1 Marshall Electronic Commerce Program Rev. 1/15/98 In Cooperation with: The Evolution of Ernie The Online Business Consultant Initial research and first draft for this case was prepared by Eric Litwin, Wendy Miller, and Kimberly White, (Marshall MBAs, class of 97) under the direction of Professor Bernar nard Jaworski. Further writing, final editing, exhibits, and layout prepared by Randal Whittle, Associate Director of the Marshall School of Business Electronic Commerce Program. This case is expected to be used as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative or strategic situation. On the morning of June 10, 1997, the Ernie business team was scheduled to begin its quarterly business meeting. Ernie, Ernst & Young s online management consulting practice, surpassed revenues of one million dollars in the Fall of 1996 and had rapidly added users to its current base of 150 subscribing companies. Ernie offered on-line, webbased consulting by a virtual team of Ernst & Young knowledge providers who responded to client inquires within 2 business days. Target subscribers, entrepreneurial ventures between $20 and $250 million in annual sales, could ask an unlimited number of questions of Ernie, for a yearly subscription fee of $6,000 (a new pricing plan, introduced in July of 1997, will be discussed later in the case). If a subscriber question required more than two hours of the consultant s time, then a separate contractual agreement could be arranged. The Professional Services Industry The professional services industry encompasses tax, audit and management consulting services. In many cases, a particular company Copyright 1997 by Marshall School of Business Electronic Commerce Program. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the permission of the Marshall School of Business Electronic Commerce Program. Call (213) to obtain permission.
2 The Evolution of Ernie focuses their effort in one of these three service areas. The Big Six 1 firms, however, have successfully developed their respective businesses by providing expertise to their clients in all three areas of the professional services industry. The emergence of the Big Six is evidence of the increasingly competitive professional services industry. Prior to the 1980 s there were eight large certified public accounting firms, however, as a result of mergers and acquisitions, six survived (and prospered) in the 1990 s. Several industry experts believe that the most viable way to grow the market is to merge with competitors. Recent industry speculation suggests that the industry has room for only three to four dominant players. With this perspective, the Big Six are at a critical juncture in the evolution of their industry. Who will emerge as the Big three remains to be answered and each is attempting to position themselves to be a one of these dominant leaders. Ernst & Young Corporate Evolution 1 Big Six Accounting Firms refers to the 6 major firms in the industry consisting of Arthur Andersen, Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG Peat Marwick, and Price Waterhouse. All other firms in the industry pale in size compared to these six. The merger of Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young in October of 1989, a purposeful, strategic move by the two firms. Both recognized that they could not be a dominant player on their own, yet, together they could dominant certain sectors of the industry. The past five years has been marked with the growing pains that surround the merging of not just two companies, but two cultures and two management styles. The leadership in place at the time of the merger was replaced with the leadership team headed by CEO Phil Laskawy. Laskawy s leadership has been spiritual in nature, motivating the firm to retain those who want to win the game and eliminating those who do not. The result has been the creation of a collective conscious within Ernst & Young. This synergy translates into a competitive advantage as Ernst & Young develops an approach to business that relies on true product service innovations and challenges the partners to create these opportunities and provide more visibility in the marketplace. To this end, Ernst & Young has launched new services offerings such as Tax Cast (a comprehensive on-line source of tax information for tax professionals) and Ernie. These innovative and alternative services enable Ernst & Young to not only expand the size of the professional services market but to drive its future evolution. To truly emerge as one of the top three leaders in the professional service industry most observers believe that cohesiveness needs to exist between the three major aspects of Ernst & Young s business: Tax, Audit and Management Consulting. While this multi-business synergy seems logical and simple, its implementation is complex due to each business unit s own culture, strategy and micro-industry forces. Thus, synchronizing these three distinct areas means addressing the internal hurdles while simultaneously positioning the firm as a whole in the marketplace. Ernst & Young Consulting and Ernie Ernst & Young s Consulting practice has focused on developing and expanding their relationship with 50 key, Fortune 100, clients. There is plenty of opportunity within this customer-base and Ernst & Young s full-service capabilities to enable them to continually meet the needs of this type of client. The consulting business has seen dramatic growth, 10-12% per year, over the past five years. The growth rate for Tax and Audit services has been significantly slower at approximately 3% per year. Historically, tax and audit often provide the most accessible point of entry to new clients for Ernst & Young, particularly within the emerging company segment, with the consulting service often provided after the initial relationship has been solidified. This approach to business development also underlies the concept of Ernie. This innovation is the by-product of the culture change that has occurred within Ernst & Young under the leadership of their CEO, Phil 2
3 The Evolution of Ernie Laskawy. Ernie is one result of Ernst & Young s concerted effort to become a company driven by service innovations that will ultimately expand the boundaries of the Professional Services Industry. As noted in a recently completed Ernst & Young white paper on Ernie: Ernie represents the first major step in a stated commitment by Ernst and Young to offer consulting services and other value-add services in an entirely new delivery system which ultimately saves our clients money and allows Ernst & Young to form a closer working relationship with existing and new clients The Impetus for Ernie Ernie: Prelaunch E&Y has been successful within the entrepreneurial market with a current client base of more than 10,000. The majority of their relationships with these entrepreneurial clients have been with tax and audit clients. Due to its pricing structure and business processes, the provision of traditional business consulting services has not been compatible with the needs and cost structures of entrepreneurial companies. Specifically, most consulting engagements are longer term and much more costly than a growing entrepreneurial company needs and can afford. Baum notes that entrepreneurial companies often just need a little help with