DLA shares its online catalog

The Defense Logistics Agency has posted an electronic commercial catalog called E-Cat
for online comparison shopping.

"Our main thrust is the military, but we intend to serve the entire
government," said Roger McMillan, E-Cat program manager at DLA's Defense Logistics
Information Service in Battle Creek, Mich.

The E-Cat pilot began in April 1997. When it went live on the Web in December, E-Cat
had seven vendors and handful of military customers. E-Cat is now accessible to all
government agencies. About 130 vendors have responded to a solicitation to be included in
the catalog, which lists 250,000 items.

"We hope to be up to a couple of million items by this time next year,"
McMillan said.

The search software came from TPN Register LLC, a joint venture between GE Information
Services of Rockville, Md., and Thomas Publishing Co. of New York. Vendors list their
products under the Thomas Register classification system, which lets buyers find and
compare products from many catalogs.

"It's a very powerful, sophisticated search engine," McMillan said.

E-Cat began life as a CD-ROM listing of vendors, said Andy Kacik, project manager for
E-Cat developer Mantech Advanced Systems International Inc. of Fairmont, W.Va.

E-Cat then became an electronic data interchange system on a client-server platform
that allowed continuous catalog updates. It worked during last year's pilot but was not
scalable. Distributing and maintaining the client software on hundreds of desktops proved
impractical, McMillan said.

"So we bit the bullet and built the product on a browser platform," he said.

The present version still has EDI functions, although that could change. EDI requires
vendors either to invest in special software or to join a value-added network that
translates data into EDI format. This requirement has held back vendor participation in
other federal electronic commerce programs.

"It is a hurdle for vendors, and we understand that," McMillan said. "We
have on the table alternate methods," including a new standard called Internet
Ordering that probably will take about 10 months to implement.

E-Cat has a Hewlett-Packard Co. Vectra Model 520 Pentium server running Oracle Corp.
Internet Commerce Server software. Buyers point their browsers to http://www.dlis.dla.mil/ecat to fill in the E-Cat
registration forms and shop.

They can search by product name or description, by Thomas Classification code, by
standard industrial classification code or by company name.

"From the customer viewpoint, it's a single catalog," McMillan said.
"From the vendors' viewpoint, they own their catalogs. They pass the information to
us and we have physical control of it, but contractually they own it."

E-Cat transmits orders directly to vendors for shipment. Buyers can use the Milstrip or
Fedstrip requisition systems or the IMPAC credit card.

Vendors upload new information via File Transfer Protocol using TPN Register's Catalog
Loader client software. DLA now provides the software but expects to do away with it as
vendors start to update their information over the Web.

Because E-Cat is vendor-independent, products show up side by side, regardless of the
vendors' comparative sizes. McMillan said this is good for small companies.

For example, products from Rayco Supply Inc., a seven-person operation in Virginia
Beach, Va., that sells primarily to the Navy's Fleet Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk,
Va., appear in the catalog alongside those of 3M Corp., one of the largest companies
participating in E-Cat.

Defense Department sites taking part in the pilot are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,
Ohio, the Navy's Fleet Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk, Walter Reed Army Hospital in
Washington and the Defense Distribution Depot in New Cumberland, Pa.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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