What is Digital Technology? Explains Mahesh Prabhu of ITC Infotech

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Technologies that send signals to convert, transmit, change, transform, transfer, exchange or trade Digital Things or perform any physical action on any medium (or device) are Digital Technologies.

By Mahesh Prabhu

Lately, every IT company is talking about Digital Technologies and how it can transform not only the well-established industries but also the way IT services providers engage with the industries as business enablers. Even the so called IT geek population seems to be pondering on what the whole hype around this really amounts to. Contributing to the confusion are the hundreds of definitions and thousands of interpretations of Digital Technologies from everywhere. Well, let me add my bit to the confusion!

What is Digital Technology?
In simple terms, Digital is anything that can be represented in a soft copy (or digital form), transmitted in the digital form & presented back in a form that can be easily recognised by people.  To represent any individual, place, object, creature or thing in a digital form, we should capture all (or at least the relevant & important) properties as attributes of the Digital ‘thing’. All attributes are retained in the digital form, and when presented back, people recognise the attributes through text, audio, visual and other physical forms. Technologies that send signals to convert, transmit, change, transform, transfer, exchange or trade Digital Things or perform any physical action on any medium (or device) are Digital Technologies.

Digital Technologies create a virtual world around us that seem real to people because of the attributes that define the thing that are played back in human recognisable form. More attributes captured and played back, more real the virtual world seems! Technologies like Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile & Smart devices, Smart cards, etc. play a significant role in realising the digital dream, but they are not necessarily the mandatory nor sufficient conditions for Digital Technology or Digital Transformation. These are mere components of technologies when put together, they help us stitch the Digital story. Successful digital companies are the ones who have got their digital story right and have used the technology components as objects and role players.

Is this something we invented yesterday?
No! Invention of digital goes back decades before the invention of the first computer. Remember the digital clock and the digital weighing scale? So what has really changed? Why is everyone talking about digital today? Rapid innovation in processing, storage, communication, analytics and digitization of biometrics, audio & video has opened up new possibilities that did not exist before. Adding to that, the size of the computing device has been getting smaller every day. So much so that we don’t realise that the smart phone we carry all the time is now a more powerful computer than the desktop PCs of the 1990’s. Another significant aspect of Digital Technology is the instantaneousness transportation of a Digital Thing from one place to another. If I can physically address a gathering at one place at one time, I can digitally do the same at multiple places at one time. If video conferences make this virtual presence happen, holographic technologies take the virtual world closer to reality.

5 Developments that make Digital Technology more exciting

Smartness in anything
It is possible today to add smartness to just about everything. While the size of the processors keep getting smaller, the processing power keeps getting bigger. Many predicted that most consumer capital goods would contain an inbuilt computer, but most of us did not imagine that it would be feasible to embed computers inside even non-capital consumer goods. I will not be surprised if in future, computers get embedded inside use-and-throw items as well. It’s not just the processing power that makes the thing smart, but also the ability to expose its definitions and functions in a digital form, the ability to memorise instructions and data, the ability to recognise, connect, communicate and be part of a larger network.

Computer on you
The new generation is deeply attached to their smart phone more than any other object. They carry it everywhere, keep fiddling with it all the time – play games, check news, connect socially, listen to music, watch videos… and yes, they also use it to make phone calls! The smart phone is SMART first and PHONE later. In other words, it is a computer that can also make phone calls. So, it is reasonable to expect everyone to carry at least one computer on them wherever they go.

Always-on Internet
I remember the days when we used to dial up a connection to get on to the Internet. Now the Internet is always on! We have WiFi Internet in our homes, offices and public places, and a backup connection through 4G, 3G and GPRS. Very soon there will be a time when our devices will have UIS (Uninterrupted Internet Supply!) and we will be always on the Internet. The smart things, being always connected to the network via smart phones or WiFi or other means, thus are always indirectly connected to the Internet. People and things always-on Internet opens unlimited interactive communication possibilities.

Social Being
Few years back an individual was considered socially active if they mingled with other people, go for road trips with friends, show up at parties on Friday nights or watch movies with friends and family. Today, an individual is socially active if he shares his opinions on Twitter, pokes friends on Facebook, shares selfies on Instagram, and forwards jokes to friends on Whatsapp. The new Social Being has umpteen ways of ‘staying in touch’ with family, friends, systems, things and the world at large. People have given up being social and transformed themselves into Social Being. The Social Being not just communicates with their acquaintances, but also with the world at large.

It’s Cloudy out there
Much has been said about the IT Cloud and how it opens up innumerable possibilities in the digital world. Unlike the clouds that vanish after heavy rains, the IT Clouds never goes away. Now being an integral part of the Earth’s Atmosphere, the IT Cloud plays a vital role in inter-connecting the smart things and by taking the large burden of heavy-duty processing and storage away from them.
a. Streaming digital data: when so many millions of things are emitting digital signals, cloud plays the role of a postman to pick, sort, segregate and pass on the relevant signals to their respective destinations.

Storage: Virtually limitless storage capacity provided by the Cloud takes away the burden of data administration and management. When you are building a digital technology solution, you can use the Cloud storage for different purposes like storing in-transit, for staging, as a data warehouse, backup, redundancy, archival and temporary store.

Processing, Analytics & Prediction: analytics & prediction algorithms can be applied to data as it is received or on periodic basis on the stored data. Cloud enables the mishmash of data from multiple sources – data from things, enterprise systems, public sources and social media – which open up possibilities of customised predictions to individual needs.

Notify & take actions: after all the processing, analysis and predictions, the Cloud can notify the Always-on Internet Computer on you to take actions or take actions on your behalf by directly invoking the smartness in things. Things can notify the new Social Being via these digital social media through the Cloud.

The separation between the digital and physical worlds ever keeps getting blurred to a point that the difference actually becomes immaterial. Go on, define your canvas, choose your objects and actors, and stitch your digital story. As I said, it is the digital story that will define your business success and not the technologies in play.

The author is Vice President & Head of Technology Consulting, ITC Infotech. Views are personal.

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