Group demos way to shop multiple e-catalogs

A coalition of government and industry groups last week demonstrated a pilot program to
let agencies shop multiple online catalogs easily, securely and simultaneously.

The Catalog Interoperability Pilot is a significant step in the development of
ubiquitous electronic commerce because it will make it easy to compare products online,
said G. Martin Wagner, associate administrator for governmentwide policy at the General
Services Administration, during a presentation of the pilot last week.

This will “trigger the revolution that is really going to change the way the
government does its business,” Wagner said.

Federal agencies have faced the problem of a proliferation of electronic catalogs, said
Ken Stepka, director of NASA’s Office of Procurement.

Now before users can make online buys, they must check multiple contract and vendor
sites, searching catalog items and recording or printing out information on products to
make comparisons before placing orders.

The Catalog Interoperability Pilot, being tested by 35 users at 11 agencies,
streamlines that process by gathering data from many catalogs at once, said Ron Parsons,
the pilot project manager and director of Eastern region operations for CommerceNet, a
electronic commerce industry association in Palo Alto, Calif.

The pilot uses the Extensible Markup Language—a subset of the Standard Generalized
Markup Language that makes searching and online delivery easier—to standardize the
content of a select group of items in different electronic malls and vendor catalogs.

The pilot integrates three catalogs: GSA Advantage, NASA’s Scientific and
Engineering Workstation Procurement catalog, and a catalog from Lexmark International Inc.
of Lexington, Ky.

The first phase of the pilot demonstrated the ability to perform a search across
multiple catalogs based on a set of specifications, Parsons said. The pilot also
demonstrates security and authentication techniques. It uses smart cards from NDS Americas
Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif., and authentication software from V-One Corp. of
Gaithersburg, Md.

There are challenges yet to overcome before the one-stop mall will work universally,
said William Nosal of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Nosal, who consulted on the pilot, said
one big puzzle is how to handle legacy database structure.

“No matter how advanced it is, there are going to be technological and business
challenges with legacy databases,” he said. There must be standards for product
specifications if an interoperable catalog is to be ubiquitous, he said.

But the pilot met its goals and even helped the government move forward in its attempts
to use electronic commerce, Nosal said.

Government groups participating in the pilot include the Defense Department, the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Electronic Commerce Program Office, GSA, the
Interagency Acquisition Internet Council, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and
Technology, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Social Security Administration and the
Veterans Affairs Department.  

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