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Extranet pays off in savings for Ketchum

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Ketchum Inc., which spent the late 1990s touting its clients’ e-business initiatives, is seeing an impressive return on investment from one of its own.

The public relations giant introduced a client-focused extranet, MyKGN, in March 2000. It allows Ketchum employees to do research and deal with customers online.

There are already 400 collaborative client sites within myKGN, which the firm estimates saves 90 minutes a week in time per employee.

Ketchum realized $2.8 million in cash flow and productivity benefits last year from myKG, according to Meta Group Inc., which did a case study on the extranet. The firm could realize up to $5.6 million in cash flow and productivity benefits by 2003, Meta said.

Paul McKeon, chief e-business officer at Pittsburgh-based Ketchum, said myKGN speeds up interoffice communications and helps employees learn new clients’ businesses.

"Before, whenever an employee got a new client, he would blast an e-mail to 1,000 associates, saying, ‘Do you know Linux?’" McKeon said. "A week, week and a half later you’d find a couple answers trickling in. With myKGN, you can automatically find our top four or five experts on a subject."

Employees can research a subject database with 5,000 documents, McKeon said. Research used to be done in piecemeal Internet searches.

Ketchum is also using myKGN as a customer relationship management tool, building collaborative sites for clients Cingular Wireless and Andersen, the consultancy formerly known as Arthur Andersen. Clients can work with Ketchum employees in real time on such things as reviewing press releases and company logos.

Latecomers to extranets

Public relations firms are notably late in using extranets, something their software and consulting firm clients have done for years. Their absence was conspicuous, as public relations is innately collaborative, requiring dealing with far-flung customers for whom online communications are often preferable to offline.

Ketchum’s extranet efforts—and those of its rival, Hill & Knowlton Inc., which recently launched one of its own—show that the technology is beginning to take root in public relations.

Still, Ketchum has significant hurdles before making its ROI forecasts a reality, said Kurt Schlegel, program director at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group. The greatest risk is workers not using it, he said. "There is a chance that a lot of the user productivity benefits might not come around, especially if employees don’t engage."

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