What is digital literacy? Benchmarking digital capability

To gauge the level of digital understanding at a company, first, it is critical to define what digital literacy is.

Digital literacy varies across entire organisations and needs to keep pace with the fast-paced evolution of digital in general. As such, digital literacy needs continual enhancement, rather than existing as a static body of knowledge.

What is digital literacy?

Three questions within our survey query whether a specific skill is prevalent at organisations, each used as an example to represent wider digital literacy. The ADBL Digiskills Report found that while the ability is common for digital skills that have been needed by organisations for a decade or more, basic skills that are needed today are far less common within organisations.

The ability to hold a basic conversation about coding is almost five times rarer than being able to use basic data manipulation software, for example.

In short, the majority of organisations are not keeping pace with the speed of digital evolution. Employee skill-sets that were an asset to organisations a decade ago are now a minimum requirement to carry out roles effectively, while it’s fast becoming essential for employees to understand coding and cybersecurity in order to stay competitive and keep both organisation and customer security.

57.8% can use basic data manipulation software

While the majority of respondents believe that everyone in their organisation can use basic data manipulation software, it is questionable whether being able to use tools like MS Excel qualifies as being digitally capable today. As such, this result is best used to gauge basic digital literacy at respondents’ organisations.

12.2% can hold a basic conversation about what coding is

Considering the widespread use of coded products and services within business today, a basic understanding of what it entails can be a strong gauge for digital capability. It’s a useful trait for almost any organisation, and almost any role. But just 12% of respondents felt everyone in their organisation would be able to hold a basic conversation about what coding is.

21.7% can hold a conversation about basic cybersecurity risks

Less than a quarter of respondents thought everyone in their organisation has the knowledge to discuss basic cybersecurity – a knowledge that could, at its very basic consist of understanding the need for using complicated passwords. Worth noting is that our survey was held during increased publicity of the associated risks; coverage that could have both increased respondent awareness of the issue, and serve as motivation for organisations to develop this skill-set further.

To build these skill-sets, organisations have only one option other than a costly process of rehiring: train existing talent through learning and development (L&D).

But 36% of respondents disagree that their L&D function has an understanding of the range of digital skills existing employees may need to develop.

For these organisations, ensuring L&D has this understanding could be a huge advantage: in the report, organisations, where L&D did understand the digital skills needed, are more likely to be digitally capable throughout.

This is true for digital capabilities that have been needed for some time, such as being able to use data manipulation software, through to more modern requirements, the ability to discuss coding and cybersecurity for example.

Senior leadership setting a clear digital vision also has a beneficial correlation to wider organisational digital literacy.

In our survey, when a clear digital vision has been set by an organisation’s top leadership, 73% of organisations are able to use basic data manipulation software throughout. Compare this to the 12% of organisations where a clear digital vision has been set by top leadership, but not everyone in the organisation possesses the three digital skills referred to in this report, as shown in the data below.

A benchmarking, industry-wide report on digital capability, the ADBL Digiskills Report surveyed 263 executives to offer a snapshot of the current state of organisations seeking to become more digitally capable. Claim your complimentary copy of the report.


With over 20 years of experience working in the learning industry, AVADO are one of the largest distance providers in the UK. In partnership with Tableau, we’ve built a Data Academy that helps businesses thrive in the data era through building a data culture.

Stephanie Khan

Posted February 4, 2016