Two Big Six Accounting Firms Merge, Branch Into Database Consulting

The trend toward customer-focused marketing has spurred Big Six accounting firms like Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse to offer database and direct marketing campaign consulting services that are both competitive and complementary to the capabilities of niche database consultants.

Both consultants had DM divisions for two years before merging last week to become PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York, thus lowering the Big Six to the Big Five. PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting (PWCC) will continue to offer these services. Andersen Consulting, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte & Touche also offer database services.

“Sometimes when people think about the Big Six, they think on the technology side about mass package implementation,” said David Harberson, manager of PWCC's Database Marketing National Center for Excellence, Walnut Creek, CA. “We also have these very functional areas of expertise.”

Those areas include a data-warehousing practice and an Internet practice that have been created to meet the new challenges clients face.

Harberson said most companies today have data warehouses but don't use them. That's where consultants come in. PWCC assists companies with varying levels of knowledge about data: some need guidance on how to mine a data warehouse while others are seeking a general goal, such as better return on investment, but are unsure where to start. Certain industries, like financial services, are a little farther along in the learning curve in the implementation and integration of data.

PWCC does not sell clients a prepackaged solution, it customizes one based on each clients' needs. The process starts with a strategic diagnostic study of a company's current situation and its goals. The consultant then develops a road map to get there and can recommend specific products or services, such as building models or integrating disparate databases.

David Wilson, senior vice president of database consultant KnowledgeBase Marketing, Chapel Hill, NC, said PWCC is offering database marketing as just another service to sell existing clients and wonders about its level of expertise.

“Certainly their heritage, methodologies, huge staff, capital and resources give them the wherewithal to penetrate a market that they find interesting,'' said Wilson, who came to KMB from Andersen. “They are relative neophytes to the industry. [The Big Six] tend to want to do big projects. They don't have the depth of knowledge and experience. The other thing they won't have is the full implementation arm.''

PWCC doesn't profess to have expertise in every level of a campaign. Instead, it relies on strategic alliances — like the one it just formed with agency Data Marketing Inc., Santa Clara, CA, to develop custom data sets — as a method of filling in the gaps. For the physical functions of data processing, data management and hygiene, the Big Six will subcontract out to KMB, Harte-Hanks, Billerica, MA, or other specialized database companies.

“Alliances are very important,” Harberson said. “Once you get beyond the strategic consulting piece and you start talking about implementation, we need to have the existing relationships with those companies that provide cutting-edge solutions that we can pass on to our client.”

Current partners are companies that develop data mining, modeling and campaign management software. Database marketing companies are also potential partners. KMB has been approached in the past by Andersen and currently counts one of the Big Six firms as a client.

While each of the Big Six has the potential to become experts and offer an end-to-end database marketing solution, their strength remains program development and consulting.

“The consulting companies are very good at saying this is what you should do,'' said Rex Atwood, Harte-Hanks' senior vice president of financial services strategic marketing. “When they get to the point of implementation and programming, that's normally where they are not as successful. That's where we have made our living.''

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