DLA bids adieu to paper specs

DLA bids adieu to paper specs

Agency to save $1.3m a year on postage

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

The Defense Logistics Agency's bid specifications went paperless this month. By turning exclusively to Web distribution, DLA expects to save at least $1.3 million yearly in postage alone.

Visitors to the DLA Procurement Gateway site, at progate.daps.mil/home/, can search all active requests for quotations and contract awards. Prospective contractors can register to have chosen RFQs e-mailed to them automatically.

Another branch of the gateway, set to be up and running by Sept. 30, will take bids online. Concurrent Technologies Corp. of Johnstown, Pa., is the lead contractor for the Internet Quoting System portion of the gateway, which will handle the online bids.

About half of DLA's solicitations were already arriving by Telnet on electronic bid boards before a limited version of the gateway went live in late 1996, said Ralph Colavita, the gateway's project manager. But much paper still changed hands because DLA had to mail paper copies to the bidders and to Defense Department finance units.

The 1999 version of the DLA Procurement Gateway now integrates with other DLA data systems, said Steven R. Hofinger, a manager with the project contractor, Universal Systems Inc. of Chantilly, Va. The gateway handles RFQs for DLA's three defense supply centers in Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Columbus, Ohio.

'We do not buy tanks, but we buy tank parts,' said Colavita, who is also chief of strategic acquisitions systems for the Philadelphia supply center. Many of the commodity items are quite specialized. 'The bolts that hold the propeller of a helicopter on are different from a bolt that you buy at the hardware store,' he said.

Vendors can search the RFQ section by keyword, national stock number, federal stock class, buyer code and date range. The Collection Download section puts all RFQs in a given stock class into a single zipped file.

RFQ search results

An RFQ search produces a table of solicitations, stock numbers and closing dates of relevant RFQs. Clicking on the stock number link shows item descriptions, technical data and contract history, including past prices.

Pencil icons can hyperlink gateway users to the Joint Engineering Data Management Information and Control System, an online repository for engineering drawings. Universal Systems also developed the Acquisition Streamlining and Standardization Information System for DLA, Hofinger said.

Document icons at the gateway take users to the Assist database of roughly 40,000 military specifications and standards, said George G. Gianios, deputy director of the Defense Automated Printing Service in Philadelphia.

From the gateway home page, users can search contract awards by many of the same criteria used for RFQ searches. No longer do businesses have to learn about procurement histories through the Freedom of Information Act, Colavita said.

After each closing date, DLA evaluates the bids, notifies the successful bidders by e-mail and posts new contracts to the Web site. Bidders can even create user profiles targeting solicitations of interest to them, right down to the stock number. 'It's the greatest access to free data [vendors] can get,' Colavita said.

Because DLA could not send every solicitation to every vendor, manufacturers used to pay for services that gathered paper data for them under the Freedom of Information Act, Colavita said. 'There's no need for the smart ones to go out and pay for information they can get for free,' he said.

A password system guards against tampering with user profiles, Colavita said. The upcoming Internet Quoting System will have greater security through digital certificates from VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., and through Secure Sockets Layer protection, Colavita said.

As of June 16, the gateway listed 54,000 active solicitations and more than 250,000 contract awards, Hofinger said.

Last month, the site drew about 82,000 visitors who spent an average of 15 minutes using the gateway. 'If they're on the system for 15 minutes, they're conducting business,' Gianios said.

Last year, DLA mailed out 250,000 RFQ notices at 55 cents postage each and 725,000 engineering drawings at $1.19 each, Hofinger said.

Mailing the specifications and standards documents was an additional expense. The Procurement Gateway has shortened the cycle time between solicitation and award, Hofinger said, because 'it took five days just to get the mailings out. Now, they can do the entire procurement in five days.'

The Procurement Gateway resides in two buildings at the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, which until July 2 was known as the Defense Industrial Supply Center. The server, a Dell PowerEdge 6300 with four 400-MHz processors, runs Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Netscape Enterprise Server 4.0 and ColdFusion Enterprise Server 4.0.1 from Allaire Corp. of Cambridge, Mass. The database server, a Sun Microsystems Ultra Enterprise 450, runs SunSoft Solaris 2.6 and 2.7, Oracle8 Enterprise Server and Documetrix Express document-management software from Universal Systems.

Backups to come

Also part of the gateway are an EV-1000 storage subsystem from DataDirect Networks Inc. of Chatsworth, Calif., backup software from Legato Systems Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., and a 120-tape silo from Qualstar Corp. of Canoga Park, Calif. All the storage equipment is on site, but Gianios said plans for off-site backups are in the works.

The gateway cost $2 million to develop, Hofinger said. James M. Meyer, Universal Systems' vice president for marketing, has predicted the site will pay for itself in two years from the postage savings alone.

By placing its requests on the Web, DLA has substantially increased the potential number of bidders, Colavita said. He and Hofinger said the greater competition should ultimately cut the cost of routine purchases.

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