causing issues too.

And since the digital revolution has been gathering speed, more and more digital-related terms have been coming to the fore.

Digitization, for example. And digitalization — with only two letters difference, is yet another word really necessary?

And then there’s digital adoption. Not to mention digital transformation itself.

So when it comes to digitization vs. digitalization vs. digital adoption what does it all mean for enterprises in the digital revolution?

To answer this, we need to look at each discipline, consider what they all have in common, and what elements are needed for successful digital transformation.

What is digitization?

Digitization is what happens when information in a physical or analogue format is converted into a digital one.

“Digitization essentially refers to taking analog information and encoding it into zeroes and ones so that computers can store, process, and transmit such information.”


Jason Bloomberg, Forbes

What is digitalization?

Digitalization, though it might sound the same, actually means something different.

With digitization, you’re converting information, not processes – that’s where digitalization comes in.

Let’s imagine there’s a C-Suite meeting. The CEO’s PA is in attendance to take the minutes. Digitization would occur when the PA handwrites the notes, then photocopies them to distribute via email.

However, digitalization would occur if they used a digital application where all previous minutes are saved, provides easy access and sharing of minutes, and allows contributors to link relevant information to scheduled meetings.   

Digitalization is an important part of the enterprise digital transformation journey. Understanding this will help to explain the relationship between digitization vs. digitalization vs. digital adoption.

It’s worth noting however that, “‘Digitization’ and ‘digitalization’ are two conceptual terms that are closely associated and often used interchangeably in a broad range of literature.”(J. Scott Brennen and Daniel Kreiss, University of North Carolina).

What is digital adoption?

So, what is digital adoption? It is defined as:

“Achieving a state in which digital tools are being used as intended, and to their fullest extent.”

What does that mean? Well, having technology does not per se guarantee success in the digital revolution. You also need good adoption of that technology.

Digital expert and commentator Rephael Sweary says:

“[Digitalization] efforts are in vain if your employees don’t adequately engage and adopt these technologies.”  

Enterprises cannot have digital transformation without successful adoption.

Adoption is more than merely sourcing, procuring, and implementing new digital tools. It’s about that technology being used most effectively, to the point where it’s an asset that is being fully leveraged.

Let’s say Salesforce is your CRM.

If you’re only using it to track tasks and communication activities, you haven’t achieved digital adoption. You need to use all of its valuable features to the benefit of the business; like managing contracts and quotes, saving time with marketing automation, or taking advantage of its reporting capabilities.

Digitization vs. digitalization vs. digital adoption

So, when it comes to digitization vs. digitalization vs. digital adoption, they’re all necessary to effect successful digital transformation.

The vast majority of traditional enterprises will have digitized their information by now. Many will be digitalizing their processes and starting to think outside the box in terms of the opportunities presented by digital business.

But very few understand the important role digital adoption needs to play.  

Not only must adoption happen, it must happen as quickly as possible if enterprises are going to keep pace with the digital revolution. Whether you create a Digital Adoption Manager position to be responsible for this critical piece of the puzzle, or you rely on the change management team to oversee adoption, is up to you.

But make no mistake, without these three things, your business doesn’t have a future.

4 in 10 businesses will die within 10 years if they don’t adapt to embrace new technologies.

In summary

“We digitize information, we digitalize processes and roles that make up the operations of a business, and we digitally transform the business and its strategy.”


Jason Bloomberg

Bloomberg is right. But there’s one critical element he has forgotten, and that’s adoption.

How does he imagine that the “processes and roles that make up the operations of a business” can be digitalized and changed to such a degree without the employees themselves adapting to that change?

In the end, technology is only as good as the people using it. That’s why — in the race to get ahead of your competitor — out of digitization vs. digitalization vs. digital adoption, the latter is the holy grail.

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