Creating Digital Literacy for Business Executives

Here’s an interesting idea. Want to sell your technology needs to your CEO, CFO and other decision makers? It might help to create a corporate version of “Understanding IT for Dummies.”

OK, so you’re obviously going to call it that, but you might want to get around to creating an executive digital literacy program. Don’t just target it at the C-level executives in your organization but others on their way up the corporate ladder.

Digital literacy is the brainchild of Chuck Hollis, chief strategist at VMware. His blog, simply called Chuck’s Blog, is his perspective “on technology, information, challenges … and opportunities!” His posting on digital literacy could be considered a great opportunity for a smart CIO who wants the business side in his corner.

To quote Paul Gilster, “Digital literacy is the ability to understand the information and – more important – to evaluate and integrate information in multiple formats that the computer can deliver. Being able to evaluate and interpret information is critical … you can’t understand information you find on the Internet without evaluating its sources and placing it in context.”

As noted at the blog Digital Literacy, “It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology, and an understanding of how it can be used. Digitally literate people can communicate and work more efficiently, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills.”

It adds, “Digital literacy encompasses computer hardware, software (particularly those used most frequently by businesses), the Internet, cell phones, PDAs, and other digital devices. A person using these skills to interact with society may be called a digital citizen.”

Hollis says, “Just like we had to learn to thrive in a global economy, and a sustainable economy — we now have to learn how to thrive in a digital economy. [emphasis his] And that’s something they didn’t teach us in business school. I wish I could point to a proven body of knowledge and delivery mechanisms to achieve this important goal, but no such luck.”

As he points out, “The tools are there, the knowledge and the motivation to use them are not.  Obviously, this is a critical strategic challenge that IT can’t solve by itself. Enter the notion of “executive digital literacy” — create a sequence of business-oriented educational experiences that work to address this fundamental challenge.  Partner with HR (or whoever) and drive the agenda. It’s not an IT thing, it’s a business thing. It won’t be pretty — or easy — but it has to be done: sooner than later.”

Here are some of the tips he shares for getting started:

  • The central challenge is giving people a quick appreciation for the importance of a topic, and then show how it weaves with everything else you’re discussing — but do it in such a way that it’s relevant to their world, and not yours.
  • Detail examples of organizations that are transforming themselves and a few ugly examples of organizations that didn’t make the change
  • Present a few different views of a digital business model — major components, and a sense of how they might work together.
  • Show a quick sequence of before-and-after business processes that everyone could relate to.
  • Unless your company has an engaging presence in people’s digital life (customers, employees, partners, etc.) — you’re not going to be engaged with them — which, of course, means you won’t likely be relevant to them either.
  • You need to explain how business is getting good at harvesting data and this new digital wealth, extracting value, and using that insight can do even more amazing things.
Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.