Digital Intelligence: A Key Competence for the Future of Work

Digital Intelligence: A Key Competence for the Future of Work

In the future, one of the responsibilities of schools will be to help students develop their digital intelligence to adapt easily to changes and cope with potential technological threats.

Human intelligence brings together thought processes that make it possible to understand, learn, and adapt. It is characterized by several abilities, especially cognitive, that allow human beings to apply logic and adapt to new situations. It includes the ability to solve problems, make decisions, and memorize information. For more than a century, the psychology field has used certain metrics to evaluate these abilities and ultimately arrive at a human intelligence quotient (IQ).

Today’s acceleration of technological innovations has transformed the use, behaviors, and practices of individuals as well as those of businesses and, more generally, the structure of markets. This transformation, induced by digital technologies at the fingertips of all of us, is of crucial strategic importance for organizations, but also for individuals. This immense change has given rise to a new type of intelligence that must be further cultivated.

Digital intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills related to digital technologies: social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and, more recently, cybersecurity. More than just the ability to use digital technologies, it addresses the what, why, where, when, who, how, and how much of digital technology to improve our operational efficiency and outcomes. Digital intelligence is fundamentally about our relationship with technology, just as emotional intelligence is about our relationship with others.

To be clear, digital intelligence is not about the use of digital technologies at the exclusion of human ability; rather, it is about the relative strengths of both people and technology and how we can capitalize on those strengths. As we interact with all these different digital technologies we are building our digital intelligence. Unlike IQ, which is commonly viewed as a genetically determined intelligence, our DQ, or digital quotient, is something we can build in a progressive and intentional way through repeated interactions with digital technologies. This refinement occurs at both the individual and organizational levels.

The demands on individuals are high: today’s managers and collaborators use different digital technologies for different purposes. They must develop a mindset that allows them to integrate the various workplace needs of speed, mobility, multitasking, and efficiency, by working ubiquitously—anywhere, anytime, and through one device—and without falling into addiction, digital intoxication, misinformation, and techno-stress, which can lead to burnout.

From their side, companies must, on the one hand, face new disruptive players who have profoundly overwhelmed traditional sectors through the use of digital technologies, and, on the other hand, be able to adapt faster and personalize their products and services to customers who have become more informed about market offers and more demanding by imposing their rules of an increasingly competitive game.

Digital intelligence is a key competence for the future of work for both individuals and organizations, in addition to the more traditional business skills. It is part of the globalization of markets, the digitization of work and organizations, and continued development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It follows other such phenomena as the “internet of things,” big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and, soon, quantum computing, that are becoming infused in our daily lives.

Digital intelligence describes our expertise related to digital technologies as well as the way we practice and use digital technologies for the interest of a public or private organization. The concept also refers to the use of generated and exploited data by digital technologies to improve the user experience and optimize operational processes in a changing market environment.

A company or organization that develops its own digital intelligence among its employees can, externally, more easily address new markets by taking advantage of the opportunities related to the digital transformation instead of suffering from it. Internally, an organization with high digital intelligence can develop cross-collaboration within its teams and express talents and new ideas.

Recruiting individuals with higher digital intelligence is a near guarantee of success today for organizations that wish to develop and succeed their digital transformation projects and deal with the associated disruptions.

In the future, one of the responsibilities of schools, from primary to higher education, will be to help students develop, in a responsible and sustainable manner, their digital intelligence to adapt easily to changes and cope with potential technological threats. Through this development, students will have the necessary preparation not only for future skills they will need, but for healthy, active life in a digitized and hyperconnected world. A wide field of applied research on DQ already exists for business schools to vet—through characterization, classification, and evaluation—as part of their social responsibility mission.

Business schools have many opportunities they can yet seize in the digital intelligence space, in their teaching, industry collaborations, and research.

Teaching. To help prepare students for the workplace, business schools should add to their curricula courses that embed lessons relevant to today’s technologies that also help students adapt to future technologies:

  • Effectively and appropriately using social media
  • Creating a digital identity and maintaining a good e-reputation
  • Avoiding techno-stress and burnout through mindfulness and other tech-detoxification activities
  • Learning with mobile technologies and analytics
  • Taking advantage of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, IOT, blockchain, and virtual and augmented realities
  • Interacting with robots—coworkers of the future

Collaborations. Business schools can contribute to business and society by creating opportunities for professionals to collaborate with faculty and students. Hosting events like hackathons, boot camps, and challenges can help academia and practice connect on the most pertinent digital technology issues currently faced by businesses:

  • Creating value from data management and analytics
  • Disrupting business through digital technologies
  • Transforming organizational processes, business models, and customer relationships
  • Evaluating the implications of new digital technology adoption
  • Addressing change management
  • Assessing the maturity of organizations to handle digitalization projects

Research. From the research point of view, business schools can contribute to the universal knowledge base by studying, among other things:

  • Techno-stress: How can neuroscience help us understand this phenomenon?
  • Augmented humanity and transhumanism: How can we overcome the current limitations of the human body through artificial means? What are the potential benefits and dangers?
  • Digital agility and digital creativity: How might these abilities impact organizational learning and performance?
  • Responsible innovation: How can we make algorithms more ethical? What are the moral limits in using data analytics?
  • Human-machine co-evolution: How will this co-evolution change our lives, businesses, and society?
  • DQ of robots: To what extent can DQ extend to robots?

There is no shortage of opportunities for business schools to venture into, and their participation in this burgeoning space is critical as digital technologies continue to permeate our individual lives and organizational practices. Our adeptness with it—our DQ—can indeed help ensure a more harmonious and responsible society.


Headshot of Imed Boughzala, dean of the faculty, professor management information systems, and chair on digital intelligence for businesses and society at Institut Mines-Telecom Business School in FranceImed Boughzala is dean of the faculty, professor management information systems, and chair on digital intelligence for businesses and society at Institut Mines-Telecom Business School in France. Follow him on Twitter @imedboughzala.