Feds to open Web catalog shop

The Electronic Commerce Interagency Task Force recently recommended that agencies build
standard electronic catalog and ordering systems based on common customer requirements for
easy access and comparison buying.


Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, has asked the
Interagency Acquisition Internet Council to form a working group to advance the task
force's recommendations. Catalogs are an essential part of the administration's electronic
commerce strategy, and Kelman said the growth in federal Internet connections gives agency
buyers more leverage.


"The World Wide Web allows users to access information and data on products from
multiple Web sites, often directly from the manufacturer," Kelman said in a memo to
the government's senior procurement executives. "They can help us leverage our buying
power through volume purchasing. Alternatively, they enable government customers to make
spot purchases with online comparisons of the price, features, and performance of similar
products and services."


The task force recommended that agencies provide their electronic catalogs users with a
common look and feel.


Not every agency has Internet access, so customers still will deal with some commercial
dial-up services.


Nevertheless, agencies should install standard search methods for locating products by
manufacturer, national stock number, nomenclature and description, the report said.


"Providing the customer with a common look eliminates confusion once in the mall.


"A signpost at the entrance to the mall would list the various electronic catalog
corridors/stores and contain brief instructions on the features offered," the task
force said. To promote comparison shopping, agencies should provide users with enough
information to examine products and services and choose the best prices and delivery
options, the task force said.


Many catalog customers also want to use government credit cards, and agencies must
devise safeguards covering user privacy, access authorization and authentication. For
catalogs linked to the Internet, the task force said agencies should consider using
encryption and building firewalls.


"Agencies that are planning to use credit cards on the Internet need to evaluate
the use of Web browsers that have encryption capabilities. These browsers scramble the
data and transmit the information in the encrypted form to the intended recipient,"
the report said. "Firewalls may be configured to allow for connections to external
networks and at the same time prevent malicious hackers from compromising the system that
supports the catalog as well as internal agency systems."


Copies of the task force report are available at the Acquisition Reform Net Web page at
http://www.arnet.gov/References/References.html#catalog.


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