EC comes of age
Thomas R. Temin
Electronic commerce in the federal government is accelerating.
Although the Clinton administration's e-commerce mandates have long come and gone, only now are agencies launching enterprisewide applications in large numbers.
As reported in stories in the July 26 issue, the Defense Logistics Agency and the General Services Administration have moved significant procurement and supply programs online. DLA has begun disseminating bid specifications and requests for quotations on the Web. This fall it will begin accepting bids online.
GSA is closing its eight office supply warehouses and will let agencies buy items such as pencils and furniture from Federal Supply Service vendors via the Web.
E-commerce efforts are popping up everywhere. The Army's Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, for instance, went paperless for procurements in June.
At many agencies, going electronic for procurement coincides with a change in business processes. Eliminating warehouses and adopting just-in-time deliveries are dramatic examples of the waste reduction that can accompany e-commerce.
But why now? After all, the mandates for agencies to adopt e-commerce date to the earliest years of the Clinton administration. There are several reasons.
First is the technology itself. We sometimes forget that the Web wasn't around when Clinton came to office. It started growing like wildfire in 1995, but business-grade applications arrived recently. Electronic data interchange over value-added networks was available, but EDI's expense and complexity put off users.
Second, as the Net became ubiquitous, agencies invested in the infrastructure improvements needed for e-commerce. In 1990, at least half of all PCs were standalone. Now virtually every PC is networked.
Third, the relentless downsizing of middle-management ranks has forced agencies to streamline operations. Warehouses and paper-pushing loom more prominently as labor-saving targets when your agency is under the gun. The administration's mandates planted the e-commerce seed, but budget restraints and technical progress have allowed electronic procurement to flourish.Thomas R. Temin