an issue. In the past if a tax partner had a client with a management consulting related question, the tax partner would call the consulting partner and ask for assistance. If available, the consulting partner would then meet with the client, and spend the day answering his or her question and solving his or her problem. This would result in a satisfied client, but the partner would have spent the day pursuing a situation where there was very limited opportunity to engage in further business. Roger Nelson, E&Y s Deputy Chair, felt strongly that E&Y needed to bridge the disconnect between current consulting services available and the needs of this growing segment. Nelson, Ernie s visionary and biggest proponent, was confident that Ernie would enable E&Y to cost efficiently provide this growing segment solutions with fast implementation at low rates. During this period (and subsequently), E&Y was performing very well - growing faster than the rest of the Big 6. However, the perception inside Ernst & Young was that Nelson played a major role in the final decision to launch Ernie. As Brian Baum noted If they had tried to crunch the numbers to rationalize the launch of Ernie, they would be crunching forever and Ernie would never have been launched. In order to best serve these entrepreneurial clients, two options were considered viable enough to be evaluated. The first option was to develop a call center where companies could call in and ask a consultant a question over the phone. The call center was considered quite cost effective compared to face-to-face consulting. The problem with this approach was that the client would be limited to the people working the phone lines particularly their areas of expertise and specialization, which may not match up well with a given question at a given moment. It was impossible to predict what kind of questions might be asked at a given moment, and therefore impossible to be fully prepared with the necessary resources at the call center for any kind of question. The origin of the internet based model was a small, independent on-line consulting group in Germany. Here, two German professors developed an internet based question and answer model catering to small businesses in a University environment. The model these professors followed was to charge a fee to answer specific questions, then later resold those same answers (after they were generalized) to other parties. After exploring these options, it was decided that an on-line option would be superior, enabling E&Y to take advantage of its worldwide network of professional resources. In September of 1995, after just thirty days of development, a pilot online version of Ernie was launched. 3
4 The Evolution of Ernie Ernie s Personality Ernie was conceived as an Ernst and Young senior level employee with expertise in tax, accounting, and business consulting. He is a specialist who enjoys providing value to entrepreneurial businesses by helping them solve their business problems. Due to his vast knowledge base and access to resources, he can answer questions that range from those very routine to complex, multi-function problems. Ernie does not have to be on-site in order to assist a business, nor does he bill clients hourly consulting fees. Target Customers Initially E&Y targeted 280 existing tax and audit clients that met the profile for the ideal Ernie customer/user during the pilot. Eighty-eight companies signed on and were given the opportunity to test Ernie in its pilot version for six months. Through careful examination, using follow up telephone surveys, focus groups, etc., E&Y was satisfied that the pilot validated the concept. In a closer study of the potential market and its size, E&Y determined that there are 66,000 companies within the Ernie target revenue range of $20 million - $250 million. While this is the inititial target for Ernie, the concept of service delivery via the Internet is expected to have applications in all business market segments. Launch Communications In order to ensure the success of Ernie, the development team realized the strategic implications of the Ernie launch. They announced the launch every way they could. Internally they used , voice mail, and written memos. Externally they used post cards, a direct marketing campaign, and a teaser campaign for the press. Due to the team s hard work and persistence, the press coverage was remarkable with extensive and frequent coverage in business periodicals including: PCWeek, PCWorld, Business Week, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. (see Exhibit 1: Launch Communications). Internal Issues In addition to the external market challenges facing E&Y, there were significant internal issues that had to be addressed. The Ernie team had to determine how to make the connection from the user to the partner. Brian Baum explained, For partners, they maintained total account control. My clients have always called me with every issue about their business, from financial to HR issues. I do whatever I can to find the answer, even if it s outside my area of expertise. With this in mind, the operating challenges could be summed up in such questions as, How do we get our partners, managers, and consultants to recognize the potential of Ernie? How do we get them to realize they can strengthen their relationships with clients and help build the business? How do we explain that Ernie can help them extend out to many more areas of their clients businesses and to many more areas of our firm? How do we explain that Ernie supports their existing personal relationship and by no means replaces it? With 2,000 partners alone within the U.S., the challenge to educate and convince them that Ernie would not be a threat to their relationship with their clients was quite obvious. Ernie: Post Launch Customers, Revenues, and Operations As of March 1997, 150 companies are paying the $6,000 a year membership fee. From these companies, there was a total of 725 users. Thus, on average there were approximately 5 users per company. And of these 150 companies, 65% (about 100) were Ernst & Young clients from the tax or audit departments. The remaining companies were new clients to the organization and most of these subscriptions had come through the di- 4
