LONDON: Professional services firms such as Deloitte, Accenture and Booz & Co are diversifying into digital, threatening a business area that up until now has been the preserve of marketing and advertising agencies.

These consultants have noted the roles of marketing and technology departments moving closer together, driven by factors like big data, social media and mobile. The calculation is that they can become a one-stop shop for their clients' needs in these fields.

The most recent example of this development was Deloitte's purchase of a social media marketing agency in Seattle and a web developer in Brisbane. Prior to that Booz had launched a digital unit while Accenture had acquired a design consultancy in London.

"You're seeing the role of chief marketing officer and chief information officer converging, and the emergence of a chief digital officer," Mike Brinker, US head of Deloitte Digital, told the Financial Times.

While the strategy may make sense for one part of a firm such as Deloitte, it also raises some potentially awkward questions in others, notably its traditional auditing function.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising and media group WPP, described Deloitte as a "frenemy" in the area of data and digital, but added it needed to be careful as the company also audited WPP's accounts "It does raise the question from our point of view of who we're dealing with," he added.

Beyond such immediate practical issues, observers on both sides of the fence have noted that there are often wide cultural differences between the archetypal strait-laced consultant and laid back creative.

"If you mix the DNA of a small creative company and the DNA of a big company, what you find is the creatives get frustrated and leave," said Alwin Magimay, head of digital and analytics at KPMG UK.

His comments were echoed by Peter Stein, global chief executive of interactive agency Razorfish. "Their legacy processes, methodologies and culture are diametrically opposed to this [creative] way of working," he said.

But Anatoly Roytman, managing director of Accenture's interactive unit in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, argued that digital was about customer experience. "It's not just about creative, but about technology and process," he stated, adding that Accenture would still work with agencies on complex design work, advertising and branding.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff