Dematerialisation, a term suggested by Bertrand Olivier, may be a mouthful to say but more and more geeks, IT specialists and managers generally are using it. It was originally used to describe the process of converting paper documents such as orders and invoices into digital form in order to save paper (which is good for both the budget and the environment) and make this data more easily transferable: it’s easier to send a file as an email attachment than by post.
Then, people started talking about computer dematerialisation, which involves companies giving up their computer room of giant servers in favour of external ones. Instead of having an integrated server, the company puts its computerised data on a cloud of servers that it can access when it likes. All it needs is a password to connect to its own “cloud”, in other words a group of external servers that are no longer controlled by the company itself. Computer dematerialisation is closely related to another very fashionable concept, Cloud computing. Many of the computer services, applications and software that the company previously either bought or developed are now dematerialised, with the company no longer owning any of them itself but “renting” these services from a provider with the necessary applications, servers and clouds. Dematerialisation has many advantages. It offers the company greater flexibility: instead of buying a giant, very powerful server on which to run its huge calculations three times a year, it can “rent” the services of a very powerful server three times a year. Dematerialisation is very practical, as the company’s teams can access the applications and other services wherever they are located, with just an internet connection. That said, a number of questions remain, including about the confidentiality and ownership of the data. You might well ask what happens the day you no longer have a contract with the server that doesn’t belong to you: do you still have ownership of your data? And what happens if the “cloud” breaks down? You just have to hope and pray that it hasn’t been destroyed altogether. And finally, when data travels from the server to you across the internet, can you be sure that nobody else can access it? None of these doubts have halted the progress of dematerialisation. It is now even available to private individuals. With iCloud, Apple lets us dematerialise our CDs. Instead of buying CDs or music clips you store on a CD, you now only need to buy the right to access the album in a virtual "iTunes" CD collection, and you can listen to it anywhere in the world from an iPhone or computer. You just give a password and you are connected to the server or servers containing that file. Amazon.com is one of the pioneers of dematerialisation, as it lets you download books and music.