Digital sucks.

Digital sucks. As a word, it means too many different things to too many people.

Just this week, I’ve heard it used as shorthand to describe:

  • the digitisation of existing documents and processes;
  • intelligent process automation replacing human tasks;
  • business process redesign;
  • user experience of digital interfaces;
  • service design (obviously, as a term, massively loaded itself);
  • moonshot level “disruptive” innovation.

All of these things have different assumptions surrounding them: the extent to which the problem statement is challenged; availability of relevant data; methods and tools used; impact on the experience — and jobs — of frontline staff; level of risk and potential payoff; and time, budget and skills required.

Unless you know which “digital” a person is referring to (and we’ll encounter other meanings too I’m sure — it’s only Tuesday after all), it is difficult to have a productive conversation about it. And it’s darned foolish to commit to delivering it — you might, after all, end up committing to delivering a moonshot product with a digitisation budget.

I haven’t yet come up with a better word to replace “digital”. I’ve tried a few, but they have their own problems. There’s simply too much meaning packed in for it to be captured in a single word.

So, for now, I’m still that annoying person who dives into semantics far too early in a conversation by asking what do you mean when you say “digital”? It might throw some people off balance but it’s always worth taking the time to get everyone on the same page.