Understanding The Differences Between A CLO and CIO

By E. Brown

Many Fortune 100 and 500 companies get the difference between a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). However, many smaller companies that are now venturing into the waters on online learning seem to be confused. They seem to understand the need for a CIO or CTO, but when it comes to learning they feel that this position can be occupied by those very same high level positions.

The differences are primarily at a strategic level. Certainly, while the CLO and CIO interact, there are three areas of significant distinction. Margaret Driscoll, in her book, Web-based Training, offers a very concise explanation of these three areas:

  1. People skills
  2. Technical knowledge
  3. Strategic picture

The role of the CIO is designed to provide enterprise-wide directions and business strategies for acquiring, using, and maintaining information technology.

The CLO is responsible for an organization’s overall learning and knowledge initiatives.

People Skills
CLO’s need to be consummate communicators. They often have to reckon with departments with competing needs as related to training. Often a CLO will find they have to communicate between technical, creative, human resource, and C-level personnel. As a liaison, of sorts, they need to know the unique language of each of these areas of discipline. Therefore, the CLO must have excellent people skills in order to reach consensus amongst differing groups.

Technical Knowledge
Unlike the CIO, the technical knowledge of a CLO is the ability to stay abreast of trends within the learning marketplace. In this rapidly changing environment, a CLO must monitor and evaluate new technologies. Also, a fundamental knowledge of networks, databases, security issues, e-commerce, and system integration are crucial. Finally, their knowledge must take into consideration how training applications will impact the organization, training departments, users, and customers.

Strategic Picture
Of no less importance is the ability of the CLO to see the “big picture.” They must understand how training and knowledge management relate to the bottom line. Responsibilities include:

  • Embedding learning in business processes
  • Encouraging inter-departmental knowledge sharing
  • Creating a culture of innovation
  • Providing inside and outside customer training
  • Creating informal learning events
  • And more…

Do You Need A CLO?
As Driscoll says, the position usually comes about through either a cutting-edge organization creating the CLO position or someone within a company building a case for this post.

Most organizations would benefit from a chief learning officer as either a way to increase profitability or as a means of reducing costs. The emergence of the knowledge economy points to the value of information and knowledge as sources of wealth creation. A CLO can improve the speed at which innovation occurs and increase productivity and profitability. Another line of reasoning that is easier to demonstrate is that a CLO can reduce the costs associated with training. The proliferation of training within most companies suggest that there is room for coast savings by streamlining initiatives, eliminating redundancy, and taking advantage of economies of scale.
(Web-based Training, page 285)

If you are in a company that promotes training (and I hope you are) then I would encourage to look into the need for a CLO. Look at the corporate strategy and culture, crunch the numbers and you may find having a CLO is very profitable.

Tell me if you feel this article has been helpful for you. You can comment in the area below.

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4 thoughts on “Understanding The Differences Between A CLO and CIO

  1. Hey Paul, great question. Sounds like this is a new endeavor and in that case I like to remember my ABC’s
    A= All buy in. If this is new, putting together a proposal and plopping it on a VP’s desk is not likely to get a reaction. “I’ll look into it” is a common response. What you need to do is remember the principles of change management. You need to get some people on your side. Develop a grassroots movement where others within your area and across the organization see the problems that an L&D program can solve. As you start to build momentum you can then propose working on an analysis of how much an L&D program would save the organization. That get’s people listening! I told a friend of a project we worked on for a company that saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars in downtime and customer service by implementing a learning solution. You don’t think that got his attention? I was in his office speaking to their leadership team the following week! Bottomline, once you begin to build momentum and get buy in, selling the proposal is a matter of doing the paperwork.

    B= Budget. Once you get buy in, you will need to demonstrate how much the costs will compare and save. The first question from the C-level is, “How much will this cost?” You need to show how much it will cost if you do not implement an L&D program. There are benchmarks out there for companies that have training and development vs. those that do not. Ramp up time for new employees, innovation of services and products, better customer relations all play into this. Show the ROI and do not try to pad the numbers in your favor. Be real, be honest.

    C= Consultant. Finally, you will need a good reputable consultant to help you with executing the plan and developing the courses and materials. Do your homework and ask around. Get competitive bids and talk to the companies that have used a consultant before. Ask them what they liked, disliked, and would do different?

    Hope this helps. Keep me posted.

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