5 The Evolution of Ernie rect sales efforts of the team, not from companies surfing the Web and coming across E&Y s home page. The organization behind the Ernie team can be found in Exhibit 2. The selling of Ernie has evolved over time. Originally, in July of 1996, there were 13 sales agents who were on a salary. They primarily sold Ernie through demos at scheduled meetings with multiple clients, and telemarketing efforts. This continued through October of 1996, although there was a shift away from multi-client presentations towards one-on-one demonstrations at client sites. This effort brought in about 250 companies, although more than 100 of them took advantage of the 60 day No Risk sign up guarantee and dropped the service. It is important to note however, that of those who dropped the service, about 90% of them never used it at all in short, they never gave it a chance. In contrast, the vast majority of those who stayed on as Ernie subscribers also used the service frequently. The pattern suggested a clear premise: Those who use Ernie, like it and find it valuable enough to keep using it. As with any new business technology, certain comfort levels must be reached by the users before they come to realize just how useful and important the technology is to them, often to the point of considering it indispensible. Few business people would choose to do away with their photocopier, PC, or voic (and now ), despite the fact that all such technologies were initially met with a degree of resistance. Starting in November of that year, a new sales force was established. It consisted of 6 territory sales managers who were on 50% salary and 50% commission. Each was responsible for a group of independent agents in their respective region. The 80 total agents were on 100% commission-based compensation. Sales people were recruited primarily by advertising to work as independent agents. New recruits were expected to be technically proficient with internet skills. They were to have their own personal ISP (Internet Service Provider) accounts already in-place and be able to present themselves well to senior executives who are both internet novices and experts alike. Planned for the middle of 1997 were further sales efforts involving the use of Internet marketing strategies, such as banner ads at heavily trafficked sites and direct marketing efforts. The sales force is hoping to be able to sign up more users through their on-line site while continuing the face to face selling through the independent agents. The process for signing up customers on Ernie has significantly improved since its inception. Originally, it took over four hours to sign up a new client, now it only takes 15 minutes to bring a new customer on board. Ernst & Young also operates a dedicated help desk that is available from 8:30am to 8:00pm. This help desk is for both E&Y Knowledge Providers (KP s), customers, and the Ernie sales team. It is designed to answer technology-related questions such as connectivity problems as well as provide clarification and navigational help on the various features of Ernie. Ernie Usage Use of Ernie by the subscribers has been steady. As of February 1997, 1400 questions had been asked, and of those, only a handful had required additional research beyond the two hour limit. There are about 170 knowledge providers who can handle these questions and, as an incentive for the consultant, the time spent on Ernie questions is considered chargeable. The system is designed to handle many more questions than the current load. From a technical standpoint, the data capacity is far greater than what is currently being utilized. The key issue for expansion of Ernie is the consulting staff at Ernst & Young. When necessary, more knowledge providers can be selected and trained to handle increasing demand for the service. 5
6 The Evolution of Ernie Ernie Evolves June 1, 1997 Up until June of 1997, Ernie had been primarily a simple answering device for client questions. Beginning in June, Ernie moved into the next strategic stage. What emerged in this stage were three specific components: 1. A redesign of the Q&A process to a Dialogue with Ernie, defined as on-line consulting. 2. Ernie TrendWatch a real-time market research tool capturing key trends and issues of the Ernie community and 3. Ernie Supertools the first step in self-service consulting. This was an important step in the evolution of Ernie and more significantly, self-service consulting leveraged the existing E&Y methodologies into on-line modules that can be user-implemented and applied to many customers. The first installment, in Supertools, was the Ernie Software Selection Advisor Service. This particular stage of the consulting cycle amounted to a selection process an assessment of needs that the business had and what available products and vendors could best meet those needs. Normally, this stage of a consulting engagement from onsite E&Y consulting professionals constituted a significant portion of the actual costs associated with the total engagement. Smaller companies often found themselves with their budgets used up just in this selection process, leaving little or no money for actual implementation and followup. Ernie has the potential to change that to significantly reduce the costs of the selection process such that a budget remains for actual implementation. Furthermore, E&Y can now secure a kind of referral fee for implementation business by non-e&y consultants that they would never have seen otherwise, thanks to Ernie s ability to make inroads into areas and businesses that would not have otherwise seen an E&Y presence. Revenues and Costs For competitive reasons, Baum and the Ernie team have chosen not to share any hard numerical data about the project. However, the economics of this new form of on-line consulting can be qualitatively discussed. It is important to realize that while traditional consulting methods are done on a one-to-one high-touch basis, Ernie is done on a one-tomany model, a high-tech / low-touch alternative. One-to-one consulting requires intensive human resources arguably a consulting firm s most expensive resource: Associate Consultants charge about $125 per hour while a Partner charges about $450 per hour. Meanwhile, as of June 1, 1997 Ernie holds a database of about 1100 distinct questions and answers. Initially, human resources at E&Y contributed a great deal to building Ernie s database. As Ernie matures and its database becomes richer with information, the Ernie team expects two things to happen: (1) A reduction in the current 2-business day cycle time for answer-turnaround and (2) Ernie itself will become increasingly independent. Human interaction will always be required, but it is anticipated that Ernie will ultimately become a full-fledged resource in and of itself a consultant in its own right, less dependent on human consultants to provide answers while at the same time making use of its rich and varied knowledge base. Combined with the model of Ernie being able to service many clients somewhat simultaneously (instead of one-to-one) and the method of delivery eliminating typical costs that human consultants require (travel, lodging, etc.), and the potential economic advantages of Ernie become quite apparent. 6
7 The Evolution of Ernie Key Issues Summer 1997 Although the Ernie project was successfully launched and is currently enjoying widespread publicity, there are a number of concerns that confront the Ernie team. Market Acceptance Ernie still struggles with market acceptance. The very concept is unfamiliar and new to most potential clients, and they lack a full understanding of what Ernie can do for them. Part of the challenge is in formulating a viable communication to the Ernie target audience to explain these issues. Advertising is not considered cost effective, so E&Y has chosen to get their message out through high-profile interviews, feature columns, and favorable press about their innovative approach. Competition Ernie still competes with a wide variety of firms that provide professional services. These include the traditional consulting powerhouses, such as Bain, McKinsey, and Booz, the Big 6 firms, and the numerous small boutique consulting firms. Eight months after the full-scale launch of Ernie, there was still no on-line presence from these major consulting firms. According to a major