Building AI Leadership Brain Trust: Why Is Digital Literacy Key To AI Competency Development?

Digital Literacy is Understanding Cloud Computing

This blog is a continuation of the Building AI Leadership Brain Trust Blog Series which targets board directors and CEO’s to accelerate their duty of care to develop stronger skills and competencies in AI in order to ensure their AI programs achieve sustaining results.

In this blog series, I have identified forty skill domains in an AI Leadership Brain Trust Framework to guide board directors and CEO’s to ensure they can develop and accelerate their investments in successful AI initiatives. You can see the full roster of the forty leadership Brain Trust skills in my first blog.

Each of the blogs in this series explores either a group of skills or does a deeper dive into one of the skill areas. I have come to the conclusion that to unlock the last mile of AI value realization that board directors and CEOs must accelerate building a unified brain trust (a unified set of leadership skills that are hardwired in relevant digital and AI skills) to modernize their organizations more rapidly.


Knowledge is key and if you locked up a room of board directors and CEOs in a board room and asked them (1) What steps are required to build a successful AI strategic plan and journey roadmap – what do you think would be the outcome? or (2) Where are your AI Investments and have you inventoried them or audited them? or (3) What is the difference between a computing scientist, a data scientist, and an AI scientist – would their digital literacy skills be sufficient enough to lead and guide their organizations forward? (4) What has been your Return on Investment (ROI) and value realization in your AI programs and/or AI products/solutions?

Sadly, I think we would find some very serious operational execution gaps in realizing the last mile in AI.

A great deal of R&D exploration and AI modelling exploration is underway but moving to sustaining operating practices and ensuring the ongoing knowledge of AI modelling outcomes, and value realization practices remain a major gap in the strategic deployments of AI programs.

In the last three blogs, I discussed the importance of Data Analytics Literacy and in this blog, I will discuss the importance of Digital Literacy, one of the key technical literacy skills in building AI capabilities that are robust and operational focused.

Technical Skills:

1. Research Methods Literacy

2. Agile Methods Literacy

3. User Centered Design Literacy

4. Data Analytics Literacy

5. Digital Literacy

6. Mathematics Literacy

7. Statistics Literacy

8. Sciences (Computing Science, Complexity Science, Physics) Literacy

9. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Literacy

10.Sustainability Literacy

This blog defines digital literacy, and provide key insights and questions that board directors and CEO’s can use to guide their leadership in advancing their company’s journey into developing and sustaining an AI Center of Excellence to support all business functions.

What does Digital Literacy Mean?

Digital Literacy is for all Citizens.

Digital literacy according to the Wiki Encyclopedia refers to an “individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and compose clear information through writing and other media on various digital platforms. Digital literacy is evaluated by an individual’s grammar, composition, typing skills and ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology

The American Library Association (ALA) defines Digital Literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

Cornell University defines “Digital literacy as the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”

The roots of the meaning of digital literacy can be traced back to 1997 with the research of Paul Gilster who claimed that digital literacy is more about mastering ideas versus keystrokes, and understanding how to apply technology to solve business problems.

Digital literacy builds on general literacy and reading skills to provide people with an understanding of how digital technology functions and how to use it effectively. This includes critical thinking and assessment of information, familiarity with various devices, the ability to navigate the internet, and an understanding of issues associated with digital technology like data privacy. These skills are now seen as essential in an increasingly digital world, necessary to successfully navigate and use the online environment.

The United Nations (UN) Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization defines digital literacy as the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information. The UN emphasizes that digital literacy is the ability to use information in a wide variety of formats from diverse sources, when presented information from computers, but also emphasizes the ability to perform work related tasks in a digital environment.

Unesco’s definition of digital literacy emphasizes diverse types of digital devices, such as computing, communication, databases, networking infrastructures and cloud computing — and reinforces digital literacy is all about employee capabilities to demonstrate interaction with the digital environment to perform their operating responsibilities.

