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KPMG Faces the Internet Test

Is the Web testing the way you do business? Then maybe you should require the people in your organization to become Web wizards — and to pass a test to prove their Web skills. Take an online lesson from KPMG.

The rise of the Internet as a force for change is putting virtually every company to the test: Can your people adopt the new mind-sets and acquire the new skill sets that are necessary in order to win in the new world of business? KPMG LLP, the global consulting, tax, and accounting giant, takes this question so seriously that it has designed a crash course in Internet studies for everyone in the firm’s consulting division — from junior administrative assistants to senior partners. The rigorous 50-hour curriculum covers everything from copyright law to using the Web to manage inventory.

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The people at KPMG Consulting call the course Internet 101. “If we want to work with Net companies, then we have to act like a Net company,” says Sheryl R. Schwartz, 36, the KPMG partner who developed the course curriculum. “We have to embed the Internet in everything we do. It’s a credibility thing.”

But it’s also a competitive thing. In 1999, 36% of KPMG’s consulting revenues came from e-business assignments, bringing in more than $680 million. And KPMG isn’t the only consulting firm with a Web-training program: Andersen Consulting sent 15,000 of its consultants to its corporate university last year for three weeks of e-commerce classes.

“Internet 101 has become the gateway to our business,” says Randolph Blazer, 49, vice chairman of consulting. Adds Schwartz: “We’re making an investment in our employees. We’re telling them, ‘We want to keep you up to speed.’ We can’t limit this program to consultants. After all, our administrative assistants talk to our clients too.”

Students begin Internet 101 by taking a 25-question pretest that covers a vast range of topics. They can find the answers to those questions by opening their “course locker,” a Web site containing 11 core-curriculum modules. And all students in Internet 101 learn how to build an e-business by using courseware developed by Cisco Systems (a KPMG strategic partner that plans to invest roughly $1 billion in the firm). The program even provides virtual “lectures” — complete with instructors, charts, and graphs — via a small video box.

In an attempt to master the material, KPMGers might complete more than two dozen online exercises, each one measuring their progress against the curriculum and ranking them against their peers. And to finish up the course, all students must take a 40-question multiple-choice exam. Failing the exam doesn’t mean dismissal. But passing is a prerequisite for all higher-level classes.

Internet 101 is one class that few students want to skip. In the first three days that the pretest was offered, roughly 3,500 KPMG employees — more than one-third of its consulting workforce — signed up. The course went online last September, and within three months 95% of KPMG’s domestic workforce had taken the final test. Internet 101 has generated so much buzz that even clients are lining up to take it these days.

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Schwartz, a 13-year veteran of KPMG’s telecommunications practice, admits that she did not expect such a frenzied reaction to Internet 101. In fact, during the two months when she was helping to develop the program, she had some doubts about the course. “I’m a believer in getting people together face-to-face,” she explains. “So I was skeptical about the concept of a Web-based curriculum.” Now she enthusiastically supports putting all of the firm’s training online.

Of course, in Internet time, today’s cutting-edge curriculum is tomorrow’s history lesson. That’s why KPMG updates Internet 101 every 90 days. It’s also why KPMG offers Internet 102 — a course that delves more deeply into the architecture of e-business, with case studies written by KPMG leaders.

To be sure, plenty of people take the course because they have to. But before long, even those people get with the Web program. When she began Internet 101, Karen Healey, a 35-year-old marketing manager, cared only about passing the test. But she soon realized that the course material was actually useful: It could help her identify opportunities for clients to build an intranet or to create a business-to-business commerce site.

“I now have a better idea of the issues facing our clients, and that means that I can develop marketing programs around those issues,” she says. “The course taught me how to use the Internet to get people to do business in new ways.”

And that just may be the most important lesson of all.

To learn more about Internet 101, contact Sheryl R. Schwartz by email (sschwartz@kpmg.com.)

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Sidebar : testyourself.com

So you think you’re a Web whiz? Test your e-commerce savvy by answering these questions, drawn from KPMG’s Internet 101 exam.

1. When a browser calls an HTML page over the Internet . . .

a. an HTTP “get” command establishes a socket.
b. HTTP transmissions are automatically encrypted.
c. transmissions are sent in clear or plaintext.
d. data is broken into uninterpretable packets.

2. An online business wants to send a copy of its encryption software to its office in another city. This is most likely to be prohibited under current laws in which of the following situations? The software uses . . . .

a. strong encryption, and the company’s business involves public documents.
b. weak encryption, and the company’s business involves public documents.
c. strong encryption, and the other office is in a foreign country.
d. weak encryption, and the other office is in a foreign country.

3. A Secure Hash Algorithm is a . . . .

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a. cookie.
b. symmetric key.
c. message digest.
d. faster key algorithm strategy.

Answers:

1. a; 2. c; 3. c

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