technology research firm, Ernie is out in front in terms of offering high-end services. (PC Week, January 6, 1997). A spokesperson for Booz-Allen & Hamilton stated that we do not have any plans to sell consulting services over the Internet; we serve a more targeted client set. (Washington Technology, December 5, 1996). These other firms claim that Ernie cannot deliver the personal contact and follow-up that is the cornerstone of their service. All the major consulting companies have comprehensive web sites, but there is no indication that they will be adding a subscription based consulting service to their on-line presence. New Pricing In July of 1997, the decision was made to change the pricing plan behind Ernie. A two-tiered plan was settled upon, distinguishing between E&Y clients and non-clients. (See Figure 1 below) The new pricing plan, although lacking the simplicity as the previous subscription plan at $6,000 per year for an unlimited number of questions, was introduced with three goals in mind: (1) To reduce financial barriers to entry, (2) To provide flexible options to align with the needs of the subscriber, and (3) To establish a framework for the ongoing introduction of additional self service consulting tools. Figure 1: New Ernie Pricing (beginning July 1997) Feature E&Y Client Non-Client Basic Membership (Includes 10 Questions and access to all PAQs, TrendWatch, etc.) Additional Queries - (quantities of 20) Ernie Software Selection Advisor - $2,000 $2,750 $3,000 $4,000 $2,500 $2,500 7
8 The Evolution of Ernie The Ernie team believed that repeat subscriptions in particular would go up with the lower barrier to entry. Many subscribers asked only a few questions, making the $6,000 price tag difficult to justify for some firms. In other instances, the number of questions asked were very high sometimes to the point of abusing the service. The new pricing plan allowed better access to the budget conscious while also allowing E&Y to charge a fee appropriate to the usage Ernie recieved. Quality Control and Customer Satisfaction The quality of answers provided by Ernst & Young are of critical importance. The responses provided can have a significant impact on the business, and care must be taken to insure that answers are correct. The Focal Knowledge Providers (FKP s) are responsible for checking the quality of answers that are given. However, there is no formal method of quality control, and the professionalism and experience of the Knowledge Provider s are the key to the quality of Ernie. However, disclaimers are included in each response to provide some protection for Ernst & Young. There is a formal process in place, the Ernie Subscriber Community, for feedback to monitor client satisfaction. Additionally, at a per-question level, the customer is invited to share with E&Y how well the answer to the question addressed the issue and met their needs (though customers use this feedback mechanism less than 1% of the time). E&Y has to insure that customers are using the system properly and understand how to take advantage of its features. After the client signs up, there is a period of formal communication between E&Y and the subscriber. These occur 1, 7, and 30 days after the subscription begins, and then afterwards based on the customer s usage levels of Ernie. If the Ernie team sees that a subscriber has not been making use for Ernie, they call to see if there is anything they can do to assist them with this new concept. The idea is that if they can help the customer make more and better use of Ernie, then they will be more likely to continue their subscription later on. This is designed to help the client formulate questions and encourage broad thinking about the type of questions to ask. From the informal feedback Ernst & Young has received, there has been a positive response. A tax manager from a real estate investment company in Florida claims that the service paid for itself in the first month, and now I m running on free time. Additionally, the Ernie team monitors usage of the system on a client by client basis, and will call on clients that are not using Ernie very much. These clients may be confused about how to use Ernie, not sure of what type of questions to ask, or possibly at a slow time in a seasonal industry. Anticipating problems and proactively attempting to solve them can help build a stronger sense of connection between E&Y and its clients. Architecture and Systems Ernie is supported by four distinct servers that provide Web (HTTP), FTP, database, replication and redundancy services (see Exhibit 4: Technical Aspects of Ernie). Windows NT 3.51 provides the base operating system. The other components for running Ernie lie above this OS (such as O Reilly & Associates WebSite Server, Microsoft SQL Server 6.x, etc.). (see Exhibits 4 and 5). This solution addresses the three primary objectives established for Ernie. First, Ernie must provide measurable value delivery in a manner which is as fast as possible with the current bandwidth limitations of the public Internet. Second, Ernie must be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Lastly, Ernie must be manageable with a minimal number of full time staff. Database Development. Whenever a question is asked, a consultant will check the database of previously asked questions to determine if there is already an answer that can be modified. Building a repository of questions and answers provides E&Y with a powerful knowledge base. Since many businesses experience the same issues, Ernie KP s 8
9 The Evolution of Ernie can save significant time and money by extracting information from the growing database and updating and repackaging it where appropriate. This database, the Ernie Previously Asked Questions (PAQ), is also available to the clients through an on-line interface. The questions and answers are cleansed, removing references to the companies that had asked the question. This would enable a client to get instant feedback to issues that do not necessarily need customization for their particular company. This saves time and money for both Ernst & Young and the client. Additionally, using this on-line database might help companies think about other issues that they might not have normally given consideration. Unforeseen Problems and Benefits There have been some minor problems since the inception of Ernst & Young. Aside from the technical kinks that need to be worked out in any new on-line venture, the introduction of Ernie has been remarkably smooth. However, one of the problems that has occurred involves enrollment of certain clients. Since a majority of the clients are already E&Y tax or audit clients, there must be a way to notify the tax and audit partners when there client subscribes. Generally, this is not a problem, but sometimes, the national office is not aware that a company is already a client, because these records are in the local office. When Brian Baum and his team introduced Ernie, they could not foresee all of the positive effects that would come out of this system. One of the major benefits of Ernie has been the ability to use trend analysis to supply better service to customers. As more and more data has been gathered, analysts and consultants at Ernst & Young have been able to see certain trends develop, identified through Ernie