Council pushes customer service, simplicity for e-commerce systems

Council pushes customer service, simplicity for e-commerce systems

By William C. Wallack

Special to GCN

Government agencies should focus on simplicity and customer service as electronic commerce evolves, panelists at a recent Industry Advisory Council forum agreed.

'I think e-commerce is hot on everyone's mind and is an important area for us to consider as we go forward,' Gary Lambert, Massachusetts' deputy state purchasing agent, said at the meeting in McLean, Va.

'I think the industry is in a very new place, and I think the development of the tools is in a very new place,' he said. 'But what we're also seeing is that there are no true market leaders in this space right now, and it's going to be an interesting time for us to watch.'

E-commerce systems ought to offer customers value and ease of use, said Everett Carpenter, information technology manager at the National Institutes of Health's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center.

'Speed is very important in this industry, and when you have the money available you need to spend it [so customers] can get their information right away,' he said.

At the Defense Department, the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office is trying to push e-commerce use departmentwide through the DOD E-Mall program, said Scottie Knott, director of JECPO.''

'The DOD E-Mall is an ordering system, it's really not a procurement system,' Knott said. 'We've gotten all of the procurement process out of the way. We're linking the customer directly with the source of supply.'

The General Services Administration, which employs about 3,400 people and supplies about $14 billion annually in goods and services to its departments and operations worldwide, emphasizes vast, easy and accessible e-commerce service, said Edward O'Hare, Federal Supply System deputy chief executive officer.

In addition to office supplies, GSA's system sells services such as debt collection and systems integration, O'Hare said.

Side by side

When discussing procurement reform and best value, online catalogs compare A to B to C on a lowest-cost basis, said Howard Stern, vice president of of Princeton, N.J. But they should also address warranty and performance, he said.

'Our system has a Web site with 45 vendors,' Carpenter said. Customers can get a password and send e-mail to all vendors.

'We offer big vendors that are under the contract the ability to come in and import their data into a catalog which then they could use in order to build quotes online for the customer,' Carpenter said.

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