Past, present, and future: An IT director’s perspective
“Digital” past, present, and future: An IT director’s perspective
When I was asked to write a blog about digitalization, I realized that many people believe, incorrectly, that “Digital” (as we call it in the IT world) is a recent innovation. In reality, today’s digital transformation is just the latest phase of a long-term automation journey that happens to be rapidly accelerating. A quick history lesson will help in understanding the reach of Digital, both today and in the future. Allow me to offer some perspective.
The early days: Analog gives way to digital
The baby boomers reading this will recall a time when internal memos were hammered out on a typewriter and distributed via internal post (those internal postmen had the low-down on all the latest gossip). Many jobs were based on processing a form from the left side of the desk (incoming) to the right side (outgoing), from one department to the other. Those were the good old days when it was easy to keep track of how a task was progressing simply by talking to people (bear in mind that we’re still processing the same documents, only now in a digital way).
This office environment underwent a radical change in the final quarter of the 20th century when the computer became widely affordable (albeit the size of a small refrigerator). Analog workflows were automated across every department and digital storage options replaced file cabinets for holding information. Logic (computer intelligence) was developed. This is exactly when the digital revolution broke through, though it was called Information Technology or automation at the time.
Stage two: From desktop to mobile
Year by year, computer processors continued to develop in terms of size and performance. Meanwhile, costs fell and the scope of use expanded rapidly. Portable devices were next on the scene, with heavy laptops eventually giving way to light tablets. The evolution continued, not only in computers, sizing, and chips, but also in terms of bandwidth as better technology enabled greater and faster data transmission. Global infrastructure improved, fiber-optic technology came along, and our world suddenly became connected. The mobile phone – a phenomenon in itself – developed into a microcomputer with a bottomless array of apps.
Digital in 2021: A hyper-connected world
So here we are in 2021. Today’s technology allows us to connect with customers, suppliers, and other business partners to exchange sales and purchase orders without any human interaction. As consumers, many of us use e-commerce portals to order goods and services via the internet. We’re able to connect from anywhere to anywhere and at any time. A spin-off from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we’ve quickly learned to work from home and meet online.
Of course, for every genuinely helpful digital tool, there’s a “gadget” that sounds great (and costs a lot) but adds little value. Naturally, we want to cherry-pick the most promising opportunities. If a new technology isn’t delivering value, we may start playing with it in a kind of digital sandbox, but we don’t invest too much until it begins to prove its worth.
New opportunities in a digital world
While we’re always mindful of cybercrime and other IT-related risks, these don’t stop us from exploring the many exciting opportunities out there. Continuing our digital transformation journey will allow us to become more efficient, valuable, and relevant as an organization. It will help us empower our employees, build closer customer relationships, and help us bring new, value-adding solutions to market.
And because technology has become such an important driver for our business, we invest significant time and energy in identifying new opportunities. Day by day, our digital transformation team is scouring the market for fresh ideas and connecting with potential business partners. Meanwhile, our IT department keeps a close eye on new technological developments that could improve our existing IT infrastructure. Importantly, both teams are in constant discussion about how to introduce digital solutions in a consistent and integrated way.
Where next on our journey?
We’ve talked a lot about yesterday’s digital milestones, but what’s next on the horizon? I believe the next big breakthroughs will focus on connecting to customers and suppliers via digital platforms. This goes beyond expanding communication tools such as Microsoft Teams: I’m talking about sophisticated business platforms that allow information sharing and business transactions to take place online. At Stahl, for example, we’re building a new Product Information Management portal to provide our customers with greater insight into areas such as product quality and compliance.
This links to the idea of open innovation, which is a key focus here at Stahl. Among other things, new connective technologies will offer a platform to innovate more efficiently, explore new markets, and improve the environmental impact of our solutions. At the same time, we can use these tools to tap into the enormous quantities of valuable information now available in our industries, so we can continue to learn and improve.
That’s just a small taster of what lies ahead. I think we can all agree that this is a story with much farther to run…
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