TrendWatch, as a company goes through various stages. By understanding what issues their clients have gone through, they can apply this knowledge and pro-actively provide consultation to new clients on similar issues. For example, data analysis might show that as a company grows to a certain size, human resource issues such as training and development may arise. By looking at other clients and what stage of growth they are in, E&Y can contact the company first before the issue arises and provide consultation. Conclusion Now seated in the conference room, Baum had to consider each of these six issues: (1) Would competition enter into this arena? If so, when and who? (2) How could quality control and customer satisfaction be tracked? (3) Was the business process infrastructure (which included software, hardware, knowledge providers, and other components) properly configured for growth?, (4) Where is the value added of Ernie and how will it eventually make money?, (5) What are the strategic implications for the traditional professional services business within E&Y will it cannibalize or grow the business?, and (6) How to accelerate the rate of market adoption and subscriptions to Ernie? Marshall Electronic Commerce Program 9
10 The Evolution of Ernie List of Exhibits: Exhibit 1: Marketing Communications at Launch PC Week, Getting Good Advice Cheap Washington Technology, Ernst & Young Web Service Takes Off The Asian Wall Street Journal, Ernst & Young Offers Consulting On-Line for a Fee The Wall Street Journal, Ernst & Young s Consulting Services To Be Sold on Internet for Annual Fee Exhibit 2: Organization Charts for Ernie Team (3 pages) (Organizational structure as it stood at Ernie s launch date. E&Y has since modified the organization into a virtual one that is difficult to chart) Exhibit 3: Process Flow of Incoming Questions Exhibit 4: Technical Aspects of Ernie (An adaptation of an E&Y White Paper on Ernie) Exhibit 5: Ernie Screen Captures Screen shots of Ernie from both the Customer and the Knowledge Provider viewpoint 10
11 REPRINTED FROM JANUARY 6, 1997 Getting Good Advice Cheap CASE STUDY: New E&Y online consulting service widens access for smaller companies 0 BY JOE MULLICH F ast-growing entrepreneurial companies often grapple with a host of issues that outstrip their in-house expertise. But these cash-strapped companies understandably balk at turning to $200-an-hour consultants whenever a question springs to mind. What s the solution? Big Six accountancy Ernst & Young L.L.P. has one. It has developed an innovative online service that, for one yearly fee, gives smaller companies access to internal databases and allows them to an unlimited number of questions to E&Y s consultants around the country. The intranet/lnternet system is called Ernie. a nickname deliberately chosen to suggest an easy. informal approach that you wouldn t normally associate with one of the world s Iargest consultancies. Companies in the $25 million-to-$200 million revenue range don t always look to a Big Six accounting firm for support. said Brian Baum. director of Internet service delivery for E&Y. in Cleveland. We needed to hreak down the stereotypes and make us seem more readily accessible. The idea has drawn plaudits from analysts as a breakthrough in electronic commerce. Offering services through the Internet has become a fast-growing trend. and E&Y s Ernie is out in front in terms of offering high-end services, said Christine Ferrusi Ross. an analyst at Dataquest Inc.. in Westboro. Mass. With Ernie. users a question and background information to be addressed by an E&Y consultant in such areas as taxes. process improvement, human resources. E&Y s Baum: We needed to break down the stereotypes and make us seem readily accessible.
13 Vol. 11 No.17 December Ernst & Young Web Service Takes Off The interactive business program has attracted 250 organizations, nearly 90 of which are new customers By John Makulowith Contributing Writer Catching its competitors asleep at their servers. Ernst & Young LLP. New York, is picking up a nice piece of change with its World Wide Web-based Internet service named Ernie: Your online business consultant (http://ernie.ey.com). At $6.000 for an annual subscription. Ernie has racked up impressive numbers in its first six months: more than 1,000 queries, over $ 1 million in revenues and more billings for the firm. Launched last May. the interactive business program has attracted 250 organizations. nearly 90 of which are new customers. It covers areas such as accounting. corporate finance, human resources, information technology. personal finance, process improvement and taxes. With its overnight success, Ernst & Young added a customized business research and analysis function to Ernie in October. It lets subscribers commission an in-depth analysis of information, custom-tailored and interpreted with the specific needs of the client s unique business situation in mind. The price of this service depends on the scope of the project. Future plans for Ernie include strategic alliances with content providers. The company also is planning to go international with its model; Ernie is currently limited to the US. market. Judged by their Web sites, none of Ernst & Young s five competitors among the Big Six accounting firms (Arthur Andersen. Coopers & Lybrand LLP. Deloitte & Touche LLP, KPMG Peat Marwick and Price Waterhouse LLP) nor top-tier management consulting firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton or McKinsey & Co. offer anything like Ernie. Officials at the companies who responded to telephone queries about competing services said they did not offer similar services. While none of those interviewed visited the Ernie Web site, all said it was unlikely that their firms would offer such a service. Marie Lerch, director of public relations for Booz-Allen & Hamilton, McLean, Va.. said, We have a Web site and are expanding into a constellation of sites with more content. We do not have any plans to sell consulting services over the Internet; we serve a more targeted client set. More direct was Bill Matassoni, the partner responsible for communications at McKinsey and Co., New York. When asked whether the firm had any plans for offering a service like Ernie, he replied, I doubt that we would do anything like that. Our reputation rests on personal contact and follow-up with clients. New York-based KPMG Peat Marwick Webmaster Dave Goessling said, This is not something the firm is planning in the near future. According to Brian J. Baum, director of Internet Service Delivery for Ernst & Young s Entrepreneurial Consulting Practice, New York, Ernie targets entrepreneurial firms, defined as fast-growth companies with $200 million or less in annual revenues. Ernie responds to a market need for a onestop shop for business questions and helps expand the capability of our staff. While we designed it for more established high-growth companies in consumer products, we are starting to see international interest, says Baum. Ernst and Young tracks subscriber usage and finds the majority of questions come from the human resources department and sale\. From the outset, the primary target was the 9,000 clients with whom Ernst & Young enjoyed a tax or audit relationship. In the first six months, 65 percent of subscribers are existing