Digitization Is Not Digital Transformation

Tom Jelen | 01.07.20
Topics: Web - Mobile - Social, Association Management - Leadership, CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

For the past twenty years or so, almost every association that is still in existence today has been focused on digitizing their businesses. Digital technology has fundamentally altered customer expectations and some of the associations that neglected to take the necessary steps to digitize their business have disappeared.

However, as Jeanne Ross, an expert in digital transformation from MIT, has emphasized, digitization is not the same as digital transformation.

Digitized vs. Digital

As Ross explains, the digitization that has occurred in most organizations has been focused on operational excellence, while digital transformation is about rapid business innovation. In her words:

  • "Digitization involves standardizing business processes and is associated with cost cutting and operational excellence."
  • "A digital transformation involves rethinking the company’s value proposition, not just its operations. A digital company innovates to deliver enhanced products, services, and customer engagement."


Digital Transformation for Associations

Members will almost certainly appreciate any steps that are taken to digitize your offerings. However, it’s less likely that your members will choose to renew their membership because you allow them to pay their dues online. Digital transformation requires associations to dig deeper to truly understand what members value. You’ll need to go further to transform your products and leverage capabilities that were not available in a pre-digital world. Here are some simple examples to explain the distinction between digitization and transformation:








Printed application and dues renewal by mail


Online application and dues renewal


Digital-only membership offering


Printed program book and registration by mail


Online program and registration


Hybrid conference offering learning for onsite and virtual attendees


Printed magazine delivered by mail


Online reproduction of the magazine


Personalized content delivery based on an individual member’s interests

Member Directory

Printed directory delivered annually by mail


Online member directory


Online community connecting members from around the world

Digital Transformation is About Value

As Jeanne Ross points out in her definition of digital transformation, a digital organization requires innovation to deliver enhanced products and services for customers. I was recently reminded of this need for innovation when I watched an interview with Arshad Saiyed, the Executive Director of Online Programs for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Gies School of Business. I recently completed the “iMBA” program that Arshad Saiyed’s team helped design and it was interesting to hear how intentional his team was about the design of their online program. As Saiyed describes:

"Instead of just putting a residential MBA program online, we designed the program for the online medium... We unbundled the whole degree in a way and repackaged the courses in what we refer to as active learning packages. They are connected around teams. When you are talking about leadership, and when you’re talking about business strategy and designing and managing organizations, they’re all connected in a team together with a capstone project."

I can attest to the fact that the iMBA faculty and administration were completely dedicated to student value. They were willing to try new platforms, listen to feedback, and adjust the offering as required. The focus always came back to student value. Jeffrey Brown, the Dean of the Gies School of Business described it this way:

"...This whole program was about breaking down barriers. We lowered the price substantially. We made it possible for people to continue working full-time and build this around their lives. We made it possible for people to continue to live with their families wherever they are and not have to uproot and move here.”

A focus on value has always been critical to success in any line of business. However, digital has accelerated the pace of competition and altered the playing field. Associations may now find themselves competing with start-up companies and organizations in another country. Similar to what the University of Illinois did with its MBA program, associations will need to transform their offerings for a hyper-competitive and rapidly changing digital landscape.

Digitization is the First Step in Digital Transformation

The point in distinguishing between digitization and digital transformation isn't to diminish the value of digitization. It's still critical to digitize one's business. In fact, digitization is often the first step in an organization’s IT maturity. The important point is that digitization isn't enough. Associations need to look for ways to innovate their business to meet the needs of their future members.

Talk to DelCor Today!

Tom was a guest on DelCor's Reboot IT podcast, Episode 6: Defining Digital Transformation.

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