In this new post-pandemic moment, companies face challenges that require them to have a greater understanding of sociocultural changes, as well as of technological advances and how these have transformed society. One of the most important is that customers in the digital era are not passive consumers, but nodes within dynamic networks interacting and shaping brands, markets, and also influencing each other. This network of consumers must be understood considering a concept that has a great effect on it: digital transformation and the elements that compose it. But what is digital transformation? This is the topic we will discuss below.
To begin with, we will say that, in a non-rigorous way, it is the incorporation of information technologies in the products, processes, and strategies of an individual or company in its different activities. Transitioning from mechanics to electricity, from electricity to electronics, and evolving from analog to digital are changes that have left a deep mark on our social ecosystem. Since the last century, we already had an important application of digital technology in all our activities, but it is precisely in recent years that we have had a complete transformation of our way of life, of our culture, thanks to it.
To try to understand how this phenomenon has occurred, I propose the following approach: let us consider that the digital transformation has fundamentally occurred in two moments. The first is that of migration. This is when we first had the opportunity and then the need to use the different resources that technology offered us: we went from using pencil, paper, and typewriter to using keyboards and screens, to keeping accounting records on Excel sheets and replacing the drawer file cabinets, full of folders, with electronic files in different formats.
However, this did not imply a change of paradigms, we had simply replaced the media and tools, but not the way in which we carried out our personal or business activities. An analogy can serve as an example: when a family moves from one country to another, it encounters another culture, perhaps with a different language, but it is possible that even the next generation will be incorporated into the host culture. The generation that migrated takes advantage of (or partially uses) the characteristics of the, for them, new culture.
We went from migration to transformation when we began to ask ourselves questions such as «how can I use these technological tools that are available to me more efficiently?”
Another case would be, for example, that of an accounting assistant who 10 years ago used an Excel sheet as an electronic notebook, but did not take advantage of the program’s functions and made additions, subtractions, and percentage calculations by hand or with a calculator. Technological migration, of course, improved in some way the productivity and efficiency of certain services, however, we had not yet immersed ourselves in what we now know as digital transformation. Moreover, we went from migration to transformation when we began to ask ourselves questions such as «how can I use these technological tools that are available to me more efficiently?”
Below, we will group these resources into five major categories, which are recognized as the key axes of digital transformation:
- Internet and online operation. There is practically no productive industrial activity that does not use or require connection to the web. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and any computing equipment are best utilized when they have access to the Internet. This applies to academia and education as well. The pandemic highlighted this by forcing the development of distance education models, which would have been impossible without the web.
- Collaborative work and information sharing. The use and exploitation of cloud storage of work documents that can be shared and modified has made it possible to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a lot of processes and tasks.
- Internet of Things (IoT). It is not only enough to have a network that allows communication and transferring information; we need the means that give us access to the devices interconnected with each other in order to enhance their capabilities. In the particular case of books, if they are physically printed, QR codes are incorporated that allow access to augmented reality images or perhaps a video that has to do with the subject of the book; if they are electronic books, we can have, for example, built-in dictionaries when selecting a word.
- Big Data. We have access to an increasing volume of data, both for personal and, mainly, business use. When we talk about Big Data, we are referring to a process that analyzes and interprets large volumes of structured and unstructured information. It is used so that the data stored, almost always remotely, can be used by companies as a basis for decision making. The information extracted helps to improve strategies and processes, to increase the company’s competitive power, and to better understand consumers, among many other applications.
- Artificial intelligence (AI). This axis of digital transformation may be, perhaps, the one with the greatest impact and the one that every day surprises and amazes us. We can say, in simple terms, that the concept of artificial intelligence refers to systems or machines that mimic human intelligence to perform tasks and have the ability to iteratively improve based on the information they gather. There are different types of AI, the ones identified by several authors are:
Now, it is time to mention that these systems do not reside in human-like machines, we do not yet have anthropomorphic robots in widespread use, and it has not yet been necessary to apply Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. AI is present in the face detection of cell phones or in virtual voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana, and is integrated into our everyday devices. These are also examples of the Internet of Things.
As we can see, the elements of digital transformation are frequently present in our lives, whether we realize it or not. In the book’s network, digital transformation has impacted most of the nodes that make up the network and, of course, the way they are connected. We can use AI in all processes, for example, in the review of content proposed by authors, Big Data to identify and analyze markets and buying habits, and the network in issues such as print on demand.
Undoubtedly, we are facing a new sociocultural revolution: the digital transformation.