clients and 35 percent are new, according to company data. The online service gives subscribers access to a password-restricted Web site. The subscribing companies can sign up any number of users. Once in, users fill in form5 by choosing a category, asking a specific question and providing background information. Typical questions include: What s the best way to gear up for an initial public offering? How do I find out about reciprocal import duty regulations? Where can I explore trends in office design for software developers? Visitors to the Web site find a Q of the day and the Ernst & Young answer. A recent query was What are considered best practices for reducing the administrative effort for purchasing small dollar items? The opening paragraph of the 422-word answer read: Several thoughts come to mind regarding the reduction of administrative effort for purchasing small dollar items. A number of companies have significantly automated the process by using systems that will automatically generate an order within simple minimum/maximum ordering rules. The systern is linked to an [electronic data interchange] tool, which transmits the order automatically to the vendor. The vendor acknowledges electronically, in the most sophisticated environment, and invoice and payment are electronic. After users type in the information and press the submit button. the high-tech, highconhnued on back Copyright 1996 TechNews, Inc. A// Rights Resewed
14 TECHNOLOGY rontinued from front touch combination begins. Through a program written in Jaw. the questions are sent to Ernie. sorted manually by broad subject category and routed by through Ernst & Young s intranct by a focal point knowledge provider. or fkp. to the professional most knowledgeable about the industry. topic or issue. Replies are sent back through the company s intranet and placed in the user s account within two business days. where the subscriber logs in and picks it up, In another part of the service. subscribers can scroll through a database of answers to frequently asked questions or FAQs. Ernie also offers a news clipping service in cooperation with Farcast, a news retrieval service that subscribers themselves can customdesign. Users specify the information they want to gather by selecting key words to search among press clippings and articles produced by a variety of new sources. such as AP and BusinessWire. Once the items are collected. Ernie transmits them by to the user s Internet address. Baum believesernie is an excellent example of a learning organization practicing knowledge management by leveraging its knowledge assets - more than 21,000 people in 89 offices in the United States. One of the most difficult challenges was defining what a question was. that is. what constituted a question. says Baum. Our intent was to offer a first level service. We are now in the process of stabilizing the model and getting a better grasp of how to manage and introduce this type of service for clients and other interested parties. The Ernie platform integrates the Internet. a corporate intranet and Lotus Notes. The Internet is the interface between the subscriber and Ernst & Young. Client questions are routed via the company s intranet to its network of knowledge workers. That person then uses his or her experience and resources. as well as a proprietary Ernst & Young. Lotus Notesbased knowledge web. to gather and package their reply. When completed. the answer is sent by the knowledge worker back to the client through the Internet. According to Ernst & Young Web materials. online sales of goods and services are expected to top $60 billion in Industry observers project that figure will grow to $ 1.65 trillion over the next decade. And a recent survey of CEOs conducted by Forbes magazine predicted that businesses will derive 40 percent of their revenues from the Internet within 10 years. Further, over the next three years. many companies and individuals who exchange information electronically in electronic commerce or electronic data interchange are expected to increase at a conpound annual rate of 46 percent. Nearly 90 firms beta tested Ernie during four-month lice pilot test in the fall of Users asked questions on subjects ranging from new product launches and pending business legislation to human resources issues and methods of cost accounting.
15 THE ASIAN WALL STREET JOURNAL. WEDNESDAY, MAY Ernst & Young Offers Consulting On-Line for a Fee NEW YORK - Ernst & Young is selling its consulting services over the Internet. offering small busmesses a chance to query the firm s experts electronically in exchange for a flat-fee annual subscription Ṫhe move, announced Tuesday, marks the first major effort by a U.S. Big Six accounting firm to embrace the Internet to distribute its services. But it raises concerns about whether such programs could lower the value of more expensive traditional services. Ernst & Young s new service. dubbed Ernie, consists of a site on the World Wide Web, the multimedia, easy-to-navigate portion of the Internet. For a yearly fee of $ companies can obtain a password to visit the site. where they can search a database of information and monitor relevant news clippings. The heart of the site is a question-andanswer section. Subscribers can type out queries. which are then routed to appropriate advisers from the firm s tax, accounting and management consulting divisions. Ernst &Young guarantees it will respond within two business days. There is no limit on the number of questions a subscriber can ask. The subscription price contrasts with the traditional model for such consulting services. under which clients pay tens of thousands of dollars or more to hire a team of consultants for a specific project. Ernst &Young said it isn t worried that Ernie might cannibalize its other offerings. To qualify for a subscription. a company must have annual revenue between $25 million and $200 million, smaller than the revenue of companies that typically pay for high-priced consulting. Besides, it s only a matter of time before all major consulting providers take to the Internet, said Brian J. Baum. Ernst & Young s director of Internet service deliv- We would rather be leading the %&ge than not. he said.
