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What Does Digitization Mean?

Digitization is the process of converting physical source material into digital source material. The goal of digitization is to preserve and protect analog information and make it possible for computing devices to work with it.


Traditional analog formats store information in a continuous form. (Think of the grooves on a vinyl record or the varying magnetic fields on a cassette tape.)

In contrast, digital formats use a discrete, binary system that consists of 0s and 1s to store information. This binary representation is a fundamental component of digitization.

Techopedia Explains

It’s important to note that the terms digitization and digitalization are often confused. Despite sounding similar, the two terms represent two distinct concepts:

  • Digitization is a fairly narrow concept that involves converting non-digital information into a digital format. This process may involve scanning a physical document and saving it as a PDF, for example.
  • Digitalization is a broader concept that involves the integration of digital technology into all areas of business and society. To avoid confusion, the concept of digitalization is increasingly being referred to as digital transformation.

How Digitization Works

1. The first step of any digitization initiative involves identifying what source material is going to be digitized. Historical documents and family photos have always been popular candidates for digitization. Videotape and long-playing records (LPs) are also becoming a focus for digital preservation efforts, because they can also degrade over time.

2. The next step is to select the right process to convert the source material. Popular digitization processes include:

  • Scanning: This involves using a scanner to create a digital image of the original source material. Scanners come in various types and sizes, each of which is suited for different purposes. Popular types of scanners include flatbed scanners, feed-forward scanners, and handheld scanners.
  • Capturing: Digital cameras are often used to digitize extremely large or extremely fragile source materials. If multiple images are required to capture the original source material, they can be virtually stitched together later with software.
  • Data Entry: When text source material can’t be scanned or captured directly, it can still be digitized by manually typing the information into a computer device. This process is often used to convert text into a digital format when optical character recognition (OCR) isn’t effective.
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR): This technology is often used to digitize images that contain text. OCR software is designed to recognize which pixels in an image represent text and then convert those pixels into a digital text format.
  • Audio and Video Digitization: This digitization process is often used to convert legacy audio or video content into a digital format. It involves feeding the original playback device’s output into an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), which converts the analog signal into a digital format.
  • Signal Sampling: This type of digitization involves sampling the strength, or amplitude, of an analog signal at regular, predetermined intervals and converting the samples into numerical values. This process is essential for digitizing analog sound and video signals so they can be processed and stored by electronic systems.
  • Format Conversion: Sometimes, digital source material will still need to be converted to another format. In this context, the process will typically be referred to as transcoding rather than digitalization.

3. Once the source material has been digitized, it is then encoded into a standard digital format. Common formats include PNG for images, PDF for documents, MP3 for audio, and MP4 for video.

4. After the initial conversion, the new digital files can be edited for quality improvement. This might include cropping, adjusting brightness and contrast, cleaning up audio noise, or other enhancements.

5. Finally, the digital files are stored. Depending on how the digital content will be shared, the digital assets may be stored on an internal hard disk drive, an external hard drive, a thumb drive, or in a storage service provider’s cloud.

History of Digitization

Digitization has been driven by the development of new technologies and an increasing demand for more efficient and accessible ways to handle information.

Significant advancements that fundamentally transformed how ordinary people chose to store, process, and transmit information include:

Personal Computers (PCs): The introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s and 1980s brought digital technology into homes and businesses around the world. This era saw a significant increase in digitization as computers became more accessible and software that was capable of handling various types of digital data became more widely available.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OCR technology, which can convert typed, printed, or hand-written text into a digital format, became more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. This technology was crucial for digitizing large volumes of printed materials and automating data entry processes that were previously time-consuming.

Audio and Video Digitization: The 1980s and 1990s also saw significant advancements in the digitization of audio and video. The introduction of compact discs (CDs) in the 1980s digitized the way musical content was stored, and DVDs in the 1990s did the same for video.

The Internet and the World Wide Web: The growing popularity of the Internet in the 1990s was a major milestone, leading to the digitization of information on an unprecedented scale.

Digital Cameras: By the turn of the century, digital cameras began to replace film cameras. It wasn’t long before the process of capturing and storing images became almost exclusively digitalized.

21st-Century Technology: The early 21st century has seen an explosion in digitization, fueled by the advent of smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT). This era is characterized by the digitization of almost everything — from books and newspapers to television and radio.

Benefits of Digitization

Converting analog information into a digital format offers a wide variety of benefits that have revolutionized the way people store, access, and share information.

Key advantages include:

Advantages Description
Durability Analog content can degrade over time due to physical factors like wear and tear.
Redundancy Digital information can easily be replicated to ensure its preservation without introducing errors.
Easy Access Digital information can be easily accessed by computers and other digital devices over a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN).
Easy Retrieval Digitization allows specific information to be searched for and retrieved quickly and efficiently.
Improved Storage and Organization Digital information can be stored in a compact and organized manner that requires significantly less physical space than legacy analog counterparts.
Remote Collaboration Digitized information makes it possible for individuals who are located in different geographical boundaries to view the same digitized content virtually.
Data Manipulation and Analysis Digital information can be manipulated, analyzed, and processed locally or in the cloud.
Accessibility and Inclusion Once information is digitized, it can be made more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Challenges of Digitization

Digitization has revolutionized the way people store, access, and share text, images, video, and audio content. However, large projects are not without their challenges for business. They include:

  • Resource and Cost Considerations: Digitization projects can be resource-intensive and expensive. Large digitization projects will often require specialized equipment and software. Organizations need to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of digitization before undertaking such projects.
  • Data Integrity and Preservation: It’s important to ensure the long-term integrity and preservation of digitized information. This involves implementing robust data management practices, establishing reliable storage solutions, and developing strategies for data migration and obsolescence management.
  • Copyright and Intellectual Property Issues: Digitization can raise copyright and intellectual property (IP) concerns, especially when dealing with historical or sensitive materials. Organizations need to establish clear copyright guidelines and obtain necessary permissions before digitizing copyrighted works.
  • Data Quality and Standardization: Inconsistent file formats, missing data elements, and poor data quality can hinder the effectiveness of digitization efforts. It’s important for organizations to establish procedures for data cleansing and data validation before launching a digitization project.
  • Technical Expertise and Training: Digitization can sometimes require unique technical skills for operating legacy equipment. Depending on the project, organizations may need to invest in training or seek external support to ensure the project’s success.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Digitized information needs to be integrated seamlessly with existing data systems and workflows to maximize its value. Organizations need to carefully plan the data integration process to avoid disruptions and ensure that digitized content can be used effectively.

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret jest nagradzaną technical writerką, nauczycielką i wykładowczynią. Jest znana z tego, że potrafi w prostych słowach pzybliżyć złożone pojęcia techniczne słuchaczom ze świata biznesu. Od dwudziestu lat jej definicje pojęć z dziedziny IT są publikowane przez Que w encyklopedii terminów technologicznych, a także cytowane w artykułach ukazujących się w New York Times, w magazynie Time, USA Today, ZDNet, a także w magazynach PC i Discovery. Margaret dołączyła do zespołu Techopedii w roku 2011. Margaret lubi pomagać znaleźć wspólny język specjalistom ze świata biznesu i IT. W swojej pracy, jak sama mówi, buduje mosty między tymi dwiema domenami, w ten…