Corporate information technology is shifting from chief information officers to chief marketing officers. Should large law firm CIOs pay attention to this trend? 

Gartner reports that by 2017, the CMO will control more tech spending than the CIO. In response, IBM “is making a point of targeting” the CMO. So reports the Wall Street Journal in As Economy Cools, IBM Furthers Focus on Marketers (18 July 2012). Driving this trend is a shift from PCs for personal productivity to systems that can boost revenue “by tracking customers across channels and better targeting offers and advertising.”

Consumer mass marketing and social media drives the corporate IT shift to marketing. Large law firms are purely business-to-business (B2B) so operate in a different environment. Yet they too need to drive revenue growth. Doing so today is hard with legal demand flat and competition increasing. So law firm marketing tech spend may need to go up. I have not seen marketing IT spend trend data but the emergence of marketing technology positions at many large firms suggests it is already up.

Assuming BigLaw marketing IT spend continues to increase, what role should the CIO play? Ideally, CIOs should be deeply involved. At the moment, however, their hands are full. I reported recently that platform upgrades, software migrations, mobility, and security consume CIOs today (see my April 2012 post, What’s Keeping BigLaw CIOs Busy?, reporting on the Hildebrandt CIO Forum).

I see four factors that likely will keep BigLaw CIOs focused on infrastructure: First, law firms have a higher percent of IT-intensive knowledge workers than most of corporate America. Second, law firms support a large number of niche software applications. Third, firms have a larger number of small offices relative to most companies. And fourth, lawyers are demanding and firm owners show up to work every day – IT problems are more obvious than if marketing fails to achieve its full potential.

It will be interesting to see, as marketing IT spend increases, what the relative roles of the CIO and CMO will be.