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Deloitte’s digital arm, Deloitte Digital, has made its first acquisition in the South African digital space, with a 100% buyout of Cape Town-based user experience (UX) and design agency Flow Interactive.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Phil and Debré Barrett in 2007, Flow is a niche agency that specialises solely in UX. It has something of a reputation for being a “thinking” agency, staffed with some very smart people.
Both founders come with some fairly extensive international experience. Phil has worked on UX projects for the BBC, Standard Life, Vodafone and Lastminute.com, where he was an early shareholder. Debré spent six years at the BBC, producing travel, motoring and history websites and also worked as an online news journalist for ITV, Channel4 and IOL.
“We aim to make complex technical systems easy for ordinary people to use, which increases conversion and reduces customer support costs. But really successful user experiences can only be delivered by focused organisations and robust engineering. Being part of a world-class network like Deloitte Digital, which has a skills base that spans five continents, will put us in a position to help create products that transform businesses,” says Phil Barrett in a blog post announcing the acquisition.
According to Debré Barrett, the two companies only got into talks relatively recently.
“We weren’t looking to be acquired at all,” she said. “When we started thinking about it though, it just made sense. Deloitte fitted perfectly with what we’re doing.”
“User experience has become the fundamental discipline in placing the customer, supplier, employee and community at the heart of highly engaging digital and physical experiences, whilst delivering extraordinary business value. The acquisition of Flow Interactive enables us to further expand our world class experience design competency as we strive to provide the full spectrum of digital consulting, production and agency capability to clients,” said Tim Bishop, Digital Leader of Deloitte Digital in a blog post announcing the acquisition.
While the Flow brand will disappear when it becomes part of the Deloitte team, Debré Barrett is confident that the quality of work will remain high.
“Flow has always been about creating great customer experiences,” she said, “and Deloitte gets that it’s very good for business. We’re both very customer and business focused.”
All of the Flow staff will become Deloitte Digital employees once the acquisition goes through, along with the Barretts, who will be taking up roles as associate digital directors at the financial services company.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the deal signals the start of a mini buying rush from Deloitte Digital, which has been winding its way into the digital agency space under the leadership of Bishop.
Bishop has been active in the South African digital space since 2002, when he launched the local operations of Prezence, the digital agency he’d founded in the UK three years earlier. Primedia bought a majority stake in Prezence in 2005, with Bishop selling his final shares in the company in 2013 to leave for Deloitte Digital. Prezence later was dissolved by Primedia after it suffered revenues losses, and never recovered after the exit of its founder.
“We have a very clear growth path for Deloitte Digital (Africa), which is fundamentally premised on building and offering extreme competency accross the full digital spectrum through carefully selected acquisitions, partnerships and individual talent recruitment across a wide range of customer-centric digital and omni-channel disciplines,” says Bishop.
Reports from within Deloitte Digital suggest that it’s combining analytical business acumen and creative prowess as it looks to increase services it can offer its clients. The division’s focus is on the areas of digital strategy, mobile, social/web, content management and managed services. Small wonder then that WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell recently told The Drum that his company now considers Deloitte (its auditor) a “frenemy”.
This story was edited post-publication.