SPAWAR site means business

SAN DIEGO—Ordaining change is one thing; implementing it can be quite another.


Go to the U.S. Capitol building, for example, where the elevators are still operated by
attendants, even though many are automatic. Or hike over to the Patent and Trademark
Office, where Jefferson’s filing system, known as shoe boxes, was in use for 150
years after his death.


But if you want to see an example of governmental change—and change in a
hurry—you don’t have to leave your PC. Instead, point your Web browser to the
Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Command (SPAWAR) Web site at http://www.spawar.navy.mil, and get set for a
surprise.


Instead of a quick summary in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD), SPAWAR’s
contracting needs are online for all the world to see.


“Our intent is to provide as much access to our requirements to the vendor
community as we can,” said Robert Castro, head for the unit’s Paperless
Initiatives Management Branch.


“The intention was to provide it in the most logical and open way, which is the
Internet,” he said. “It’s now becoming almost the de facto standard for the
transmitting of data.”


In eight months of operation, the SPAWAR Web site has hosted hundreds of vendor visits
each day and generated great interest from smaller businesses seeking Naval customers,
Castro said.


The old system, which began the process with a brief announcement in CBD, would bring
in a few inquiries, Castro said, but fell short of delivering the kind of detail that
would open the process to as many vendors as possible.


“It did not open the door to a lot of small vendors that need to gain access to
the kinds of commodities an organization needs to procure,” he said.


The Internet has changed all that, he said. Now, “anyone with a modem, a computer
and Internet access can browse through an organization’s commodities and has an
insight into [not only] the kinds of organizations they want to do business with, but the
kinds of services they want to purchase,” Castro said.


Although SPAWAR cannot discern who is visiting the site, initial results have been
promising, he said.


“One of the first things we did to our Web site was to place a counter on it.
We’ve been averaging several hundred hits a day, and we do have a means by which we
can measure the level of access we receive to our Web site,” Castro said. “As we
develop the Web site, as we expand our access, we anticipate substantial growth in the
numbers of hits.”


SPAWAR is moving in other ways toward online bidding and processing of contracts. The
unit is building a Web site that would let vendors inquire about and solicit for a
contract and, then, eventually, let the Navy award the contract—all online.


“The means for dialogue are being created and being established,” Castro
said. “It isn’t just restricted to, what kind of business do you do, but
provides a paperless version of the solicitation and review.”


The initiative is in line with Defense Department objectives of a paperless contracting
environment and a single point of contact for bidding. Such talk was once limited to
discussions of virtual private networks and electronic data interchange systems. Now,
although SPAWAR still uses EDI, “I personally see that diminishing” because of
the Internet’s growth, Castro said.


In an era when electronic commerce is becoming more and more feasible, what will be the
impact of a SPAWAR commerce Web presence? Along with increased access for what Castro
described as mom-and-pop businesses that may not have known about CBD or did not have
access to its pages, it also means a reduction in the time the whole process takes.


The paper-based procurement cycle sometimes stretched purchases into 45- and 90-day
exercises. Although SPAWAR still handles major procurements with target bid dates a year
or two before buying, smaller buys can go faster, Castro said, with the process lifecycle
shrinking from several months to several weeks. EC nirvana will not arrive overnight,
however.


“I don’t want to oversimplify the use and application of the Internet as
being the answer to a lot of these procurement-related lead time problems,” he said,
“but it will help from a communications standpoint.”


Ultimately, SPAWAR will set up a separate EC site, linked to the SPAWAR home page, to
let potential vendors go directly to the commerce section. The arrangement is in line with
DOD’s Defense Electronic Commerce Online initiative and will let browsers using a
search engine such as Yahoo or AltaVista easily search for and find SPAWAR contracting
opportunities.


Although it’s common to meet resistance to new technology, it hasn’t happened
at SPAWAR, Castro said.


“Here, in my experience of 20-some years, [users] have been the most positive and
receptive to new applications that I have come across,” he said.


Credit for the attitude, Castro said, goes to the unit’s director, Capt. Jay M.
Cohen; Cohen’s deputy, senior executive Sarah A. Lamade; and division director David
Ryan. Cohen is constantly asking to expand Internet access, Castro said.


While working to expand the site’s capabilities, Castro is looking to its
future—electronic signatures, sanctioned by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
With electronic signatures, “you could end up with an awarded contract online,
without having to get physical signatures” on paper, he said.  

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