16 Reprinted from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. TUESDAY, MAY 21, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TECHNOLOGY Ernst & Young s Consulting Services To Be Sold on Internet for Annual Fee By THOMAS E. WEBER Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAI. NEW YORK - Ernst & Young is expected to begin selling its consulting services over the Internet, offering small businesses a chance to query the firm s experts electronically in exchange for a flat-fee annual subscription. The move, expected to be announced today, marks the first major effort by a Big Six accounting firm to embrace the Internet to distribute its services. But, it raises concerns about whether such programs could lower the value of more expensive traditional services. Ernst & Young s new service, dubbed Ernie, consists of a site on the World Wide Web, the multimedia, easy-to-navigate portion of the Internet. For a yearly fee of $6,000, companies can obtain a password to visit the site, where they can search a database of information and monitor relevant news clippings. The heart of the site is a question-andanswer section. Subscribers can type out queries, which are then routed to appropriate advisers from the firm s tax, accounting and managementconsulting divisions. Ernst & Young guarantees it will respond within two business days. There is no limit on the number of questions a subscriber can ask. The subscription price contrasts with the traditional model for such consulting services, under which clients pay tens of thousands of dollars or more to hire a team of consultants for a specific project. Ernst & Young said it isn t worried that Ernie might cannibalize its other offerings. To qualify for a subscription, a company must have annual revenue between $25 million and $200 million, smaller than the revenue of companies that typically pay for high-priced consulting. Besides, it s only a matter of time before all major consulting providers take to the Internet, said Brian J. Baum, Ernst & Young s director of Internet service delivery. We would rather be leading the charge than not, he said. Susan Tan, an analyst at International Data Corp., said she expects the on-line delivery model to take hold among other so-called knowledge-based service providers, such as law firms. It s unclear whether enough potential customers have yet moved onto the Internet, she added. Ernst & Young said it will partner with Netcom On-Line Communication Services Inc., San Jose, Calif., to offer Internet hookups in connection with Ernie subscriptioils. JournalReprints (609) P.O. Box 300 Princeton, N.J DO NOT MARK REPRINTS REPRODUCTIONS NOT PERMITTED
17 Ernie Client Service Operations Ernie Administration Paula Lipka Electronic Service Development Liz Dunn Responsible for lead coordination of new features and service development, i.e., Ernie Business Analysis, MAID integration, and other features that result from focus group input or other market feedback. Responsibilities include: opportunity identification, business assessment, product and relationship development as necessary, as well as market introduction strategy. Electronic Service Development Support Henri LaFrance Supports the development of new services and features delivered via electronic media. Also supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled basis. Ernie - On-line Editor Heidi Kongieser Responsible for overall management of the Ernie site(s), subscription, public and additional extension sites. Coordinates the look and feel of site, integration of new features, presentation of new content. Ernie - Content Manager Nadia Anthony Responsible for the integration of E&Y and third party content into Ernie. Also, development of orignal content through Ernie Q&A interaction. Develop plan for introduction and presentation of all content components. Content Assistant Tim Stewart Responsible for supporting the efforts of content development within Ernie. Also supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled bases. I Ernie - Organization Design I Effective: l/l S/97
18 I Ernie Territory Sales Manager - 1 Pacific Northwest - Terri Austin t I Ernie Territory Sales Manager - 2 Pacific Southwest - Vacant t I Ernie Territory Sales Manager - 3 Mid - South - Ed Riefenstahl l- Ernie Territory Sales Manager - 4 Southeast - Ray Rannala I Ernie Territorv Sales Manager - 5 Northeast - Lloyd Berry Ernie Territory Sales Manager - t Midwest - Chuck Mackey Responsible for attaining Ernie territory sales objectives in FY97. Develop sales network to support the Midwest territory - recruit & train affiliated Ernie agent network, manage sales budget, track performance, coordinate local marketing activities, maintain contact with and geners support of Practice offices within territory Ernie Gold - Development Manager Jon Schulz Responsible for developing product concept for an Ernie offering targeted to the needs of the Mid-tier Market. Responsibilities include product design, development and sales plan development and implementation. Ernie Sales Support Paul Kinzia Responsibilities primarily include sales process support. Sales Support Manager Charlie Clark Responsible for overall coordination of sales support activities. Including: communication, infrastructure requirements, collateral needs and targeted trade/e&y show support. Ernie Sales Support Mark Hodson Responsibilities primarily include Sales infrastructure support. Ernie - Organization Design 2 Effective: l/15/97
19 I Ernie Client Service Operations Katie Henegan I Operations Manager Tanya Boling Responsible for management of Ernie Operations team. Development of personnel, management and oversight of process flows and general support of all Ernie initiatives impacting operations. Subscriber Community Demet Peralta Responsible for developing affinity group/community within the Ernie user population. Activities include, proactive calling to stimulate usage, messages, site communications and other activities designed to expand the Ernie user base and to keep Ernie top of mind during the current market adoption stage. Also, supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled basis. Subscriber Community Larry Yoder Responsible for developing affinity group/community within the Ernie user population. Same activities as above. Also, supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled basis. Ernie Enrollment Administrator Pam English Responsible for administration of Ernie subscriptions - processing applications, adding to database and distributing appropriate materials. Ernie Development - Web Based Initiatives Christoph Brunner Ongoing management Ernie site development relative to site enhancements, modifications, new services associated with the subscriber, knowledge provider and manager components of Ernie. Also, supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled basis. Ernie Development - Infrastructure Based Initiatives Mark Davenport Responsible for management and development of Ernie Central, Infoline procedures, Operations integration relative to service features - enhancements, changes or new features. Operations automation initiatives and report management. Also, supports Ernie Infoline on a scheduled basis. Knowledge Provider - Manager Vacant Responsible for overall management of the KP network. Recruitment, training of new KPs, development of incentive and recognition programs, development of KP community concept. Additionally, responsible for managing Ernie answer process - standardization of writing style, managing billable time and creating quality assurance program. PI/IT Focal Point Knowledge Provider Kathleen Hinkle Management of PI/IT Ernie question queue. Development of Ernie responses, management of PI/IT KP network - recruiting KPs and routing questions. KP Management Wendy Smith Management of all non-pi/it question distribution. Maintaining contact with FKP/KP networks and ensure response intervals are maintained. Ernie InfoLine Ernie - Organization Design 3 Effective: l! 15197
20 Exhibit 3: Ernie Q&A Process Flow: Ernie Subscriber has question Common Question that might be in database? No Question asked of Ernie Yes Ernie Database Question Evaluated, Passed to Appropriate E&Y Knowledge Provider Satisfactory Answer? No Provide Answer in 2 hrs work time? No Negotiate Seperate Agreement Yes Yes Complete Answer Question, return answer to subscriber within 48 Hrs.