According to the American Libraries Association’s Digital Literacy Task Force, a digitally literate person is someone who: possesses the variety of skills – technical and cognitive – required to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information in a wide variety of formats, and is able to use diverse technologies appropriately and effectively to retrieve information, interpret results, and judge the quality of that information; understands the relationship between technology, life-long learning, personal privacy, and stewardship of information; uses these skills and the appropriate technology to communicate and collaborate with peers, colleagues, family, and on occasion, the general public; and uses these skills to actively participate in civic society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community.

The European Union refers to digital literacy as digital competence and emphasizes the significance of life-long learning, given the realities of the ever changing technology landscape.

Why do Board Directors and CEOs need to ensure Digital Literacy is a key skill competency ?

With the speed of digital transformations and advancements of AI, digital literacy is an ongoing investment reality. An IBM study completed in 2019 reinforced that over 120 Million workers in the USA alone will need digital literacy re-skilling to be digitally literate.

With the realities of COVID-19, the increased acceleration to use technologies for collaboration and communication may have well advanced businesses by over five years in digital literacy know-how as professionals move from zoom to teams to webex for employee interactions. We now live in the Zooming Economy – through our mobile and technology devices – so digital literacy is accelerating due to Covid-19.

A study by Oracle and Future Workplace in 2019 revealed for example that AI would allow employees to learn new skills that were relevant to them to achieve better jobs and have more fulfilment. So ensuring AI as a core skill area in company’s digital literacy learning programs is highly recommended.

What frameworks are accessible to help executives advance a digital literacy strategy?

One of the frameworks I hold in high regard is The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) as it outlines the European Commission’s vision for high-quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation at European level to: 1) learn from the COVID-19 crisis, during which technology is being used at an unprecedented scale in education and training and 2.) make education and training systems fit for the digital age

It provides a comprehensive and current Digital Competence Framework and is one of the strongest resources for executives trying to mobilize deeper frameworks to guide skills development in digital literacy.

There are five core digital literacy skills in their framework which includes: 1) information and data literacy – which focuses on locating, retrieving data and emphasizes the actions of storing, managing and organizing digital content 2) communication and collaboration – which focuses on the interactions, communications and collaboration of using digital technologies, and managing ones digital identify and digital reputation 3.) digital content creation – which focuses on creating and editing digital content and applying it into an existing body of knowledge, 4.) safety – which stresses protecting devices, content, personal data and the importance of privacy in digital environments and being aware of the risks of digital impacting social well being and social inclusion and 5.) problem solving, where using digital literacy skills to identify needs, solve problems, enable innovation and keeping current with digital evolution.

The EC’s framework expands each of the five core digital literacy skills into deeper classifications which easily allows human resource professionals to advance their programmatic or policy requirements.

What questions can board directors and CEOs ask to ensure their companies have a digital literacy capability focus?

1.) Does your company have a digital literacy strategy and roadmap plan that is guiding your company foreward?

2.) Does your company have a clearly articulated framework for digital literacy that all employees can understand, and do employees have easy access to educational materials to help develop and retain digital literacy skills?

3.) How is your company measuring digital literacy maturity and proficiency?

4.) Does your company know what your competitors are doing in advancing their digital literacy strategies and how does your company compare?

5.) Is AI learning integrated into your digital literacy strategy?


In the smarter and more intelligence enterprise driven by digital everywhere, CEOs and board directors must ensure that they retrain their workforces with relevant digital technologies, nurture the growth of a digital literate workforce, and continue to make learning investments given the realities of constant technological changes.

As discussed throughout my blog series, AI has many benefits for business, the economy, and for helping to solve many of our world’s deepest challenges. However to get to the other side, ongoing skill development in digital literacy is critical for sustaining economic growth and relevance.

AI is a technology that requires deep data literacy and digital literacy and these two skills are simply table stakes to lay a strong foundation for analytics and AI enablements.

Helpful Learning Sources

Digital Literacy – Literature Review Definitions

Advancing America’s Future

To see the full AI Brain Trust Framework introduced in the first blog, reference here.


If you have any ideas, please do advise as I welcome your thoughts and perspectives.

Dr. Cindy Gordon is a CEO, a thought leader, author, keynote speaker, board director, and advisor to companies and governments striving to modernize their business