E-Mall undergoes renovations

The Defense Logistics Agency expects to have a new version of its electronic mall up
and running by January. It should give all military buyers a single interface and ordering
system for 3.5 million products from DLA depots and commercial vendors.


The World Wide Web front end will simplify ordering and support legacy requisitions and
payment systems on the back end. Beta testing begins next month, but not all the pieces
are in place. One key element is a single-query function to allow searches across multiple
vendor and DLA sites.


"This is a technology achievement we're not quite there with yet," said John
Christensen, DLA's E-Mall manager.


But the agency is moving ahead with a solicitation for electronically enabled vendors
and expects to have the site ready for 1998.


"We are trying to populate it robustly enough" that buyers can find all the
items they want without leaving the site, Christensen said. "We're going to have
enough critical mass to roll something out by January."


DLA manages 4 million items for military users, from petroleum to food. It sells $11
billion worth of goods a year. But DLA is not a mandatory source for most supplies and
must compete to get business, Christensen said.


The agency turned to the Web because it needed to leverage buying capacity to get
competitive prices and provide flexible logistics support without keeping a large
inventory.


The new shopping site, dubbed the Enclosed Mall, will replace the Strip Mall site now
hosted at http://www.supply.dla.mil. The Strip
Mall, which went online in November 1996, is a collection of links to DLA depots and
vendor sites offering 750,000 items for sale. Each site is searchable individually, and
each has its own pricing and buying procedures.


The Enclosed Mall, in contrast, will let buyers do all their shopping through one site.
They can search by national stock number, manufacturer's part number, name or descriptive
phrase.


If more than one vendor offers an item, they can compare the prices and other terms.


The mall will support IMPAC credit card buys and DOD's Mil-strip procurement format.


The next stage for DLA online shoppers will be a Mega Mall, which will profile buyers'
needs and use push technology to send them information about specific products. That
system is not yet under development.


The electronic malls are the front end of the Virtual Inventory Electronic Window, a
project of the Advanced Logistics Program sponsored by DLA and the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency.


Even if vendors have separate ordering procedures, a buyer in the E-Mall could order
from multiple sources at one site and in the same transaction.


"From the shopper's viewpoint, it would be processed through a single order,"
Christensen said.


DLA is developing its own software for the Enclosed Mall. Commercial electronic
commerce products do not provide the necessary support for legacy accounting and
requisition systems on the back end.


Current contracts with vendors call for using existing systems, and DLA depots already
have procedures for selling to IMPAC cardholders, said Katherine Eisler, deputy E-Mall
manager.


"We can't reinvent that relationship," Eisler said.


When vendors sign up for the new mall, DLA will apply a broad definition of
"electronically enabled," Christensen said. "We realize there is more than
one way to communicate electronically. We may use e-mail rather than FACNET."


DLA will meet with focus groups this fall and recruit beta testers for the E-Mall.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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