21 Exhibit 4: Technical Aspects of Ernie White Paper (Adapted and Abbreviated for the Ernie Case by the Marshall School of Business) Ernst & Young LLP's Ernie Development Project By George Santillan Ernst & Young's Center for Business Transformation Ernie's Supporting Hardware Infrastructure Hence, we will begin by detailing the infrastructure of Ernie's supporting hardware. Figure 1. below graphically depicts the relationship of Ernie with the public Internet and the Ernst & Young Wide Area Network or Intranet. Figure 1. Ernie on the Public Internet in relationship to E&Y's WAN As shown above, four distinct servers support the Ernie system. Starting at the top, the HTTP (Web Server) and FTP servers operate on machine 1 which is a Compaq Pentium Proliant PC server with redundant, hot-swapable, high-capacity disk drives and over 200 megabytes of high-speed system RAM. Next, moving down the chart is machine 2 which operates the local area network of Windows NT Server hosted machines. This machine operates as the Primary Domain Controller (PDC) of this small Microsoft Windows NT Domain. Further, this machine is equipped similarly to machine I and serves as the backup to the HTTP and FTP servers to ensure high availability. Otherwise, for normal operations, this machine manages the domain comprised of the four NT Servers. Machine 3 is the heart and brain of Ernie. This machine like machine I and 2 is a high performance Compaq Proliant PC server which is dedicated to serving knowledge requests and all transactional conversations between Ernie and its users (e.g., Subscribers, Focal Knowledge Providers, Subject Knowledge Providers, System Administrators, and Accounting Administrators). This machine is running Microsoft's SQL Server 6.x on Windows NT Server. This industrial strength relational database management system (RDBMS) stores all the information which Ernie captures and delivers the content which Ernie wishes to expose. Finally, machine 4 keeps Ernie's heart and brain in check by a process known as replication. In simple terms, machine 4 mirrors all transactional activity that Ernie conducts between machine I (the Web Server) and machine 3 (SQL Server 1). As a Web patron (subscriber) asks a question of E&Y White Paper, Exhibit 4 (Technical Aspects of Ernie), Page 1
22 Exhibit 4: Technical Aspects of Ernie Ernie, this information is first captured in SQL Server I which executes a replication schema with SQL Server 2 running on machine 4. This provides several distinct advantages. First, if SQL Server I ever goes down, SQL Server 2 can quickly pickup and assume full supporting responsibility for Ernie transactions. Second, this redundancy in information services allows back-office tasks to be performed on SQL Server 2 with almost real-time information and without degradation of service on the primary SQL Server. Also, the SQL Server 2 service allows the Ernie back office team the ability to conduct routine maintenance on SQL Server 1 without disruptions in service.. This solution addresses three primary objectives established for Ernie when he was a mere infant. First, Ernie will provide measurable value delivery in a manner which is as fast as is possible within the bandwidth infrastructure available on the public Internet. Second, Ernie will be available 24 hours per day 365 days per year. Third, Ernie must be manageable from a back-office perspective with minimal staff. Ernie is designed to meet all these objectives with redundant systems in hardware and software. Ernie's System Architecture Ernie is comprised of many layers of software. At the lowest level, all Ernie hardware is operating Microsoft's Windows NT Server version Above the operating system are purchased components or custom developed services integrated with the NT operating system. For example, the HTTP (Web) server is O'Reilly and Associates, Inc. WebSite version l.x. This server is categorized as a high-performance, 32-bit, fully multithreaded application which is capable of handling many transactions or requests simultaneously. Next, the SMTP/POP3 or server is Post.Office from Software.Com, Inc. This server allows Ernie to offer integrated mail support for Ernie Subscribers. Also, this product allows complete administrative control through the Web Browser interface. In other words, administrative personnel can completely control Ernie mail accounts from their Web Browser from anywhere they can connect to the Internet. The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server is tightly integrated with Windows NT Server and allows Ernie to receive and deliver files of any type to its user base. For example, this server will allow Ernie to deliver an Ernie Installation program which will guide a new Subscriber through the process of configuring their Netscape Web Browser for optimal use with the Ernie system. Discussed earlier, two Ernie servers will operate with dual, replicating SQL Server RDBMS services. These services offer very high-performance access to the relational information supporting all Ernie transactions. Again, this is the knowledge repository or brain of Ernie. Further, with the exception of context-sensitive help files, Ernie contains no static Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) documents. All HTML documents presented by Ernie are dynamically generated with the content being derived from the SQL Sewer systems. This inherently leads to several distinct benefits in ease of management of the Ernie system and for future growth in services provided. For example, no programming changes are required to change topic names, or to add user information. All this information is stored in SQL Sewer and is simply formatted (into HTML) on the fly upon request for presentation. Next, and most importantly, Ernie is composed of five key custom developed components which leverage the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) application programming interface to enable transactional conversations between Ernie users and the Web Server and thereby, the knowledge repository managed by SQL Server. These five application components comprise almost 300,000 lines of code written entirely in Microsoft's Visual Basic 4.x. Figure 2 below details the components in operation when an Ernie user requests information or invokes transactional activity. The classes and objects modeled above were designed for scalability. With the Enterprise edition of Visual Basic 4.x, the classes modeled above are easily transformed into distributed OLE objects which can operate in process or on entirely separate machines (by a mechanism known as Remote OLE Automation). The future of Windows NT also offers Distributed OLE or Network OLE which is designed to greatly increase the performance of Remote OLE Automation. This will allow Ernie to grow and improve as vendors upgrade and add new features to the operating system and other key Ernie application services. Also, this system was designed for presentation independence. The Business Services and Data Services components have absolutely no knowledge of how their respective information will be delivered or presented. [n Ernie, it is inc/dental (from the perspective of the Business and Data Services) that the delivery of information will be through HTML and the Web Browser. This level of independence was made possible by handling all information packages with the native data types of Visual Basic. In simple terms, the Presentation Services and Business Services have no knowledge of where the data is coming from nor what data types exist within the Data Services Layer. What this means at the developmental level is that a different RDBMS server could easily be switched with or run in conjunction with Microsoft SQL Server. For example, at some point in the future, existing information in a corporate Oracle or Sybase or DB2 RDBMS could quickly be integrated with Ernie with no changes to the Presentation and Business Services Layers. Further, if a traditional Windows desktop application were targeted for accessing Ernie information services, only the Presentation layer would require modifications. The Business and Data Access layers would remain unaffected. E&Y White Paper, Exhibit 4 (Technical Aspects of Ernie), Page 2
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