Digital Transformation: The Third Gap

Digital Transformation is one of the biggest challenges that today’s societies are forced to assume, implement and promote in a medium term. It is a change that is no longer optional, since it permeates an increasing number of sectors, from the technological, social, economic, political and cultural perspectives.

Unlike previous stages of digitalization processes, something that characterizes the digital transformation is that it is daily and inevitable: as the phenomenon advances, we will witness substantial changes in all areas of human life. Therefore, it is important that we are well aware of its origins, processes, promises and risks.

What is digital transformation and how is it changing our lives?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B. –

Andreas Kaplan, in the text Digital Transformation and Disruption [1], states that digital transformation is the change referred to the application and practical implementation of digital technologies in all aspects of human society, being the third phase of the digitalization of information and communication technologies, i. e. the third level of implementation of digitalization. From the social perspective, as has happened since the emergence of the computer to the present day, digitalization has systematically, even redundantly and in a few cases linearly, experienced a cycle that consists of three elements: digital competence, digital use and digital transformation.

The first element refers to the process of digital literacy, i.e. the citizens’ acquisition of sufficient competences to understand and measure digital resources. It is a process that, although it was supported in some way by formal education systems, occurred organically, marked by novelty and the need to adapt emerging technologies, so that a clear culture of self-learning developed.

The second element, digital usage, as its name indicates, refers to the application of knowledge to the utilization of the available digital resources, which impacted even more clearly to multiple sectors, revealing the technology as a “facilitator” both of the daily life and of the educational, productive, governmental, administrative sectors, among others. This element, despite becoming ubiquitous and definitively influencing many aspects of life, continued to appear as something “complementary”.

The third element, which is the subject of this article, is digital transformation, which through innovation and creativity generates new uses, obtaining better and new outcomes, compared to the traditional schemes of using digital technologies [2]. The digital technologies and usages cease to be complementary and become the backbone of countless processes, and are even the process itself.

In simple terms, digital transformation is the continuous improvement of human processes through the creative use of digital technologies [3].

“Digital transformation is described as the total and overall societal effect of digitization. Digitization has enabled the process of digitalization, which resulted in stronger opportunities to transform and change existing business models, socioeconomic structures, legal and policy measures, organizational patterns, cultural barriers, etc.

Therefore, digitization (the conversion), digitalization (the process) and digital transformation (the effect) accelerate and illuminate the already existing and ongoing horizontal and global processes of change in society, both horizontally and globally. Beyond the technological implementation or the digitalization of processes and/or services, a Digital Transformation implies a change of mindset and the creation of a transformation culture that empathizes with the change, and is willing to accept it” [4]. Tugrul U Daim.

A perfect example of digital transformation is seen in those old phone booths where people made long distance calls. As these services became obsolete with the appearance of mobile devices, they were transformed into WIFI and mobile device charging stations, adapting them to the new needs of contemporary communications through a complete and definitive change towards digital service.

Another example of digital transformation was experienced in the context of the confinement resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, a global situation that accelerated the transition of many face-to-face services to their digital platform equivalents, given the severe restrictions that prevented almost all face-to-face activities for months.

One of the services in which the digital transformation was most perceived is the medical consultation system, which had two characteristics that made it the perfect testing ground: medical appointments require high attendance and are, to a large extent, unpostponable.  The truth is that, given the general skepticism, medical appointments by telehealth not only worked, but also helped to decongest the health system and to generate a sense of continuity, which was important for social stability. With the push of the pandemic, the implementation of telemedicine was accelerated and generalized until it became an example of a digital transformation in full process.

The same is happening with multiple government and customer services provided by companies that, thanks to teleconferencing and telepresence services, allowed the continuity of the service without the need for people to move to the site, avoiding physical contact. These allow us to analyze in real time and live how the digital transformation occurs.

More than just technology

A successful digital transformation process requires more than just technology; it involves a wide range of factors, such as professional skills, social development, appropriation and digital literacy levels, culture, among many other factors that make transformation and successful adaptation of society possible.

Additionally, digital enablers are key and serve as catalysts for the process.

According to the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness, among a wide variety of digital enablers, the following have been considered relevant by sector:

“Hybridization of the physical and digital world, communication and data processing, new manufacturing systems, and connecting the company with the consumer” [5].

The challenge of the gaps

One of the greatest difficulties with social gaps is that they are cumulative, that is, as new forms of gaps emerge, in many cases the old ones continue to exist in a significant part of the population. A specific case is traditional literacy (the ability to read and write). Despite the fact that many people are already immersed in digital technologies, the deep deficiencies in reading and writing that are dragged from the previous gap prevent a substantial use of new technologies because they limit access to information. Therefore, while the challenge in digital terms now takes center stage, the previous challenge of language or linguistic literacy still exists [6].

In the case of digital transformation, if we understand the concept of digital gap as the capacity people have (or do not have) to apply digital media to generate important social changes, this new demand is added to the previous gaps of appropriation and use, which in turn are additional to those of literacy. Therefore, this type of transformation becomes a third gap that, if not adequately addressed and channeled by governments, businesses and communities, can substantially increase the already deep social inequalities.

In conclusion, the digital transformation is an ongoing and in many ways inevitable process that, like all great social and historical changes, promises a great advance for humanity, the facilitation of many processes, new lines of economic growth and coverage for entire populations that were far from many services until recently. However, it also carries the undeniable risk of increasing inequity, if the threats of the digital divide are not anticipated and resolved in time.

 [1] Academic text: Digital transformation and disruption: On big data, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and other things

[2] Book: Digital Transformation by Mark Baker – ISBN 1500469998, 9781500469993

[3] Book: Digital Transformation by Mark Baker – ISBN 1500469998, 9781500469993 [4] Digital Transformation: Evaluating Emerging Technologies – 9811214646, 9789811214646

[5] Academic reference document: Habilitadores Digitales by Generalitat from Valencia

[6] ECLAC document: Linkages between the social and production spheres. Gaps, pillars and challenges

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.