By Ben Walton, Ownum

Digitization is the process of creating a digital representation of something of value, resulting in what is called a “digital asset”. So, what is a digital asset? 

Let’s break that down. First, the asset part. 

According to the MerriamWebster dictionary, one definition of an asset is “an item of value owned”. Value can be monetary and/or give an individual access to something else. Ownership is required so that the asset can be transacted upon for a specific entity be it an individual, company, trust, etc. For any asset, there will be certain rules that define ownership, verification, and transference (if possible). 

An example of an asset is a music festival wristband. It has the monetary value of what it cost to buy and gives an individual access to the concert venue. Ownership is defined as possessing the wristband. Verification happens at the festival venue when the staff visually checks the wristband to confirm its authenticity. To transfer the wristband from one individual to another, the owner physically hands it over.  

Now, let’s define the digital part. 

For an asset to be considered digital, there are two key components. First, the asset’s information must be stored electronically. Second, the electronic information should be coded in a format that makes it receivable and acceptable to third parties. Simply put, the electronic asset must have utility to the original creator and any future owner. It is important to note that encryption and immutable ownership records are not a pre-requisite for digital assets, but as society looks to store more valuable assets in digital form, these features have grown in importance as they ensure the asset is correctly and honestly used to prevent theft, fraud, and forgery.  

Let’s consider the evolution of the humble concert ticket. Years ago, a paper ticket was used to enter the concert venue. The venue staff would tear off a portion of the ticket to show that it had been used. Nowadays, we receive an email of the ticket with a specific QR code. Once you arrive at the venue, the staff scans the code to confirm its authenticity and permit entrance. The concert ticket with the QR code has the same authority as the original physical ticket. Now why does this matter?  

When dealing with an asset that enables a person to access valuable benefits from the state or an employer, there needs to be a heightened degree of security to assure the legitimacy and provenance of the asset. An example is an asset like a birth certificate that provides an official government-issued record of a person’s birth and is generally required for school registration. So, for an electronic birth certificate to be considered “digital”, it must be accepted by the school as valid proof of one’s name, sex, and date and place of birth, meaning the digital version allows for the same action as the physical one.  

We can now conclude that a digital asset is electronically stored information that defines an owned item of value and has the same authority as the non-digital asset (if one exists or existed). By establishing this common definition of a digital asset, we can start the conversation around creating them and then using them. We can begin to explore the possibilities of what they can do, how they can be created, the internals of implementation, and so much more.  

Before we can dive into the specifics of digitization and digital assets, we should understand the argument for pursuing digitization. That is up next.