CATEGORY: Knowledge Management

REVIEWER: Laurence Dodge, applications development manager of Mercer Management Consulting.

BACKGROUND: Mercer Management Consulting helps leading enterprises achieve sustained shareholder value growth by developing and implementing innovative business designs. The firm, with more than 1,200 employees, serves clients worldwide from 20 offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

PLATFORMS: ecKnowledge from Casahl Technology, Inc. runs on Windows NT 4 service pack 5, Microsoft Exchange 5.5 service pack 3 and Oracle 7.3.4.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With its global presence and focus, including many multinational clients, Mercer Management Consulting needed to improve internal business processes and supporting systems. Over the years, Mercer had implemented several country-specific financial reporting and project accounting systems which posed significant challenges for integrating and consolidating financial information, managing multicountry case teams and sharing business opportunities and knowledge. Exchanging data between countries and systems required many manual steps and often resulted in rekeying errors, data inconsistencies and time delays. To address these challenges, Mercer began a multistage project to develop a consistent, fully integrated set of worldwide applications and processes that would improve individual productivity, group collaboration and firm management. The lynchpin of this strategy was Casahl Technology's ecKnowledge product linking core business data (e.g., clients, projects and employees) located in Mercer's Oracle systems with new, custom- built Microsoft Exchange/Outlook applications. After implementing the ecKnowledge knowledge management solution, Mercer was able to reduce the time required for many key business processes from days to hours. Although this streamlining was important to the firm, the more significant benefits include: sharing business opportunities among consultants throughout the world, providing more timely and accurate information to managers and enhancing customer relationship management (CRM) activities.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Mercer has used ecKnowledge's core functionality to schedule hourly incremental replications between Oracle and Exchange. Except for a few inconsistencies with the scheduler, ecKnowledge has worked well. In the future, we are looking at leveraging the data transformation and workflow trigger features to enhance our ability to validate and control data transfers.

STRENGTHS: ecKnowledge's strengths are the architecture (standards compliant, GUI, three-tiered, error notification/logging), ability to treat Exchange as a data store and ease of use.

WEAKNESSES: Relative newness of Exchange product makes backups critical. Auto scheduler sometimes stops running but is easy to restart.

SELECTION CRITERIA: When we were building our application two years ago, Casahl was one of the few firms with an Oracle-to-Exchange replication product. We were familiar with Casahl's leadership in the Lotus Notes data integration/exchange field.

DELIVERABLES: Day-to-day administrative tasks are reduced and simplified for both consulting and support staff. Data is entered once and used throughout (i.e., eliminates rekeying, searching for data, correcting errors, completing multiple forms, etc.). Leads and proposals are tracked, managed and pursued on a worldwide basis. A pricing model is used to simply and consistently estimate case budgets. All time reports are submitted and processed electronically. Manual case accounting processes and multiple systems are being phased out. Case and firm management have access to real-time case, client and firm information (i.e., improved volume, timeliness and accuracy of information and reporting). Case and client profitability are regularly and consistently calculated on a worldwide basis (includes the ability to roll up related cases and clients).

VENDOR SUPPORT: Casahl shows a real desire to answer questions and solve issues quickly. While we have found the first-line support adequate (primarily due to being Lotus Notes and West Coast centric), Casahl's consultants have been excellent. I have been very pleased at how easy it is to contact the top executives of the firm.

DOCUMENTATION: We have rebuilt our test environment's ecKnowledge server several times based upon the documentation. Customer service has been able to quickly clarify any unclear instructions.

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