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Blog March 2023

What is Digital Transformation and what does it mean for the resources and recycling sector

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Warren Knight Digital Transformation Author

Digital Transformation (DT) is our key theme for the AMCS Inspire series of events and publications in 2023. As part of this series, we are inviting key thought leaders from both inside and outside the resources industry to share their thoughts and experiences on what DT means for our sector and what companies need to do to prepare for an increasingly digital world. Today, it is the turn of DT expert Warren Knight to provide the first in a series of two articles on this topic. 

Business (and life) in the 21st century is rapidly changing – driven by digital technologies. Digitalisation affects every area of our lives, including the waste management industry.

Digital technologies are crucial to driving waste management towards greater sustainability. They promise to enable ever more effective waste management regimes and allow economies to recover more valuable resources from waste streams, reducing the environmental impact of waste, and lessening the need for new raw materials. I

Digital technologies, many of which are currently in their infancy for the sector, will help to improve recycling, help consumers to make better purchasing and sorting decisions, and deliver improved waste sourcing options for recyclers.

In pursuit of a circular economy, operators in the waste management sector will see increasing numbers of technologies emerging, driving new business models.

In these blogs, I am going to look at what we mean by digital transformation, and some of the technologies involved. In part two, I will reveal some top insights into my process for digital transformation – how to approach it, and some of the key principles involved. 

Part 1: So, what exactly is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is the process of embedding technology across a business to drive change. Done right, it results in improvements in efficiency, agility, and better value for customers. It can also unlock greater potential in the workforce, as it frees people up from tasks which can be automated, enabling greater capacity for innovation.

Every organisation’s journey towards digital transformation is different, but what the successful ones have in common is visionary leaders, able to engage and motivate people across the business, with an agile mindset and a total commitment to innovation and change. 

What digital transformation is not, is a ‘bolting-on’ of modern technologies to old processes. Primarily, it is human-centric. 

Setting out on a digital journey takes a new mindset, developing an empathetic culture ready to embrace the opportunity to truly reimagine how you could do things differently. It takes teamwork and collaboration across every aspect of a business.

In fact, the term digital transformation is a bit of a red herring, because the word digital is redundant. What we are really talking about is business transformation.

Once you understand that, it is easier to recognise how digital transformation differs from a couple of other terms we regularly come across these days, and which are steps along the way:

1: Digitization.

The process of applying technology to replace a process that was previously done manually. That could be any kind of transaction – like manually filling in a form.

If you use technology to make is possible to complete that form online, that’s digitization.

It’s could be the first step towards digital transformation, but it’s JUST the first step.

Just because a company has digitized a few processes, it does not mean they have digitally transformed just yet. They are not really doing anything that differently or thinking differently.

2: Digitalization. Applying technology to improving a previously manual process. How is that online form processed?

Does it still move manually from place to place – as a hard-copy printout or by someone emailing a PDF? 

For digitalization to have happened, that form needs to be managed digitally throughout the entire process. Every department that manages it must be connected digitally.

If that’s all-in place, the company has been digitalized, but that still is not digital transformation!

3: Digital Transformation

True digital transformation is a total business transformation from within the business core - across culture, working practices, operational processes, and the customer proposition as well as technology. Digital technology allows it to happen, but not as an ‘add-on.’ 

You could see it that digitization and digitalization have created a better version of the past. They may have delivered improved efficiency, or reduced costs. But they are rooted in what the business has previously been like and making a few improvements. 

True digital transformation creates a new business with a new future. It enables innovation, opens new opportunities, and markets, and reveals ways to keep ahead of the competition. It can

It can present a threat to established market leaders as new, more agile competitors disrupt markets with new products and services. With the waste management industry lagging other sectors in terms of investment in modern technologies, that game-changer could be just around the corner. 

Digital transformation is really business transformation.

Some of the technologies currently changing markets around the globe include (AI), cloud computing, mobile technologies, social media platforms and next-generation technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT), edge computing and robotic process automation (RPA). They allow us to rapidly collect, generate, analyse, and transmit data, and this change in how quickly we can generate and receive information, along with the quality of that information, is critical.

In part 2, we will be looking at the top digital transformation strategies for your business.

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