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Digital Business or Automation – Is There a Difference?

By Jane Barrett | July 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

How and why would you digitalize a business process? It is different from automating or just improving it, or possibly taking it to a whole new level?

Digital business transformation is about doing things differently – creating new business designs by using digital technologies in combination to blur the boundary between the physical and the virtual worlds. It’s not just about automating or inserting technology into an existing process. Nor is it about replacing paper or people, according to our top Gartner analysts.

Is it just extending automation? Is there really a difference? Or is it just a matter of degree? You could argue that digital business is just extending automation. But Gartner uses “digital business” to emphasize that the goal is to create and deliver new value to customers, not just to improve what is already being done or offered.

Take for example a nurse’s clipboard, used for bedside patient monitoring in hospitals. Simply replacing the paper forms with tablet devices is not in itself digitization. Of course there are benefits in doing this, such as faster and more accurate data entry into the electronic health record system than could be achieved with manual transcription.

But what if we redesigned the work using smart machines and the Internet of Things (IoT)? Machines can do most of the monitoring, data collection and incident reporting, leaving nurses to do things only humans do well, like touch, talk, observe and empathize. The machines can monitor patient vital signs continuously, potentially alerting the nurse to a problem sooner than might otherwise have occurred with only periodic checks. The end result is a better outcome for the patient – and the nurse.

But would this apply in Supply Chain? We have been automating plants and warehouses for decades. Nothing new. Research VP Michael Burkett talks about the impact of Digital Business in our recent CSCO Hype Cycle:
• Increased innovation cycles and demand variability as new solutions target granular market segments
• Enhanced supply chain visibility garnered from billions of connected devices across supply chain nodes
• Deep insights from analytics applied to big data generated from a variety of new sources
• Smart machines participating in decision making and negotiations across the value chain
• Cybersecurity added to supply chain risk profiles as supply chain information is exposed to the Internet

Digital business presents tremendous opportunities for innovation and competitive advantage. Creating this value requires a complete rethinking about the work itself. Merely inserting digital technologies into the existing process is insufficient to realize the full value of digital business.

We would love to hear your Digital success stories!

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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