Click and Buy
Click and Buy
Buying site lets small agencies try e-commerce
EC Web Technologies' ecBuyer purchasing system is aimed at small public agencies on the federal, state and local level that lack special procurement software.
By Richard W. Walker
No procurement software? No problem.
EcBuyer from EC Web Technologies Inc. of McLean, Va., a scaled-down purchasing module designed for small public-sector agencies, lets buyers use EC Web's 2-year-old ecweb.net electronic commerce center without any special procurement software.
With ecBuyer, federal, state and local agencies can create and post requests for proposals and requests for quotes, evaluate incoming bids and issue purchase cards and other awards on ecweb.net.
Agencies'and suppliers'need only an Internet connection, a standard Web browser and a subscription to use the system.
For their part, vendors simply log on to the site, at www.ecweb.net
, to view and bid on opportunities online.
By incorporating ecBuyer into the ecweb.net service, EC Web is 'targeting the small state and locals that don't have any procurement applications,' said Chris Treptow, chief technology officer at EC Web Technologies. 'This is the year that state and local agencies are really starting to look into electronic purchasing.'
EC Web officials tout ecweb.net as a high-volume, open-market alternative to catalog-based electronic outlets such as the General Services Administration's GSA Advantage site, Fedcenter.com and Fedbuy.com.
'Vendors participate because they have more opportunities on which to bid and can do so at very little cost,' he said.
'We use [ecweb.net] exclusively now as our way to reach the vendor community,' said Maggie Pippin, a procurement analyst for the division of acquisition management at the Health and Human Services Department's Program Support Center. 'The service has expanded so there are even more vendors out there. Because we're a service-for-fee environment, it's important that we're able to touch a huge audience.
'We're not only using it as an area to advertise competitive acquisitions but also as a posting vehicle to advertise in instances where we know of only one source but want to see if there are others out there,' she said.
Ecweb.net began with a pilot in 1997 at HHS, when buyers sought an alternative to the government's Federal Acquisition Network, an electronic purchasing service that required vendors to buy expensive electronic data interchange hardware and software.
'We discontinued that service when [ecweb.net] became a much more reliable alternative,' Pippin said.
Since then, the Program Support Center has been able to provide fast, dependable service to its customers, she said.Expanding service
All ecweb.net's customers are federal agencies, including the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Health Care Financing Administration and the National Archives and Records Administration. 'By the end of the year, we should have some announcements about a couple of state and locals,' Treptow said. Six or seven agencies are reviewing the system, he said.
EC Web charges government agencies $51,000 for an annual subscription to ecweb.net, a fee that includes an unlimited number of transactions. Use of the system is free to vendors, unless they want customized delivery of agency postings.
Pippin characterized the subscription charge to agencies as 'reasonable when you put it all in perspective'when you think about what it would cost to provide that service in-house, to develop and maintain a Web site and provide the service free to our vendors.'
Agencies that use comprehensive procurement management software, such as Prism from Compusearch Software Systems Inc. of McLean, Va., EC Web's sister company, also can use ecweb.net, posting transactions directly to the ecweb.net site from their systems.
'The global vision of the Compusearch-EC Web family is to set up the virtual procurement office'basically being able to do procurement from anywhere with just a Web browser,' Treptow said.
'What we're doing is closing the paperless link between procurement activities and vendors,' he said.
'The government has done a lot of work over the last couple of years to automate procurement activities internally and get rid of paper,' Treptow said. 'But they've always had that last step, which was to print it out and fax it or mail to vendors. What ecweb.net does is close that loop and make it entirely paperless.'