Digitalization is the present, don’t neglect thinking about the future

Digitalization and digital transformation are often used interchangeably. Even though the former depicts the third and the latter the forth industrial revolution (see Krapf 2017b; Krapf 2016). Those who reflect on the digitalization could therefore neglect the future. I’d like to elucidate this claim with a short comparison between digitalization and digital transformation.

Digitalization as Industry 3.0

Towards the end of the 20th century, the digitalization emerged as the core of Industry 3.0. In the beginnings, it meant primarily computer supported (mass) production. Subsequently, it transformed the industry based society towards an information based. A journey that still can be observed since we are continuously improving and expanding our use of computers. Against this background the digitalization is still a present and developing phenomenon. However, the forth industrial wave is approaching and we must not neglect it.

Digital transformation as Industry 4.0

The digital transformation as industry 4.0 increases the technological potentials exponential. The foundation of this forth industrial revolution has been laid by cyber physical systems (CPS). Such systems basically stand for the (digital) communication between physical products. This prominent use of “internet of things” allows an automatization which is incomparable to that what have seen within the digitalization. The reason for this lies  in the “autonomous” communication of almost every physical object over the internet without human interference. Besides CPS other technological innovations such as Cloud Computing, Smart Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality or Blockchain expand the possibility to automate (Krapf 2017a). Not to mention that every named technology has a highly disruptive potential on its own.

Why it is important to differentiate between digitalization and digital transformation

The digitalization meaning the change from the typewriter to the computer (or even from the computer to the iPad) respective from the letter for the e-mail (or even the e-mail to WhatsApp) shouldn’t give us any headache. We experience this transition since almost 30 years. The digital transformation on the other hand depicts more than the change from physical to digital media. The forth industrial revolution is an wave of automatization with an unseen magnitude. Until yet we do not fully understand how this transformation will unfold. However, there are first hints like self-driving cars, retail stores without any cashiers or dash buttons for automated delivery. Moreover, even cognitive challenging tasks can be automated as first applications have shown in areas like cancer treatment, accounting, essay review or customer services. This means that the digital transformation vastly exceeds the digitalization in speed and impact of the change (Vey et al. 2017, S. 2). Therefore, it is not pedantry to explicitly distinguish those two terms. It is rather an imperative to not only reflect on the broadly observable digitalization but also on the emerging digital transformation with all its uncertainties.

This outlook should not stoke fears. The analysis of possible impacts and scenarios is not the focal point of this article either. The main idea of this essay is merely to show the difference between industry 3.0, which is very tangible in our everyday lives and industry 4.0, which will shape our future. Only if we see this difference we are able to separate what we experience now with what is approaching very fast.


Abbildung 1: From Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0: an overview
(in reference to Bauer et al. 2014; Dengler und Matthes 2015; Mülder 2016;
Wolter et al. 2015 )


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Bauer, W., Schlund, S., Marrenbach, D. & Ganschar, O. (2014). Industrie 4.0 – Volkswirtschaftliches Potenzial für Deutschland. Studie. Berlin: Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien.

Dengler, K. & Matthes, B. (2015). Folgen der Digitalisierung für die Arbeitswelt: Substituierbarkeitspotenziale von Berufen in Deutschland. IAB-Forschungsbericht 11/2015. Nürnberg: Institut für Arbeitsmarkt und Berufsforschung.

Krapf, J. (2016). Kompetenzmanagement als Antwort auf die Digitalisierung. https://​​/​2016/​03/​13/​kompetenzmanagement-als-antwort-auf-die-digitalisierung/​. Zugegriffen 30.06.2016.

Krapf, J. (2017a). Skill Change: Welche „digitalen Kompetenzen“ brauchen wir bei der Post. https://​​/​JolKrapf/​skill-change-welche-digitalen-kompetenzen-brauchen-wir-bei-der-post. Zugegriffen 05.10.2017.

Krapf, J. (2017b). Why and how agility is needed to handle the Digital Transformation. https://​​/​2017/​07/​28/​why-and-how-agility-is-needed-to-handle-the-digital-transformation/​. Zugegriffen 04.10.2017.

Mülder, W. (2016). Arbeitswelt 4.0. Rolle der Arbeitsnehmer. ZWF 111 (6), 383–385.

Vey, K., Fandel-Meyer, T., Zipp, J. & Schneider, C. (2017). Learning & Development in Time of Digital Transformation: Facilitating a Culture of Change and Innovation. International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning.

Wolter, M. I., Mönning, A., Hummel, M., Schneemann, C., Weber, E., Zika, G., Helmrich, R., Maier, T. & Neuber-Pohl, C. (2015). Industrie 4.0 und die Folgen für Arbeitsmarkt und Wirtschaft. Szenario-Rechnung im Rahmen der BIBB-IAB-Qualifikations- und Berufsfeldprojektionen, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt und Bildungsforschung. http://​​/​forschungsbericht/​2015/​fb0815.pdf. Zugegriffen 11.03.2016.

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